The worn wooden surface of my kitchen table is decorated with large white tiles bordered by blue flowers. The original fabric on the seats of the matching chairs display a pattern impossible to discern. I think they used to be blue nubby stripes. I have been sitting down to meals at this table for thirty years.
The etched flowers cluster in small cheerful groupings. But sometimes they become the unwilling witnesses to the manifestation of one of my private demons. My longtime companion, my eating disorder.
It moved in with me sometime during the year I turned twelve.
Before that time I didn’t notice when I ran through the neighborhood with my friends, that my thighs rubbed fleshily against each other.
I was unaware of the extra blockiness of my torso above my long unshapely legs.
The summer I was twelve at sleep away camp were the first visitations of my disorder. I was not a popular girl among the campers of cabin ten. I was shy. I was unathletic. I was awkward, both physically and socially. Plus I looked wrong. I didn’t possess a sweetly gangly child’s body on the cusp of developing into a young teen’s gentle shape.
Instead I experienced what so many of us experienced.
Parts of my body expanded out in various useless ways. There were no boundaries between me and the outside world. There were only uncontrolled areas of expansion.
When I came back to school that year as a junior high student, my new eating disorder companion became a more constant presence.
I started wearing clothes I believed could hide this growing problem.
I remember a bright yellow knit dress with a green crew neck and matching banded sleeves. I loved that dress. It skimmed right down me. Not clingy anywhere and in a bright color I believed drew attention away from me as a person and encouraged eyes to focus only on the dress. There was a cute embroidery of a bee by the left shoulder. A friendly, smiling bee. That dress made me happy. I wore it to school at least once a week throughout seventh grade.
But then my Mom bought me a girdle to wear underneath. Because that’s what good moms did back then.
It was a fun child-friendly girdle. It had a cheerful print of purple butterflies, and when I squeezed into it different butterflies became different sizes depending which area they were covering. The butterflies at my hips and stomach seemed quite large.
I wore the butterflies under my perky yellow dress happily.
At least until the day I was up at the chalkboard struggling with a math problem in front of the class.
One of my classmates called out, “I can see your purple underthing when you raise your arms.”
That was the day my eating disorder moved in permanently.
Today, almost fifty years later, the battle continues.
I’m alone in the house.
My eating disorder and I need to compromise on food choices. Yogurt for breakfast? Or should we instead devour three bowls of cereal slathered in sugar?
Lean cuisine dinner? Domino’s pizza? Brussels sprouts? Ice cream?
Every day I waste my time struggling with this nonsense.
Because for me it is never one cookie. It is either no cookies, or all the cookies. But only when I’m alone. Because eating disorders thrive in secrecy.
This morning my eating disorder and I face challenging decisions together while the blue etched flowers on the white tiled table wait for the outcome or our daily battle.
Will I eat this yogurt and then go about my day, writing, exercising, reading and talking?
Or will I go forward in a different way? Eating too much, watching TV, and then eating too much again.
I am forever mired at the fork in the road described in the famous poem by Robert Frost. This is the moment. Which way will I go?
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Mr. Frost talks about reaching a fork in the road and having to pick the direction he will travel in. But instead I’m thinking about picking up the stupid fork and just eating.
When you have an eating disorder as a housemate anything can happen. And it frequently does.