The First Law of Thermodynamics

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Esther Molleson (she/her)

photo by Anest Williams (she/her)

CW: eating disorder, depression

It felt like heavy rain, falling hard and warm against her skull. She lay there peacefully for a long moment, enjoying the warmth, the pressure massaging her temples. She didn’t try to remember where she was. The rain in Scotland was never warm, she must have been on holiday somewhere pleasant and tropical. Slowly, she faded back into consciousness. Her body was shivering. One side of her face was pressing hard against the cold white plastic of the tub, the other was being soaked by the constant flow of the shower. She figured that this was something akin to rock bottom. She curled her knees against her chest and tried to retrace the steps that led her to this pathetic moment. She had been cold. She was always cold these days. Sometimes a hot shower could bring life to her corpse. This cycle was so morbid, it reminded her of the futility of all things. She could only ever delay the cold, never overcome it completely. The shower only warmed her so long as she stayed under its blistering streams, but she worried about the polar bears, the ice that melted away under their feet with every minute she thawed her useless body.

It was all a matter of consumption, endless, pointless consumption. She couldn’t shake it, not completely. And in trying to she had ended up here, barely conscious on the bathroom floor, shivering and weak. It felt pathetic, and the more pathetic she felt, the less she felt the right to consume: the calories, the electricity, the gas, a transferral of energy from the world into her body. What had her body ever done to deserve this access to endless consumption? She would have spent her days sitting in a hot bath until it cooled, if only she had the energy to scrub away the black mould and skin and hair that had built up around the tub over months of neglect. She had never felt so weak, so cold, so almost not alive. But she was still breathing and, although a little loopy, for all the moments that she was conscious she still felt the weight of all that consumption. She counted the days since she last consumed any energy through calories; six days. It was the sight of the landfill that had started her fast. The piles of discarded food, barely touched or barely out of date, that made her feel too sick to eat. All we do is consume and waste. It was all she could think. It was more powerful than hunger. She used to dream of delicious things, of smells that made her mouth water and belly ache. Now she could only recall the smell of festering meat and mouldy bread overflowing onto the pavement out of the council bins. ‘People Make Glasgow Cleaner’. In better times she could have appreciated the council’s efforts, but for six days now all she had seen was consumption and waste as she dragged her carcass from street to street.

Sitting there, curled up on the bathroom floor, she suddenly remembered being six years old. Her trains of thought became increasingly incoherent the longer she went hungry, now they were speeding cars, and she was standing somewhere on the side of the road. She remembered learning how the body could only last three days without water, seven days without food. That’s what she had been told. She couldn’t believe how dependent human bodies were, how they relied on constant consumption. This was her body letting her know it was day six. She didn’t want to die, just to live without always taking, taking, taking. Was it really not possible at all? 

Then she remembered being fifteen, taking notes in physics class. The first law of thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred. She also remembered being nineteen, and some smartarse student declaring that this was a common misconception of physics. She decided to trust her physics teacher. She needed to. The first law of thermodynamics could save her life, and maybe it did. She wrapped herself in blankets and ate four slices of stale toast. It was the best stale toast she had ever eaten. Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it cannot be consumed.


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