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"Dear Bobby Sands" by Minglu Jiang

Content warnings for eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and body shaming

DAY 18: 168 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I can’t believe it took me 18 days to realize.

If I had realized earlier, I would have started on March 1 like you. Just like how I grew

my hair out and bleached it blond to match yours.

I’m pretending to do calculus, which I’m sure you were blissfully spared from. I mean,

you married at 18. From prison! If only I was good with girls like you. Adrianne hasn’t spoken a word to me—at least not any I want to remember—since eighth grade when Mr. Feagley forced her to dance with me in Phys Ed. Once I drop a few more pounds, once I’m no longer the fat kid she snickered at, then she’ll notice me. I’ve gotten down to 168 lbs so far. It’s not great but it’s better than 203.

I bet Geraldine adored you.



DAY 20: 165 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I should have done calculus instead of pretending because now my mother is yelling

about my C+.

I wonder what you were like in school. If you and Geraldine were the popular steadies or the quiet kids falling in love from the back desks. I wonder what you thought you wanted before the Provisional IRA.

You made the right choice though. I can’t imagine you as a doctor or factory worker or

whatnot. You fit one image and that’s the boy in a blazing gunfight with the police. The man

who refused to wear a prison uniform or break under torture and finally, to eat. You always

fought with utmost courage and perseverance.

I wonder what your mother thought when they caught you with the guns and gave you

five years. When they gave you fourteen the second time around.

I bet she was real proud in the end.



DAY 24: 161 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Sometimes I get away by saying I have homework to do, but as dinner’s the only time we see Dad, Mom’s pretty adamant about it.

I take a few bites and fake the rest. I hide food in a napkin when I can or smear it onto the plate so it looks like I ate and left residue. Sometimes it’d be easier to eat, and sometimes I’m hungry enough to, but each calorie adds to my weight and nullifies my progress. The temporary comfort of food isn’t worth what it takes to get rid of it. Even “healthy” foods are calorie-laden. Take an apple for example. It’s 95 calories which at a basal metabolic rate takes your body two hours to burn. Two hours your body will not shed fat.

Today, I gazed at Adrianne too long and she whispered to her friends and they all

wrinkled their noses at me. I didn’t even mean to stare. I glanced at her for a moment, and before I knew it, my mind blanked and ten minutes passed. Ceecee says they told everyone what a creep I am. I bet they wouldn’t say that if I were hot—if I were skinny.

I decided to take my school’s advice on self-care and treated myself to as many laps

around the school as I could. It was only one lap. It worries me. Once, I could do two and still have energy left.



DAY 28: 158 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Ceecee and I turned eighteen today. Dad took a day off to celebrate, and Mom pulled out all stops making us red velvet cupcakes and meringues, Ceecee’s favorite.

I should appreciate her hard work. Before, I would have, but now I know what sugar does to my weight.

One taste when Mom prodded the cupcake toward me and nausea overcame me. I ate so she wouldn’t suspect anything and immediately regretted it. One of those things contains 250 calories. 5 hours of basal metabolic rate. I gave the meringues (80 calories, 1.6 hours) to Ceecee, who dug into them gratefully. My sister’s lucky, getting to eat whatever she wants whenever she wants. But I remember there’s no point in envy when you got where you are by not eating. “I need to work on the history project.”

“Honey, it’s your birthday,” Mom said.

“Homework doesn’t stop for birthdays,” I replied. I needed to get to the bathroom before my body absorbed the cupcake. “Please, Mom?”

“Let the kid go,” Dad said.

I have never been so grateful to him in my life. I went to the bathroom and vomited three times, just to be sure I got everything out.

The scale showed 158 lbs after that. I jogged until I lost so much breath my ribs caved in on each other, a reminder that I’m still too heavy to run properly. You could run, Armalite rifle slung over your shoulder as you rushed headlong into the shootout.



DAY 31: 156 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I’m pretty sure I’m the only student who read books and old newspapers instead of

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Maybe I try too hard, but I’m always meticulous with history,

especially if it involves you.

It paid off today when Mrs. Simmons reviewed my project notes and said she looked

forward to the final product.

I grinned at her all class, never mind that Adrianne rolled her eyes at me, telling another girl that I was a “complete suck-up.” That is a direct quote.

Xander came over for dinner today, which was great cover. I’m too polite to eat while

listening to my sister’s boyfriend, who might also be my only friend even though he’s a year

younger. Even if it was mostly Ceecee jabbering about researching this year’s local candidates. “It’s an off-year,” she said, “but, like, I still want to vote, you know? And I want it to matter." She looked at me. “You should do some research, too, Laurence.”

I wish I was in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 1981 so I could vote for you. In America,

we only have middle-aged businessmen with too much free time. And how can they compare to the young freedom fighter who coordinated the hunger strike, epitomized the revolution?



DAY 35: 153 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I’ve had to catch up on calculus, and each problem takes hours at a time because of my

stupid headaches. At least I have a valid excuse not to go to dinner now. When Mom brings me food, I toss it out once she leaves. The downside: I can’t escape the smell. It drives me dizzy with the constant reminder of what I am, the fat kid who everybody called an apple bobbing in the swimming pool and who disgusts Adrianne.

The guilt is inevitable, but I remember your words: if I die, God will understand.

Between bites of calculus and your autobiography, I beam at my project. I love the

timeline of your life from your birth to the Provisional IRA to the Maze Prison and the hunger strike. I love the newspaper clippings, the audio bites from the BBC coverage of your strike.

When I’m really delirious, I picture Adrianne watching my presentation with eyes

enraptured and mouth agape, dropping her pencil as she concentrates on nothing but me. She’ll reconsider everything she ever thought of me. She’ll see me as erudite and charming, no longer the fat kid.

Which won’t happen because Adrianne’s not the type of girl to like this kind of thing and even if I am erudite and charming, I am still the fat kid. I’m far from where I started at 203 lbs but it’s not enough.



DAY 38: 150 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Everyone looked at me weird during my presentation today, especially Adrianne. I guess I did take twenty-five minutes and gulp and stutter a lot. I blame my swaying legs. My head careens when I stand, and it takes me a moment to reorient.

“Thanks for that,” Xander whispered when I sat back down. “We’ll spend another day at

least on presentations.”

Mrs. Simmons called me over at the end of class. “You were wonderful,” she told me. I

got the strange sensation that a cruel taffy maker was pulling my brain out of my skull. I rubbed my temples as hard as I could. “Obviously, you worked hard on this. Would you like to pursue this further? I know of plenty of summer opportunities.”

I nodded, digging my knuckles deeper into my temples. Strange how one pain can

distract you from another.

“Laurence, are you alright?”

I nodded. “Xander’s waiting for me,” I said, because he was.

“Are you alright?” Xander said as we walked to our next class, the dreaded calculus.

“You look way different than, like, two months ago.”

I didn’t think so. I check my appearance every morning along with my weight. It’s

frustrating, how despite my losses, nobody can see it.

“Of course,” I told Xander.

“Laurence, you’re wearing a winter coat in April. You’re sure there’s nothing wrong?”

“Yeah. I’m just cold.” If only I did look different. Then I’d know I accomplished


But I’m sure there were days when you wondered if you made any difference or if you

strived in vain. Yet you persevered and starved for 66 whole days.

Jiang / Dear Bobby Sands / 9



DAY 39: 149 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Xander can’t keep his mouth shut, can he? I’m chilling (literally, it’s been so cold!),

thumbing through your autobiography, when Ceecee bursts into my bedroom.

“Laurence, what are you doing?” she snapped, marching to my desk with her hands on

her hips.


“No shit. Look, Laurence. Xander says you throw away your lunch. Like, all of it.”

“I always eat too much for breakfast.”

“Stop lying. You haven’t been buying anything.” Ceecee’s mouth adopted a disapproving tilt. “And now that I look at you… Laurence, you look so different.”

Why does everyone keep telling me that?

“I’m fine. Just not so hungry anymore.” Which is the truth. I have to stop myself from

tossing away the entire lunch box. I hate opening it. The mere sight of food evokes memories: Adrianne and her friends, the endless stream of side eyes and snickers, how I found out in the worst possible way that while I loved her, my body ensured she thought the exact opposite of me.

“Look, I don’t know how long this has been going on, but…” Ceecee shook her head

again. I disgust her, too.

“Ceecee, I have to work.” Mrs. Simmons introduced me to a journal that publishes

historical research essays by high school students, and I need to get something about you in

there. I think I’ll write about how you radicalized the Irish Republican movement.

I hoped Ceecee would drop the subject, but at dinner, Mom wouldn’t stop staring as I

pressed peas under my fork and smeared them around my plate. She pulled me aside after Dad volunteered to wash the dishes.

She noticed I didn’t eat dinner, and that Ceecee told her I didn’t eat lunch or breakfast

either. She said now that she thought about it, I was thinner than before.

I reminded her that I am not thin.

“That does not mean you cannot eat, Laurence,” she snapped. “You are not anorexic. I

will not have you pretending you are.”

A caustic laugh exploded out of me. I know exactly what I am—I’ve done the research.

Some might call it a disease, some might call it shameful, but if you did it, I can’t see why it’s

anything but good.

I tried to escape to work on my essay, but Mom dragged me bodily to the dinner table

and shoved a slice of bread (110 calories, 2.2 hours) in my face. “Eat,” she ordered.

I needed to appease her, but looking at that piece of bread, I couldn’t. The thought of all those calories brought tears to my eyes, and I knew that even if I did shove the bread into my mouth, I’d want to spit it out.

It hurt so much to gulp it down as quickly as possible. I went to the bathroom and

hollowed everything out.

Nobody can ruin my perfect streak. Not Xander, not Ceecee, not Mom, not Dad.



DAY 41: 148 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Every morning, Ceecee watches me get into line at the cafeteria and purchase a donut

(240 calories, 4.8 hours) and eat the whole thing. I tear it into small pieces and chew like a sloth so the first period bell will ring and I have an excuse to dash to the bathroom. Then, just in case, I skip first period to jog. First period’s my study hall, which I need because not even a miracle can save my calc grade, but this is more important.

Same goes for lunch. Xander makes sure I open the lunch box and scarf its contents.

Ceecee drops by even though this isn’t her lunch period. “I’m not hungry” will trigger her alarm mode, so I never say it. I lick my lips as if I relish the yogurt and the apple slices with peanut butter (435 calories, 8.7 hours). I hate Mom for it. It hurts. It hurts so much to put those calories into my body. It hurts to swallow. Everything but water hurts my throat and stomach. At least I can trust my middle finger. I know where to press because, like lock and key, there’s a bruise in my throat and a matching one on my finger.

In the Maze Prison, they called you leader.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, they elected you their MP.

In Belfast, they adorn walls with your face and name.

All around the world, they christen streets after you.

A little more, and Adrianne will notice me.



DAY 44: 146 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I’ve started to wear two shirts and a hoodie and winter coat. I think it’s the coldest April mwe’ve had.

I had to lean against the railing to catch my breath halfway up the stairs to history.

Adrianne and her friends sauntered up to me. “It’s like middle school, isn’t it? The fat kid can’t get up the stairs.” They snickered and finished the steps.

I’d like to point out that I had no trouble getting up the stairs in middle school. I huffed

a bit, sure, but I always got up.

I arrived five minutes late to class, but Mrs. Simmons didn’t utter a word. Either that or I didn’t hear. Adrianne’s words echoed louder than bullets, drowning out Mrs. Simmons’ lecture.

Once the cold lets up, I’ll shed my layers and she’ll see the real me.

When Ulster loyalists terrorized your family, you didn’t cower. You fought back. You

joined the Provisional IRA and took up a gun. Getting locked in the Maze Prison didn’t stop you. You kept fighting, kept giving the middle finger to your oppressors, this time by refusing to eat.

I will, too.



DAY 48: 143 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Mrs. Simmons was lecturing about you—you!—and even mentioned my presentation, but I was so cold and dizzy, I didn’t catch a word.

Xander snapped his fingers in my face. “If calc keeps you up that late, I’ll do it for you.”

I shrugged.

“She’s talking Bobby Sands. How are you, of all people, zoning out?” Then he frowned

and said, “You alright, Laurence? You’re looking worse for wear.”

“It’s just senioritis.”

I glared at Mrs. Simmons for the rest of class. I cannot have Xander ratting me out again. Not when I am so close.

You starved yourself for 66 days. My gut tells me that if I follow in your footsteps,

everything will turn out alright.

You starved because you loved Ireland. I love Adrianne.



DAY 49: 142 lbs

Dear Bobby,

This time, Mom burst into my room while I reread your autobiography.

“The school called today,” she said. “They have received multiple reports that you’ve

exhibited a concerning weight loss. So, Laurence, would you care to explain?”

Xander ratted me out.

“I thought you were getting better!” Mom threw up her hands, her face twisted with

distress. “You were eating! And now they’re recommending professional treatment.” Which is a fancy way of saying they’ll tie me to a hospital bed and track my every movement. I can’t have that, not with my essay, not with exams coming up, not with me so close to 66.

“I will not have any child of mine confined in a mental hospital,” Mom went on. She

rocked herself with her head in hands. “You’re not sick. You’re not sick. My son is not sick.”

When you refused to wear a prison uniform, they confiscated your bedsheets so you

couldn’t clothe yourself with them. You sat naked in a cold, cramped cell for 22 days rather than capitulate.

“From now on, you stay home.” Mom fixed her unblinking eyes on me. “We can’t have

the school forcing me to hospitalize you.”

I don’t care what they do to me, I won’t stop. I will keep fighting like you. Once, I

thought it was cool to share a name with Laurence McKeown, your fellow striker, but now I

wish I didn’t. There is no glory in quitting.



DAY 53: 139 lbs

Dear Bobby,

After I ate the small dinner (370 calories, 7.4 hours) Mom set out for me last night, I went to the bathroom, as usual. But this time, Dad yanked the door open—I will always regret that we have no locks—to find me bent over the toilet with my fingers stuck in my throat.

Now they won’t let me go to the bathroom within an hour of eating. I tried to get sick in the shower today, and I did, but I don’t think it made any difference.

When Mom and Dad are at work, I run laps around the house, and when they think I’m

copying Xander’s notes, I pace my bedroom. I can never keep it up for long, not with my limbs trembling like jelly or the cold cutting to my bones.

You survived beatings and torture.

You persevered, and in return, 30,000 elected you to Parliament, 10,000 rioted in your

name, and 100,000 attended your funeral.

I’ll fight, too, until people see I’m more than the fat kid.



DAY 59: 131 lbs

Dear Bobby,

I pushed the bookcase and bed against the door.

It’s the only way to fix it.

I brought everything I need to last the week. A case of water (0 calories and ingesting

water speeds up metabolism by 30% for the next hour, or about 15 additional calories. Besides, you starved, not dehydrated). My laptop so I can email Mrs. Simmons for assignments. And of course, your autobiography and this notebook to keep me company.

You’re the only one who understands.

I wrap myself in blankets like you did before they got confiscated, except I actually have

clothes underneath. I’m so cold as I shuffle across the room, counting laps through chapped lips.

If you could go 22 days naked, I can go 7 like this.



DAY 60: 130 lbs

Dear Bobby,

Someone—I think Dad—is pounding on my door, shouting at me to let him in. It hurts

my ears, so I press my head into the pillow.

It helps for a bit, but now Ceecee’s wailing like a banshee. “Laurence, please! Please!

Open up, please!” It shreds against my ears, and if I had any strength left in my sour throat, I

would scream. But I only shake and shiver and bleed my soul onto these pages.

DAY 60

It took nearly everything I had in me to stuff my shirts into the door to muffle the yelling.

Not that it means much now. The shouting and banging stopped an hour ago.

I didn’t consider that I can’t avoid the mirror, and thus, my fat self. While I wait for Mrs. Simmons’ email, I pull the thing off the wall and smash it in my closet.

I ache all over. Bruises cover my limbs though I can’t remember anything that might

have done that. My eyelids droop, and I write through the narrow slit I can keep open. Tiocfaidh ár lá. Our day will come. The last thing you wrote, the motto of the revolution. Tiocfaidh ár lá. Tiocfaidh ár lá. Tiocfaidh ár lá.



DAY 63: ??? lbs

Dear Bobby,

They finally let me have the paper and pen.

I’ve sat here for ten minutes tapping the pen against the plastic desk.

Because what can I say? I failed. I’m in a hospital gown I can’t refuse in a bed I’m not

allowed to leave (you once refused to leave your cell but I don’t think that applies here). They

started by pumping glucose into my blood. I spent the night doing the math and it’s 200 calories per liter. Two hundred fucking calories. 4 full hours of basal metabolic rate.

I had spotted the ambulance parked on our driveway, red and white and blue lights

blaring, so I knew to fight when they unhinged the door. They had to hold me down, all four

paramedics, to load me into the stretcher.

Is this how you felt after you fought your hardest but got arrested anyway? When you

found yourself in prison again after less than a year free?

They diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. You protested because you refused to be degraded into a common criminal. I wish I could do the same but I don’t know how. After the first night, they said I couldn’t stay on the glucose drip forever, so I’d eat or get force-fed. It was my choice, but the thought of a tube shoved up my nose scared me into agreeing. The nurse gave me tomato soup and a sandwich. It made me so bloated it hurt and I told her so but she still made me finish. She refused to tell me the calories.

I’m like you in the Maze Prison except I have no fight left.



DAY 66: ??? lbs

Dear Bobby,

Today should have been the day, but it isn’t.

I should have received an end to Adrianne’s ridicule, to all of it. Instead, I got my parents in tears. They apologized, saying they’d noticed how thin I had become, but they hadn’t wanted to believe I was sick.

They showed me a photo of myself in the hospital bed. I wonder if I resemble you in your last moments.

“Please cooperate with them,” Dad said. “We almost lost you, Laurence.” He pressed his

forehead to my hand. “They said any further would have ruined your heart.”

At least now I can see what difference I have made.



One year later

Dear Bobby,

I spent five months in the hospital and took a gap year because of that. Ceecee switched her college choice last minute so she could stay close to me.

I’m headed to the same college this September alongside Xander. I gotta say, I’m the

luckiest guy in the world to have him and Ceecee.

I said the hospital felt like prison, but I’m glad I went through it. Though it’s difficult to

eat so much again, I’m doing my best to maintain a healthy weight. The discomfort has subsided over time, though, so hopefully, I won’t need surgery.

Mom and Dad allowed Ceecee and me to take a trip to the Emerald Isle. If you were right about anything, you were right to love your home. It is, truly, the most beautiful place on earth.

So here I kneel at your grave. I offer hardy fuchsia, the green-and-orange flag, and this

last letter.

I give you the blessing of your people: May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be

always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft on your fields. It is the least a martyr deserves.

I give you Bono’s words: Fuck the revolution. Where’s the glory? Because maybe you

became the martyr, the hero, the face on the banners, but what about the wife and son, the

parents and siblings you so recklessly left behind?




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