Age 11, around September
"Would you be upset if you and Mom got a divorce?"
It was an innocent enough question. I knew that my adoptive parents had been having their fair share of conflict, and I had always been the inquisitive sort. He looked up, his face taking on a tone of mild acceptance.
"Well, if she tries to get one, I guess I'd have to go with it."
I probed further.
"What if she wanted me?"
"What if we moved far away?"
I already knew of my mother's plans to move to Canada from our native Georgia. She already had plans to marry someone else, and she wanted me to come with her. I had sympathy for my father, though, and I wanted to try to convey this to him in a way that may lend him a bit of insight into what was about to happen.
His mood rapidly began to turn tense, so I took this as my cue to go inside the house. I had just made it past my mother when she turned to my dad and said, "I want her and half of what we've got. File it."
Age 11, around October
His eyes searched mine as we sat in the living room, a moving crew taking the furniture from our house to a U-Haul my mother rented. His hand reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. He handed me a twenty dollar bill.
"Go buy yourself something nice in Canada."
I thanked him, not sure of what else I could say at this point. I was moving to another country with his now ex-wife, and given his age, I knew I likely would never see him again. We hugged each other before he walked towards the open door. His voice broke as he forced a few words out.
"Good luck to you."
My father never cried. In all the years I knew him, this was one of perhaps two or three occasions where he shed tears. I said goodbye to him as my mom went to another room to cry, herself. He walked out the door and down the concrete path outside our house.
It was the last time I ever saw him.
Age 11, October
"I'm thinking about dieting."
My new friend, Danielle, looked at me incredulously.
"That's not healthy."
I grinned as though the whole premise was harmless. "I just want to lose five or ten pounds."
My frame was already small and skinny. I had always been the ideal gymnast or cheerleader, and many of my friends were of that lot. My mom had nearly signed me up for ballet, and I had been asked to attend many pageants as a child.
The idea to diet came suddenly and suspiciously. I had never cared about my weight or body image in this way before. But here I was, already ten or twenty pounds underweight by nature, planning out my own dietary regimen. Here I was, feeling as though I was responsible for my parents' divorce. Here I was, in a new country and a new school with a new father and a new life. Here I was, trying to find control in something.
Danielle looked at me again. "Seriously, that's not healthy."
I knew that Danielle had a good head on her shoulders, so I took her words to heart. I decided not to diet after all.
A few years down the road, that all changed.
Age 13, around August
My Home Economics class looked at the TV in utter horror as rail-thin people began to explain their sickness. None of them wanted to gain weight, despite being thin to the point of fatality. All of them looked like they could die within days.
One girl began to fidget nervously as a nurse tried to hook her up to a feeding tube. She screamed and cried, exclaiming that she was fat and didn't need any more food. I looked at her in disbelief; how could she be so delusional?
As the bell rang for my next class, I gathered my books, giving a final glance to the documentary as my teacher turned it off.
"I will never end up like that."
I looked around to see what we were having that day. Spaghetti. I began to break it down into its individual parts: meat, pasta, and sauce. I knew that I could nibble on the pasta while feeding the meat and sauce covertly to Bandit, our Shih Tzu. I could drink a lot of water and not feel hungry.
I resumed the analysis I was carrying out in the mirror, pulling at the skin on my sides and running my hands over my stomach. My ribs already stuck out naturally, but by now they had begun to extend like an extra set of limbs under my skin. I heard my mom's voice ring out again and pierce my thoughts.
I pulled my shirt down over my stomach and went to my place at the table. We discussed the day's events, things that made us think, some things my dad had heard on the news.
Once my parents left the table, I went to scrape almost all my share of dinner into the trash.
"It's almost time for school! Hurry, hurry!"
I began to apply eyeliner to my lower lash line, oblivious to the fact that my eyes had become sunken and lifeless. I looked over, realizing suddenly that my mom stood beside me, holding a glass of Dr. Pepper in her hand. Before I could wonder how she could get from the kitchen to the bathroom so quickly, everything went black.
I came to in the hallway. I tried to pull myself up off the floor, but I couldn't. It was as though I was magnetically attached to the floor; nothing would move except my neck, which I inclined toward the set of mirrors on the wall beside me. My eyes widened as, for a moment, I saw myself for how I really looked. My collarbone, wrist bones, hip bones, and every other bone was extended like a drowning person's hand looking for someone to pull them out of the water. My pupils were so dilated that they had overtaken the hazel, festering like a cancer and turning my eyes completely black.
I could somewhat hear my mom in the background. "I'm going to call an ambulance."
Suddenly, I found the strength to move. I shoved myself up against the wall and began to frantically pull myself up. "No." That was my mantra that day. Whatever happened from here on in, I was not going to the hospital. "No. No no no no no no no."
"Are you sure? Are you starting to feel okay?"
Honestly, my head was pounding, I was sick to my stomach, and everything inside me was ready to shut down, but for the sake of my body and how thin I was going to make it, I was ready to fake it.
"Yeah, yeah. Just...just don't...call the ambulance. Please."
She looked at me, suddenly really concerned as I began to feel worse and my peripheral vision began to blacken. She ran towards me, lifting me up slightly.
I came to on the living room couch as though I had woken from a very strange nightmare. My mom was on the end of it, patting my leg supportively.
"How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right," I said, looking for the drink she had been holding before I had passed out. "Where's the Dr. Pepper you had?"
She looked at me perplexedly. "Hon, there is no Dr. Pepper. You collapsed twice in the hall just now."
Later that night. . .
I gently and slowly began to pull myself up from the couch. I had tried this earlier, but I felt so dizzy and awkward that I just laid back down. As my legs began to straighten and I found myself standing, my legs began to wobble and buckle, making me fall to my knees. Suddenly I was a sixteen-year-old trying to learn how to walk. I desperately began to pull myself up again, only to fall again. This continued, until I grew tired of the constant collapse of my legs. I had to use the washroom, my parents were asleep, and I couldn't walk. As I began to wriggle around on the floor, I realized that I couldn't crawl, either. All the feeling in my legs had left me. I pulled my body along the floor until I reached the bathroom.
And then I broke down for the first time since my parents' divorce five years past. I just lay there, with hardly any ability to move or function as most teenagers, and cried. And I cried until I had no energy left.
A few days later. . .
"When can we leave?" I looked at my parents with pleading eyes.
"You can't leave until your tests are all done. We'll be out soon."
I looked up as a nurse returned with some of my test results. She eyed me closely, her expression full of concern. Then she began to address my parents.
"Her iron count is very low, and she is way too thin."
My dad spoke up first. "Well, she's been a vegetarian for a little while now. Do you think that has anything to do with it?"
She began to explain that I shouldn't be a vegetarian at my age for the sake of my bones, energy, and various other factors. After a while, she looked at me again, still with that worried expression that made me uncomfortable. "We need to run a few more tests," she said, fixing the controls on the machine that was keeping track of my heartbeat. Then she left the room.
After a nurse drew four vials of blood from my arm and I had taken a test for my heart, lungs, vitamin count, liver, and kidneys, I was discharged. As I left, I noticed that the nurse who had been overseeing my care continued to wear an expression of discomfort as I approached the exit.
A month or so later. . .
I had been bedridden until I could walk on my own. Once I was able to do this, I began to spend quite a bit of time on the Internet, as I usually did. I pulled up an MSN window and began to talk to one of my closest friends about my most recent experiences.
"My family and the people at the hospital seem really concerned, but I'm fine. I don't get it."
Suddenly, she began to get extremely irritated, firing message after message at me.
"Don't you see?"
"YOU AREN'T FINE."
"This is DESTROYING you."
I began to grow annoyed, bothered by the fact that she thought things were so serious. I reiterated to her that I was fine and that I would be okay.
She had had enough, so she threw out the first thing she could think of to make me evaluate this further.
"Forgive me, but if you don't stop, you may as well go to Africa so you can be with your own kind."
I began to think of all of those African children with the swollen bellies because their bodies don't know when they will be fed and they keep the food as long as they can, in what's known as "starvation mode". I was through discussing the situation, so I left MSN and turned my computer off.
After a while, I began to gather some rationality into my brain, and I realized that I was not "fine" as I had thought. I turned my computer on, logged into MSN, and began to send messages to the same friend who had troubled me for all the right reasons before.
"Hey. Can I call you?"
Some time later. . .
Her tone of voice was relieved, concerned, and supportive all at once. "You're going to get some help for this, aren't you?"
"Good. Because if you die...I will kill you."
We both clear the air with our laughter. "Yeah, because that makes a ton of sense," I said.
"Shut up! It made sense in my head!"
We laugh more, and then plan a healthy way to recovery.
After several struggles to get my weight to a place where I'm both comfortable and healthy, I woke up in the middle of the night and stepped on my scale.
I had enough rationality at this point to know that I was clearly too thin, and so I went upstairs to eat something. I grabbed a box of granola bars and ate the entire box. As I went to my computer, I noticed that the left side of my body had begun to twitch continuously. As I sat down, I tried to hold my limbs down and wait it out. After a while, I went downstairs and laid down on my bed, rocking myself back and forth, cradling the area where my stomach should be in my arms.
I looked up at the ceiling, deciding to forego my lack of faith in an attempt for help.
"Please, just help me get through tonight...and tomorrow, I will fight this."
About a month later. . .
As more rationality found its way into my head, I began to realize that the laxatives I had been taking in an attempt to lose weight were not working, and should not be taken even if they were. I pulled up a search engine and typed in 'laxative abuse'.
The symptoms popped up: 'colon cancer, sudden death from electrolyte imbalance, dependence on laxatives, heart problems.'
From that day on, I never took another one, and I waited it out until I could function without them.
I have come a long way since I started down this road. I don't weigh myself because I don't care about numbers on a scale, but I'm approximately 100-105 pounds, which is a natural weight for my height. I've always been quite thin. I've gained 20-25 pounds overall. My hair doesn't fall out anymore. My eyes aren't sunken. My skin isn't jaundiced. My bones are where they should be. My heart doesn't skip several beats or beat too fast. My breathing isn't laboured. I don't collapse or convulse.
Most importantly, I am happy. I'm happy with my weight, my body, and myself. I don't feel as though I should lose weight to gain control, because I have all the control within myself. I can eat dessert and not worry my guilt-riddled brain with all the calories and fat I consumed. I see myself as nothing less than beautiful.
And so should you.
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