When silence is like starving.

I was thinking about Juana the Mad today.

Or, rather, I was thinking about a friend of mine. The last time we’d spoken, she’d called me out on something but–unbeknownst to her–I was in a bad mood, so it wasn’t the best time, and we’d ended up having an entirely unnecessary word war on, that bane of my existence, Facebook Messenger.

I sent an apology note via chat, but she hasn’t replied yet, and honestly I’m not surprised? I overreacted. Usually, I would bombard her with more messages, verbally bullying her into reassurances of forgiveness, but whether it’s because of pride or exhaustion or simply shame, I can’t bring myself to reach out, and so here we are. Not talking. It hasn’t been a long time (we fought just last Tuesday), and we’ve not talked for longer stretches, but there’s this pervading sense of wrongness to this silence that makes it physically hurt and keeps her on my mind.

So I ended up thinking of Juana the Mad today.

When my friend and I were talking, I would send her photos of her KPop idol crushes, and she would reply with things like:

*aggressively licks screen*

*swallows phone*

I would laugh, each time, but now that I miss her, I’m inclined to pick apart the bits and pieces of our interactions, especially when they were light-hearted and good. I saw this photo today…

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Kim Seokjin (my favorite BTS member) performing Fake Love at BTS’s Love Yourself World Tour in Los Angeles. Photo by @jinkissletsgo.

…and immediately my mind cycled back to those reactions, which made me wonder at how the language of desire–from the “innocent” and playful fangirl crush to the dark and dangerous territory of lust–so often borrows words from hunger.

Which brings me back to the poem at the beginning of this post. The historical Juana was a Castillan queen, older sister to another famous royal, Katherine of Aragon. Like her sister, Juana’s marriage ended in tragedy, with the death of the husband–Philip I, also known as Philip The Handsome–whom she she supposedly loved to the point of obsession: “…when you marry a man more beautiful than you, they say you pretty much lose control of the situation.”

That the historical Juana was actually mad is a subject of historical debate–her reputation might have been a product of a smear campaign–but true or no, the legend lives on that Juana loved her husband so much she refused to bury him, eventually–in Gamalinda’s retelling, at least–eating bits and pieces of his corpse so he could be with her forever.

I remember shuddering when I first read that poem, unnerved by the graphic description of cannibalism. But nowadays, even if those verses still make me feel a little queasy, I can understand the sentiment better, because so much of how we talk about  longing and lust (especially on social media, with #ThirstyThursday and “a whole snack” and all that) involves lips and tongues and teeth.

What I’m about to say next is going to sound super creepy, and maybe get me banned from the VIP section at BTS’s Manila concert (which, fingers crossed, happens next year), but when that photo of Jin popped up on my Facebook feed, my reactions were quick and overwhelmingly physical: widened eyes and sudden intake of breath and a desire to shriek curtailed only by the fact that I was at a shoot for work and the cameras were rolling.

In that moment, I understood all of my friend’s exclamations of wanting to swallow her phone whole; if I had no makeup and less self-control, I might have(?) smashed my face into my laptop screen, eyes-first, until the image was burned into my corneas.

(I warned y’all this would be creepy. BigHit, if your secret internet agents ever see this, please don’t take me seriously. I only want to watch EAT Jin; I don’t actually want to eat him.

Instead of doing that, though, I Googled Eric Gamalinda’s poem about Juana the Mad.

My friend John and I have been talking about beauty, on and off, for the past few days, because we’re both writers and apparently this is the stuff writers talk about casually sometimes (I realize how pretentious that sounds.). Right as I was looking up Philip The Handsome, Juana’s ill-fated husband, John messaged me, asking how I was. I messaged him the poem in reply, followed by an incoherent stream-of-consciousness reflection on why beautiful things–like a beloved husband, or a KPop bias, or maybe even a friendship between two stubborn people who love each other, even if one of them isn’t always the best at showing it–elicit a physical hunger. Why is the language of longing also the language of starvation?

I don’t know what constituted the Catholic royal wedding vows of Juana’s time, but the vows I know include the words “to have and to hold.” If you’re holding on to something long enough, it will leave a mark, will change you in ways you can see and ways you can’t. Maybe when we hunger for something or someone, it’s because we’re longing for that change, the way the food we ingest filters into our bodies, turns into flesh or fat or fuel, becomes a part of us.

(Because you can’t lose that which is a part of you. Because it is always there, right next to your heartbeat, or in your heartbeat, in your bones and blood and flesh forever and ever and ever, Amen.)

There’s good kinds of hunger, and bad kinds of hunger. Anyone who’s ever tried to eat clean knows this. Your body can crave junk in the same way as it craves things that are good for it, and it’s up to you to know the difference. When I messaged John about how I thought the language of love is hunger, he told me he didn’t agree: that hunger and thirst are so base, that to consume is animal, and that love was so much more. And I think he’s right: hunger is not all that love is. I don’t love Jin, not really.

(But…)

My friend and I have not spoken for longer stretches of time, but this time, for some reason (or, well, maybe I know the reason), it hurts, like acid burning in my chest and up my throat. My thoughts are fuzzy. I am unable to focus, tired, sluggish. There’s a dull throb of emptiness in my gut that I can ignore, but can’t quite get used to, because it feels wrong.

There are good kinds of hunger and bad kinds of hunger. I want to believe my body knows the difference, knows which one you’re supposed to feed. I saw a photo of my favorite KPop idol today, and my first reaction was to want to send it to her, to tell her I was licking my screen or swallowing my phone in our shared language of exaggerated cravings. Then I realized that I couldn’t, that I’d decided to hold my tongue instead of swallowing my pride and it hit me why, instead of the self-satisfaction of “standing up for myself” that I’d expected to experience, the silence I’ve chosen feels so very wrong. It feels a little like a body deprived of what’s good for it.

It feels a little like starving.

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