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Sweet Perfection MAG
Twenty-five frozen, strikingly similar faces smile up at me from a stainless-steel platter. As I examine them, I see that not one is frowning, although they should be. For just as they look nearly identical, so is their fate: to suffer a rather untimely and most undignified death.
They might have been spared to survive another day, but for the one fatal characteristic common to all freshly baked goods: that wafting, ever-so-sensual smell. (Their presence might have gone undetected had that aroma not reached my nose which was in another room mere moments after they emerged from the oven.) However, the fact is I did breathe in that seductive smell, and those gingerbread cookies didn’t stand a chance.
It’s been several hours now since I first caught the scent, and though the aroma has faded somewhat, its effects on my brain haven’t. Since then, my teenage mind (which should be filled with trivial thoughts of school and boys) has been preoccupied with thoughts of little dancing gingerbread men; all I can focus on is how wonderful it would be to taste that spicy cinnamon flavor, to feel the cookies’ baked deliciousness crumble in my mouth. So I wait three-and-a-half tortuous hours for my mom to leave the house. And now, it is time to begin what promises to be a most magical and fulfilling journey.
I continue to scrutinize them for just a moment more, only my eyes move to drink in the scene. Then, without warning, a pale white arm flashes out of nowhere, snatches up the first man, and promptly delivers him into my mouth. This happens again and again in rapid succession, with rising intensity, until I am barely chewing and practically choking yet reveling in this magnificent experience. Each cookie is an explosion of flavor on my tongue that sends me reeling into a temporary utopia.
After what seems like an eternity of bliss (but in reality has been 10 minutes), I glance down and see that only six of the original 25 men remain. Looking beyond the crumbly remains of their former comrades and their ever-beaming faces, I can see my own reflected in the tray, and revulsion and self-loathing fill me. Disgusting pig, I mouth to the face, Why can’t you control yourself? You’re so fat. For a moment hatred and horror overwhelm me, but then I remember something joyful. My reflection transforms itself into a brave attempt at a smile that actually looks more like a grimace.
I’ve recalled that recently I discovered a means of control, a remarkable method of both punishment for my gluttonous indulgence and a way to erase the revolting act. It’s my secret weapon to ward off the fat that is seeking to destroy me. With that grimace-smile on my face, I head for the bathroom, lock the door, and kneel beside the toilet.
It happens suddenly and without warning: I am walking downtown with a companion, trading the latest gossip, when a miniature version of heaven on earth enters my vision, obscuring all from sight and thought. Although I pretend to listen to my friend, the words no longer hold meaning and my gaze is continually drawn to the Eden that we are approaching. My friend notices the store, and casually asks, “Should we go in?” Enter this most holy and beautiful of places? I am astounded by the idea, for surely I am not pure enough to enter. I vaguely recall that once, a long time ago, I had thought myself worthy of experiencing the delights of such a place. Surely such a place is too good to be true and some hidden evil must be lurking. This flashes through my mind at lightning speed, but just as I conclude that it would be safer to avoid it entirely, my friend answers her own question with, “Well, I’m craving chocolate.”
I hesitate for only a moment, her decisiveness suppressing my fearful uncertainty encourages me to enter. For a few seconds all I can do is stand and stare, my mind and body both rather faint with longing and reverence for all that surrounds me. Then, as I overcome this initial shock, Temptation begins to whisper. He speaks very softly, so only I can hear, pushing me to make a selection. Why not try those donuts? Freshly baked, Boston creme, your favorite ... Oh, look! What a beautiful work of art! Why not feast on that chocolate cake with the raspberry filling? No? Well, how about a couple dozen of those cookies, there’s chocolate chip and rainbow and those delightful jelly-filled ones. Hmm, maybe brownies instead? Look, your friend is buying a few ...
The sight of my friend purchasing three large brownies brings me out of my trance and temporarily mutes Temptation’s persistent voice. That’s when I recognize the trap. Temptation is once again trying to lead me into an unspeakable horror, into a state of fat. I can always utilize my secret weapon. But isn’t it a greater show of strength to avoid the need for the weapon? He wants me to be just like my friend, eating hundreds and hundreds of calories and bearing the telltale repulsive flesh on my stomach, my hips, my thighs, but I am more powerful than he is. Longing turns to scorn for him and the pathetic weakness he seeks to induce in me, and I hastily leave.
My friend catches up with me outside, and starts to eat one of her brownies in the most casual fashion. I am hard-pressed not to stare; people who eat without thought fascinate me. As I surreptitiously sneak glances at her and the brownie, my revulsion dissipates and is replaced with a dull ache in my heart that reflects my empty, shrunken stomach. Suddenly I am crushingly tired; victory against Temptation seems to have cost me my strength. I find I can no longer bear the sight of this nonchalant consumption. I turn my head away, a nearby window reflecting my expression, and for a moment, I do not recognize the emaciated girl staring back at me, the one with the hunger in her eyes.
“All right, everyone, you know the drill. You have 15 minutes to finish your snacks,” Elizabeth announces. At this, I, like the 10 other girls seated with me, shift my attention from her to the dangerous item that has been placed before me: a slice of prepackaged Sara Lee apple pie. I stare at it with numbness; there is no longer any hunger in my gaze. I believe I am beyond needing anything: food, water, attention; I am entirely self-sufficient and in complete control of myself.
Thinking about this stirs up a faint swirl of anger, since it reminds me that the whole reason I am sitting at this table with a bunch of breathing skeletons is because no one understands this. Everyone else is so dependent on the external that they don’t believe me when I tell them that I have surpassed all of this, that I need nothing but my mind to function. Instead of trying to understand, they’ve labeled me “anorexic” and dumped me in a hospital. A hospital! As if I were sick! The concept is laughable; I am perfect in my independence and that which is perfect is certainly not sick.
“Seven minutes left! Get a move on there, Christina!” Ignoring this warning I continue to contemplate the pie in front of me, without making a move toward my fork. Its very presence begins to become offensive. I recognize it as a tool to wreck my perfection. If I allow this repulsive object to enter my body, it will ruin all of my hard work; I will no longer be pure, I’ll be disgusting, I’ll be fat. They wish to ruin me, to make me dependent again. Not just my wretched family who condemned me to this place, but the doctors, the nurses, and the ever-watchful Elizabeth; all of them want me to join them again as gluttonous slaves to the outer world and all its filth.
Suddenly I am brought out of my contemplation by a gentle tap on my arm. The girl next to me, a tiny ballerina named Rachel, whispers, “Listen, I know this is hell. But the only way to escape, the fastest way to get out of here, is to comply.” I feel another flash of anger at these patronizing words, but that is quickly followed by the realization of their truth. Rachel is completely right; the only way to get out of this place is to do what they want. Resistance always yields the same result in this nightmare of a place: a feeding tube stuck down one’s throat. This forced defilement of my body is even more unacceptable than complying. So it seems that surrender, at least for now, is my only option.
I take my fork, and with four minutes left, I begin to destroy the perfection that I was so proud of. I am unaccustomed to the flavors that assault my mouth as I begin the tortuous process of eating, but as I con-
tinue, my taste buds start to remember. They even pick up a slightly salty, unfamiliar flavor. I glance at a nearby mirror, and I discover the source of the salinity: thin streams of water coming from my eyes.
Some friends and I sit at one of the tables scattered in the school cafeteria. We’re chatting about the latest high school scandal, when my friends abruptly fall silent and look over my shoulder. I twist around to discover the cafeteria lady (the mother of one of my friends) walking toward my table, with a tray laden with freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies. “Happy seventeenth birthday!” everyone shouts, as she places the cookies in front of me.
With a smile and some vague reply, I thank her, and although I appear calm, on the inside I am squirming with anxiety. Everyone reaches for a cookie, and after a moment, I take one. Gazing at this small yet desirable object, it occurs to me that I don’t really need to eat it. However, I immediately squash this thought. I quickly recite the mantra I have learned during therapy since my release from the hospital all those months ago: It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you want. And what I want, I firmly remind myself, is to enjoy my life and be happy. I may not find absolute gratification in a cookie, but I know now that I certainly won’t find it in an empty stomach. So, with a determined grin, I take a respectable bite out of my cookie. Looking around me, I see not only my smile, but my pride in myself reflected in the beaming faces of those around me.