i am kneeling in front of a tall column of fold down blinds so ancient they've been permanently tinted grey by dust, which i'm supposed to be scouring away with the already dirty rag in my hand. i'm being paid some pittance - maybe twenty dollars; probably less - to go through the motions of cleaning my grandma's brother's office. cleanliness obviously isn't a high priority to him, from the dense masses of spider's webs fusing every piece of furniture to the wall. the real reason i'm here is that my grandma is trying to teach me about being a real person; she wants me to do things, actual normal things. instead of sitting inside my own head all day long. also, she's worried about how i'm going to make it at college. she's been expressing her concern to me through not-so-gentle scare tactics, telling me in exasperation that i'm going to drive whatever roommate is selected randomly for me by the school to ask for a room change because i leave dirty laundry on the floor, and exhibit other unhygienic habits along the same lines.
so i'm crouching on my knees in that office, which looks like it's been abandoned and mouldering for decades, trying to come up with a way to explain to my grandma that i don't care, about anything. i just don't care. my solution to the problem is that i'm just going to hope for a roommate who is filthier than i am, who will make me look neat in comparison. because my roommate could literally vomit on the floor and just leave it there, and i'd step over it ever time i needed to, and i wouldn't say anything about it. i'm sincerely hoping for a drunken slob of a roommate who retches uncontrollably before collapsing into a stupor on the bed, fully clothed and reeking of illicit substances. i imagine that, in whatever corner of my mind wasn't completely paralyzed, i might look at the pool of bodily fluid beneath my feet and feel faintly interested. my senses work so slowly at this point that i'd experience every aspect of it separately, having to stare for a long, long time before the perception of the sickly sweet smell finally worked its way through the frayed synapses of my brain.
because, in this scene, i am eighteen. prom has come and gone. i am staying in a forced vacation at my grandparents' house, where they try desperately to ready me to be throw into the whole new world of college. my grandma is driven to distraction by the fact that she has a fully grown grandchild living beneath her roof who doesn't even bathe herself regularly, and can't be impressed with the concept that this is important. i simply don't care, because i am a zombie.
it amazes me that i've managed to come this far in telling my story without really covering my eating disorder. oh, i've certainly dropped hints, here and there, incorporated flashes of my insanity, but i've managed to paint a picture of me and my life that isn't entirely overshadowed by the fact that, yes, i am an anorexic, yes, i am a bulimic, yes, i am addicted to escapism in whatever form i can get it.
if i'd had access to drugs at an early age, i might have become that kind of addict. but by the time i was even aware of narcotics as a term in the dictionary i was already so locked into my self destructive patterns of abusing my substance of choice, which at this time was free and readily available, that i couldn't even be bothered to speculate much what coke or heroin or any other such parasite could do to take away my pain.
i do remember my first time using alcohol, how it made me beautifully numb. i couldn't feel my body. i lost awareness of my round, bloated belly and "thunder thighs" bulging through the excessively tight pants i'd worn in an ill conceived attempt to restrain them. i floated free of my dead weight, even my skin disowned, just a soft texture to explore with my fingertips. cold and hot disappeared. i have always been a self conscious person, worried about how i must appear in others' eyes, and every time i've tried to dance sober i've been stiff and awkward. but that night i danced all by myself and i knew without a doubt that i was dancing so well. the music grew louder and louder in my ears. all of the people were talking and their voices blended together to become a part of the music. i though i was free, but even stinking drunk i made myself in my neurosis run up and down the carpeted stairs, like a hamster on a hamster wheel, hazily aware of the importance of burning the alcohol calories i was absorbing.
that night i quaffed straight vodka from an energy drink can, and i remembered it all the next morning down to the incognito trip i made to the restroom at the party to try to vomit up as many of those alcohol calories as i could. before my friends and i stuffed ourselves with fries and mcflurries from the one drive through we could find that was still open at three am. i tried to stir in myself a sense of pride, that i didn't immediately get rid of those calories as well, justifying the binge to myself with the idea that i only got one prom night. it wasn't like i was going to do it again, right?
as a sophomore in high school, i joined the cross country team, thinking i would lose weight. i didn't. if anything, running became an excuse for me to overeat uncontrollably on those days that i felt my exercise had given me license to do so. it had worked for my brother; he became lean and tanned, his cheek bones hard angles that stood out of his face and the articulations of his collarbones two boney knobs nestled under his throat. all of a sudden, giggly little girls at school couldn't get enough of hugging him, pressing their bodies against his relatively muscular chest. i remember that he retained a bit of flab at his belly, but i was one of the only people who would notice such a thing, because i practically scrutinized my siblings' bodies with a microscope. but i was a pathetic runner, always huffing and puffing at the back of the pack. my brother hadn't really needed to make any changes in his eating habits in order to become toned and fit, so i didn't think it would be fair for me to have to do so.
ironically, though i never ran an under ten minute mile while a part of the cross country team, it was after this, when i was running on my own in my neighborhood and backyard, that i really got into it. running gave me my first purge. on thanksgiving day, what might have been the year two thousand eight, i went on my habitual four mile run in the cool hours of the morning, while the sun hadn't yet risen fully and burned off the moisture from the air. when i got back home, my mom and the golden child were just sitting down to enjoy the pumpkin cobbler they had baked. since it was a holiday, and therefore an allowed binge day, i asked for a styrofoam bowl full, too. the cobbler it was soft and warm from the oven, falling apart in my mouth, almost too hot to taste the sugar. i was just scrapping the bottom of my disposable dish with my spoon when all of a sudden the effect of indulging right after extended physical exertion hit me. i ran to the bathroom that was attached to the guest room turned office, and over the golden child's background pointed commentary of disgust, i vomited orange into the toilet.
the amazing thing about getting sick was how much better i felt afterwards. better still was the fact that, i realized, i hadn't retained any calories from that first bowl of desert. so i could have another bowl, free and clear, without feeling that i'd over eaten.
that first time was an accident, but it put the idea in my mind. so that night, when we'd gotten back from the home of extended relatives where we'd joined in a buffet style feast, i put my new plan into action. dinner was still an enormous, undigested lump in my belly. i squatted in front of the toilet, ears pricked for any indication that a sibling might be spying on me, and retched and puked until my body felt like a deflated balloon. and realized, to my delight, that now this could count as a "good food" day, rather than a bad one. i'd cleansed all of the evil inside of me, and now my guts felt pure and calm.
it's almost as though my body were specifically designed for the purpose of bulimia. i have never had to stick my fingers down my throat or go to any extreme measures to vomit. the most i've ever had to do was gorge myself with water to bring up whatever stubborn traces of popcorn or croissant had settled to the bottom of my stomach. whatever it is that the doctor found at that check up when i was five-ish years old and already complaining of acid burns etching into the top layer of my tongue to be wrong with the valve or sphincter between my esophagus and my gut, it's meant that all my life the real effort on my part has been keeping food down, rather than throwing it up. sometimes, if i didn't open my mouth to allow it escape that way, biting gastric acid would stream from my nose. i still wake up coughing uncontrollably at night, because juices from my stomach have momentarily blocked my airways.
my newfound skill transformed lent for me. in the past, i would have engaged in my family's code of morals by making the vow that for lent i would only eat two meals per day with no snacks, or that i wouldn't have any "seconds." but this time, i set myself up by going way overboard in the weeks preceding my usual season of fasting. on "fat tuesday" i practically spent the entire day binging and purging, binging and purging on all the foods i planned on giving up the next day. but when ash wednesday dawned and it was time to practice the restraint i'd so carefully cultivated in myself, that's when i discovered the awful truth. i couldn't stop.