to be or not to be..

February 29, 2012
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In Jacksonville, Florida, there are two kinds of people- the perfect or the imperfect. I’m a perfectly imperfect girl who doesn’t know where to throw herself, which means that I act like everyone expects me to, but I really couldn't be any more different. When people look at me, they see the smile with the pearly white teeth and the bright, happy blue eyes. If they knew what the inside looked like, they'd run away in fear. I've been keeping a secret that would put my superficial, close-minded, and very rich family in deep embarrassment. People pass by our glass house with envy. They wish they could have the money, the perfect kids, and the looks. But what you see isn't always what it really is.

My dad is always working. When he isn't, we want him to be just so he's not home. Nothing our family does is ever good enough for him. He'll come home and expect the house to be spotless and his dinner waiting on the table. He pressures my two brothers, my sister, and me to be perfect at everything we do, whether it's academics or sports. My mother tries her best to keep him calm when his temper starts to show, but she gets treated like a dog. She's the executive director of Jacksonville Cosmetics, and she spends her weekends chatting about the latest gossip at the local country club. She brings in three-fourths of our family's income, but my father acts like he's the better half. He thinks without him, our family would be on the streets. They've been together twenty years and counting, but hopefully that's coming to an end soon.

When it comes to my brothers, Colby and Caden, they're competing to be captain of the football team, but both are currently quarterbacks and the best players on the team. They have brought their team to the football state championships since freshman year and won the past two years. My father has never showed up to any of their games. My sister and I have never missed one. We go every Friday night -after our homework is done, of course- and my mother usually shows up during halftime, after work.

Colby is a senior in high school and a straight-A student. He's the tougher brother and a player on and off the field -meaning he gets any girl he wants. Caden is a junior, also a straight-A student, but unlike Colby, he's very sensitive and quiet. I know if it was up to him, he'd be doing the plays and musicals in our school and joining different clubs. He wouldn't have anything to do with sports, but my father wouldn't have it any other way even though he never shows up to any games or school events. My sister is perfect, just like my mom. Sophia is beautiful, extremely smart, strong-minded, and independent. She's the only one in the family who stands up to our father and protects our mother from him. She would do anything for me, as I would for her. I'm the youngest one in the family and also the most pressured.

My father wants me to take over my mother's business when I'm older, to be as into sports as him and my brothers, and strong-minded like him and Sophia. He doesn't allow me to date while in high school because he wants me to focus on my classes and be the fourth honor student in my family. My mother pressures me to be as girly and successful as her. Every summer, I follow her around her office, being her assistant and fetching whatever she desires. During the school year, I'm a part time-model for her cosmetics line, trying whatever product is in stores for that week. In order to be the perfect model, I have to stay skinny, have long and perfectly parted hair every day, and the whitest teeth anyone's ever seen in Jacksonville. And there's no way out of my misery until I turn eighteen, which is in 590 days. Then, I will be free to get out of this city and out of my parents' claws.

Until that day comes, my mornings start out like this: I wake up, I eat whatever we have for breakfast, then take a trip to the bathroom that is connected to my room. All of our walls are soundproof, which makes my secret very easy to keep. No one knows what I do when I spend five, ten, sometimes even fifteen minutes in my bathroom, arched over my porcelain throne. There's no one I could ever tell, not even my best friend, not my sister, and obviously not my parents since they're the source of this issue. It's an addiction that I have tried to cease, but nothing has ever worked.

I like food, but can't have what I want because I need to keep my perfect appearance. So my solution is to binge eat and then purge. I wore a rubber band around my wrist once for a whole week and snapped it whenever I thought about doing it, but that ended up not affecting me. I would avoid walking near my kitchen or go in the cafeteria at school, but that just made me starve and not eating made me gain more weight. I decided to only eat what I thought was considered healthy, until I started going back to my old habit. My problem just kept intensifying the more I was urged to be flawless.

My face is all over Jacksonville's billboards, newspapers, magazines, and television channels. My family's name is a household name and the main gossip at the country club. Nothing about my parents is private; they're always in the local news for some charity work they're involved in or whatever new product my mother has coming to stores soon. Colby and Caden are in the city's newspaper, as well as the school's, giving details about which football game they had recently won. Sophia has won every possible medal or trophy would could imagine from school and sports. The odd one out is me. I'm an honors student, I do well in basketball, but I'm not outspoken, I don't do as much charity work as my parents would like me to do, and I don't make the newspaper every Sunday. I'm very far from being the daughter my father wishes he had.

Every day for the past two years, I have skipped lunch to go to the bathroom in the furthest school building where nobody ever goes. I spend exactly 13 minutes eating whatever I brought in that day, about ten minutes in a stall, and four minutes brushing my teeth making sure no evidence is left. All this leaves me three minutes to walk back to the main building and be in class like a good student.

My secret was almost discovered twice. Once, I had an appointment with my dentist for a cleaning a few months ago and had asked why my enamel was disappearing so fast. I had stuttered and lied saying I was probably drinking too much soda. He didn't keep questioning, all he cared about was how much my parents were paying him an hour.

The second time was during one of my lunches last year when a freshman walked into the bathroom. I was bent over the toilet in the last stall when she walked over. She flipped out and asked if I was okay, and again, I lied. All I had to say was I was getting over the flu and I'd go to the nurse right away. I haven't seen her since, and as far as I know, she didn't say a word to anyone.

I'm tired of playing the role of the black sheep in my family. I hate how everyone knows us and acts like I'm just like my parents. My father's a jerk, my mother's a snob. My sister is the closest to being perfect, and my brothers have everything going for them. Even my teachers expect me to be just like my siblings. I am my own person, I obviously make mistakes, and I don't want to be a model. I like school, but hate being forced to be an honors student. I already try my best and play sports I don't even like just so my father can be a bit proud of me. Nothing has worked for him, no matter how hard I try.

My brothers get all the attention from our father because they're his sons and to him that's more important than his daughters. He loves that Caden and Colby are great at football, intelligent, and always in the media. When it comes to Sophia and I, he couldn't give a care. I think he just sees of us like he sees our mother- not a great as he is, girly, and not as powerful as a man- but yet, he's the one that wants us going into her cosmetics business.

Nobody seems to feel as pressured as I do. My sister is the one that gets the least attention in our family because she tries to never be home when our parents are home and she's too busy with college applications to pay attention to what goes on with us. Colby thinks of himself as gold and Caden just does what he is told because he doesn't like confrontations with my father or sticking up for himself. I'm just waiting two more years for my birthday and then I'm out of this town and on my own. I want to become a lawyer, but even if I reached that achievement, I don't think it would make my parents proud. I know my mother would be disappointed that I wouldn't be carrying her business and my father would just see that as another failure of mine.

My family has never had anything completely to ourselves since we are so publicized. My brothers compete against each other for what they want, my mother is well known because of her growing business, and my father is basically the god of charity events. My sister tries her best to keep to herself, but with her grades, she gets in the newspaper almost every week. As for me, the only thing that's ever been completely mine is my secret about eating and I'm not sure if I'm ready to let it go yet.

I'm sure that if people found out about my secret, they would look down on my family and that would harm my parents' businesses. I could see the newspaper headlines now, 'TANNER'S DAUGHTER SECRET OUTED!' That would be a great conversation starter at the country club. My parents would be so humiliated they would never want to talk or see me again. They would only care about what their friends and co-workers would think. What people don't realize is how much my family is dysfunctional. They only see how my family acts in public, not behind closed doors where all the yelling happens and how my father drives me to be like when he is putting me down saying I'm not good enough. I don't have any control over anything because his motto is 'whatever the father says, goes.' If I don't follow it and do what he says, I'm grounded. Being grounded in my house is the last thing anyone would want. We get everything taken away which includes cell phones, televisions, books, iPods, being with friends, and even going to our practices for sports. So we do what we're told and hope that we don't mess up.

I've been dealing with bulimia for about a year now. I have tried many things to stop like snapping a rubber band on my wrist, not going near the kitchen or cafeteria, not eating, and only eating about half the calories that I'm supposed to consume in a day. Nothing has worked for me so far. I have been thinking about going to a support group, but because my family is so famous in Jacksonville, I'm sure I would be outed after one session. As long as no one notices any signs, I think I'll be in the clear for a while, but what scares me is that I won't know when to stop. I'm afraid my condition will just keep growing and getting worse and one day I won't be around to regret my decisions.





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