If pounds were made to melt like butter, we'd all die in the spotlight.
Thanksgiving 2009. What was I thankful for? A day off school, my bed, and that I could leave my elbows on the table. It was a minor miracle at that eight seater table set for twelve.
I was half amazed at how we'd managed to squeeze into such cramped quarters. The other half of me was worried. How would I say no to the turkey? Then, how would I reject the ham?
I did, and my grandmother looked hurt.
“Mitzy, you're not having any meat?” she asked, passing the mashed potatoes along in the circuit.
“She's decided to become a vegetarian,” my mother answered for me, because at her age, I doubt she heard the 'no' I mumbled into my mountain of corn.
Going vegetarian on Thanksgiving? You must think I'm crazy. Allow me to rewind, explain and then we'll jump in. Rather, we'll wade in, because eating disorders don't happen overnight. Stick one toe in, then another. Finally feel safe enough to get the ankles wet. Up to the chest then, only to realize you can't swim. Is there a lifeguard on duty?
I'll answer that later, I promise. Here's a pinky. Loop, squeeze, release. There, it's official. I promise to tell the truth, the whole ugly truth to the best of my human ability.
Now, where were we?
Right, the beginning.
At the age of sixteen, a milestone I had only hit the month prior, I wondered where my life was headed. Towards success? It had to be. Failure was not an option.
Screw passing with flying colors; I wanted my colors to soar. I was at the top of my class (by the end of my junior year, I had hit spot nine). I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I'd go to college for culinary, and then I'd bake.
I'd avoid marriage. It could only lead to failure, because there's this thing called divorce, and I hadn't the time, nor money, nor thought I ever would. (I also thought I'd never find love, but that's not the story I'm telling here.)
It's always good to want to succeed. However, when you fear failure more than a six year old and the monster under the bed, there's a problem.
My monster wouldn't fit under the bed.
I was my own monster.
At five foot five, I was too big to cram myself beneath my bed.Let's face it. I could've been three feet tall and not fit. It wasn't a matter of height. Two baby cantaloupes plastered onto my otherwise average frame of 113 pounds bar me.
(In case you are wondering, there is no actual fruit involved.)
I could fit from my waist down. Still, that left me with at least half a demon. No matter the size, it always sounded the same.
“You can do better.”
'There's always room for improvement,' I would reason. 'I could make a new birthday resolution.'
So, burying myself into a pile of covers, I prayed. It's a frequent occurrence in this house. Raised in a Lutheran church, I knew the rules. No cussing. No violence. No sharing a bed, let alone a home with a boy until after you're married.
What would Jesus do?
Duh, he'd be perfect.
I was always told to do the Godly thing. I was meant to follow every note, every verse, commandment, creed, whatever.
God would be perfect. I had to be perfect.
I'm not blaming God for my disorder. He's been there for me, pulling me away from it. I can honestly say there were days I should have died (from a medical standpoint), and yet still live to tell the tale. There is no way I did this on my own.
I'm only human.
A broken, flawed human.
It wasn't about a number. It wasn't about how my stomach wasn't flat or how feet together, my thighs touched.
I wanted to be healthy.
My immune system was never stellar. I'd take a week for the flu, or a cold, asleep in front of the television as it played cartoons on VHS. I had a particular favorite. I played it every time I was sick. The tape has since been trashed, as with usage comes a decline in quality.
During my recovery, I'd want that tape back.
From my father's side of the family, an entirely German line of blood, I inherited my stubbornness. That in turn led me to develop a dangerous level of determination. One that would steal my dignity, but never my life.
The next morning I woke, poured myself a bowl of cereal. A vitamin designed for kids left purple residue in my teeth. Floss, brush, rinse. It tasted overly minty. Was that what healthy tasted like?
I wasn't so sure.
My mom packed my lunch in a brown bag. Peanut butter, juice, an apple. (Might I pause a moment to say that apple juice and apples together isn't the best combo, but I allowed her to do this as a symbol of her love?)
I sat with a group of friends during lunch. It was then that I noticed something.“Want half my sandwich?” I asked. He didn't have a lunch.
The smile on his face made it worth it.
A week later, it became a habit. Split a sandwich, eat my apple (which looked like it had mutated, because it was unnaturally large), sip my juice. I never really finished the juice. Sticky sweet. Too much apple.
I'd return home around 3, rummaging in the cupboard. At the time I was hooked on veggie chips. The pseudo-healthy snack. I'd get residual fingerprints on my homework. Dinner would be at five, six if dad was home late. Meat, potatoes and a veggie.
Every stinking night.
If you're forced to eat something that often, one of two things happen. You love it (like the aforementioned love of veggie chips) or you hate it. In the womb, my mother ate loads of carrots. To this day, I hate them. We joke around that I grew tired of them after her binge.
Looking back, I don't think she was far off.
Which is why, that cold day in November, before my grandparents left for their annual trek to Florida, I said no.
I substituted pickles for my protein. Not a smart choice by a long shot. Long here meaning longer than traveling by foot from here to Pluto and back.
You could say I have an addiction to my grandparent's pickles. They can them themselves, and I find no greater edible joy than popping open a fresh jar. And then proceeding to not share said jar.
My mother, who you will find very prominent in this story, let it slide for the night. One night, and then to the internet to research my new lifestyle choice.
A stack of freshly printed papers awaited me after school that day.
“I did this for you.” It was her way of saying she wanted to help me out. It wasn't that she didn't trust me. I was desperate for independence. This was her leash.
“Thanks.” I'd later skim through them during the commercial breaks. Nuts, beans, tofu. Was I a vegan or vegetarian or what? All I knew was that I was sick of meat. Sixteen years of pork chops buried in condiments to mask the taste, ham and burgers dripping with fast food grease. I loathed meatloaf, with the ketchup crusted on top. Most nights I'd push it around my plate until my mother, always the last left at the table forced it down. Meat, gulp milk, meat, milk. Repeat.
I always ran out of milk before meat.
The system was much more efficient with vegetables. I had outgrown spitting them out in the toilet. It was mushy veggies, pinch nose, swallow, repeat. Then I'd drown them with milk. One percent, which my family referred to as blue water.
Had my father cooked them properly, I would have had a better relationship with beans. I wouldn't have been so eager to say, “Can I make my own dinner tonight?”
Having already cut out the meat, what was the point in cooking for us few?
“Yes, but we're eating as a family.”
I sat next to her, a leftie, and our arms would clash. My sister sat at my left, twenty one at the time. Dad huddled in the corner, turned to watch the news. As if there wasn't a space issue as it was, elbows on elbows.
Soon the system flaws became evident. It wasn't by my doing. Not entirely.
Correlating with her passion for food, my mother was overweight. Tired of it, she joined a local gym. With exercise comes diet. A three phase plan she had to follow.
Two special diets. Why put on the facade of a family dinner?
So we didn't.There was an arm chair in the kitchen, ragged and torn. It was adjacent to the television. My legs hung over the arm, my face to the screen. There I'd sit, a veggie burger and head of cauliflower in my lap. I called it dinner.
I can't recall what I was watching. I think I was paying more attention to the food in my lap. In my younger years, I had hated cauliflower. (Really, I think I hated every cooked vegetable, save for corn.) Raw though, it was a new delicacy. Something I could actually chew, that wouldn't dissolve on my tongue.
My parents were as surprised as I was. She's eating her vegetables? Goodness, go buy more.
They were so proud, and I felt success.
'See, it's easy,' I told myself. 'You're doing the right thing.'
December came. It snowed, temperatures dipped. I froze my butt off.
A few points are to be made about that last statement. First, that I had been diagnosed to have a hypothyroid, which meant that I was already colder than the normal person. I'd been put on medicine, which was regularly upped in strength. Nothing helped.
Secondly, I've never had much of a back end to begin with. While my front side is well endowed, the opposite is a bit lacking. To make things crystal clear, I'll explain the best way I know how.
I buy my jeans in the kids department. Sixteen slims, after trying on about a million pairs, plus or minus a few.(I do avoid ones with rhinestones and studs, in case you were wondering. It doesn't leave me with many options.)
Thirdly, I don't think it was the cold that made my butt vanish. That was by my own self destructive behavior.
Let's shed more light on this, shall we? Grab your sunglasses. It's about to get brighter in here.
I started making my own lunches. I still packed a sandwich, passing it along to my friend. I'd eat my apple, still as unnaturally large as ever (think about the size of a grapefruit) then a banana. I'd be full. Two fruit and a Goldfish cracker, because my friends are always willing to share.
I'd come home, stare at the cupboard, close the cupboard, open the fridge, stare, and go back to the cupboard. Nine times out of ten, not that I keep track, but it sounds like a good ratio, I'd go for the veggie chips.
One afternoon a thought occurred to me. Those percentages and numbers on the back meant something. Fats and calories and sugars. I had a hunch. I thought it was a good one. How was I to know that it was more like one you'd find on a boy in a bell tower, that would cast me away from society?
When I talk to my mom about it in reflection, she blames herself. If she hadn't been on that diet, it wouldn't have happened. I've told her time and time again. It was never her fault. Okay, sure the food was in the house. But I was the type of kid who worked for what she wanted. I would have asked for it.
I did ask for it. We went to the grocery store on Sundays. I specifically remember one day, standing the carb loading aisle of the grocery store. You know, the one with crackers and cookies.
“If more than half the calories come from fat, it's not healthy.” I put the cheese crackers back on the shelf. Picked them up again. Double checked my math.
Forty percent. I could do better.
It is not natural to spend ten minutes browsing the cracker aisle. One could not call what I was doing browsing. It was more like someone had died, and I was scouring the place for clues.
I can't speak for whoever else was in the store, but I know was the closest thing to dead in that aisle. My pants drooped off me, tied by an old shoelace. (I've never had luck with belts, as my waist is just as slim.)
It's not that I was close to a physical death. That wouldn't be more evident until later on. Mentally, however, I was destined for an early grave.
'Here lies a young girl, robbed of a bright future and big dreams.'
It'd be a murder, courtesy of the one person guilty of stealing my identity. At the time, he didn't have a name.
A year later, from my seat on the therapist's couch, I'd call him Eddy.
We never bought the crackers.