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Forever remember this cry in your arms. How my slender frame quakes despite your close clutch, the vise holding together all of me you’ve yet to destroy. I shake like your resolve—one fault from broken. Tacitly, we understand it’s you, growing colder with each beat of my slowing heart, that sands my skin to marrow, but we blame the wind anyway—anything to keep the inevitable at bay.
Sweet—these blandishments you confide to my ear. With quivering fingers, I snatch hold of them before the breeze can masquerade them away.
“It’s okay.” Like you, it’s such a beautiful lie. “It’s okay.”
I breathe in the promise with your cologne—a scent as strong as the cage your arms form around me. I can’t escape if I want to. I’m yours. You told me that more fiercely than you told me anything. My eyes are brown, my giggle cute, my smile breathtaking, and I am yours. Emphatic, you made this as clear and true as the cerulean of your gaze.
But that blue no longer reflects the summer sky we met under. Shifting, like your passion, in accordance with the seasons, it blitzed with August’s heat, stumbled through September’s ambivalence, and at last fell prey to the chilling talons of October’s finality. Blinded from August’s rays, I spent all September blinking away spots and failing to notice you freezing and falling before me.
But now the spots have cleared, and my shivers betray just how far from August we’ve really come. Staring up at the new you, no cute giggles spring from my lips, no bursts of air abrade my throat—again, you’ve wrested my breath away, but this time, not with a smile. It’s just as my eyes, the molten innocence you swore you loved so much, are not brown. With tears rimming them red, how can you still not see they plead to stay green?
I wonder all this as the clouds above gape and bleed droplets to mourn our demise. Though the sky’s ninth-level chill rivals yours, I hold my ground and clutch you back. I borrow your prodigious speed and race back through our talks and laughs and stupid games. Ignoring the warnings, the screamed truth behind your whispered lies, I think of how you conquered the “purple dinosaurs” and the heart once mine. With the purple dinosaurs dead, I know you’re readying to turn the sword on me, not knowing three years ago, as a result of a rain almost as cold as this and a boy almost as cold as you, I’d tried to turn the sword on myself and embrace death as tightly as I’m now embracing you.
But I didn’t realize it. As a child refuses to take his mother’s hand in the face of a busy intersection and to believe Santa Clause is as real as those purple dinosaurs we chased, I refused to accept the door my bony hand banged on belonged to Death. I wasn’t perfect, though I strove to be, but I was no broken toy, no miscalculated math problem—there was nothing wrong with me. The doctor before me, the one whom I’d not been asked to see but had been told through a series of verbal slaps I was going to see, would agree with me. Apart from my glaring inadequacy, as neon as Las Vegas signs, I was fine.
The doctor I went to disagreed. As she thrashed her head, making her earrings tinkle as though caught in a gale, she told me I was Dr. Debra Katzman—the eating disorder specialist who wrote the book Understanding Eating Disorders—‘s definition of anorexic. I was fearful of being fat; had a distorted body image, had loss my menstrual cycle, exercised compulsively, and counted calories with a fastidiousness normally only manifested itself during an AP calc test. “You’re growing fur!” she told me.
My hands slunk up my arms which were goosebumped despite the excessive hair, called Lanugo hair, that coated them and several other places on my body. Cold, the world seemed so cold, colder than this embrace, dear Lover, despite the many layers I burrowed under to conceal my “fat;” the fat that Mrs. PhD couldn’t see but I could. I could see how I really was along with how she really was: my eyes, flickering like the tale of a trodden-on cat, my eyes raked the woman, watched as my first impression of her as a trustworthy, ivy-grad dissolved to one of a pernicious monster. Her elongating, vanilla teeth, hidden behind lips as nude as I felt, devoured my dreams. She was lumping me in with mentally ill freaks! Yes, I was between the age of 12 and 25, the age range where, according to Dr. Katzman, eating disorders are most likely to set in, but I didn’t have an eating disorders. According to Dr. Hilde Brown and the Journal of American College Health, anorexia develops because of fear of growing up, or off-kilter family dynamics, or a biological imbalance. My psycho-sexual development was fine, as was my family and my biological make-up. Sure, I had a low self-esteem and The Guide to Eating Disorders says it’s a common personality trait of anorexics, and I weighed myself multiple times a day and had a bit of a reputation as a perfectionist. But that didn’t mean I was anorexic; and it certainly didn’t mean this woman had any right to wrest my running away with her manicured claws.
As you know, my child prodigy runner, not everyone needs a bottle or pill to escape—just as not all anorexics use diet pills or laxatives to remain thin, though many do. A thrill, an accelerated pulse, dilated pupils, and oblivion to pain can all be achieved from thundering stride for stride with a mob of panting ponytails. The shared burning of legs and passion fuses our team together, creating the greatest organization I’ve ever been a part of: North Allegheny Cross Country. Now this…woman, this creature, wanted to wrench me from that herd, wanted to stop me from achieving the very high I pined for. I couldn’t let her. After sweating rivers, scaling mountains and mud-slicked plains, after burning thousands more calories than I’d consumed, I wasn’t about to let anyone, PhD in Sport Medicine or not, wrest my running from me like it were a rattle and I an undeserving infant. I’d worked hard to become this thin, thinner than Twiggy, the famed model of the 1960s who was 5 foot 6 and ninety-seven pounds and largely kick-started the wafer thin model standard. I was five foot six and eighty-five pounds. I was going to look like Barbie and disprove Dr. Katzman’s assertion of Barbie, were she real, being unable to stand up, wrong!
I turned to my mother for support. My mother, like me, loved to run, and like my father, loved watching me run. She told me herself, she and many others ran to lose weight, to lose fat—would it make sense to pull me from my sport because I wasn’t fat enough? In 1992, diet and low fat entrees contributed over 3 billion dollars alone to the US market, and in 1980 made up 7% of all food sale. Other people were trying to lose weight. Why should I be punished for achieving what they couldn’t? Did it make sense to pull me from a fat-burning activity because I wasn’t fat enough?
Apparently. My mother agreed with the doctor, and they wasted no time discussing recovery plans. A lot of words were thrown at me that day that I didn’t like. Hospitalization, intravenous feeding, psychotherapy, group therapy, meal plans—all methods for treating an eating disorder.
Do you remember, Lover, the ride at Kennywood that looked like a sideways Ferris wheel? How it began by merry-go-rounding, barely skimming the ground as it gathered the needed courage and momentum to flip us like pizza dough into the air? Chance had shone on us like the sun that August day, ensuring nothing more substantial than butterflies fluttered in our bellies. As the woman threw these words at me, along with the number of pounds—thirty—I’d have to gain, my stomach felt like it had on that ride. One-ten, one-fifteen, my head spun like that ride. And I knew that even if I covered my ears and hummed loudly like I so badly wanted to do, the problem would not go away. The Book of Eating Disorders informs us that treatment of an eating disorder takes, on average, six years. Usually more. It also said that because I’d starved myself so severely, I’d experience problems other anorexics faced: slow digestion, frail bones, stunted growth, and possibly a permanently incorrectly wired brain.
When you and I walk, Lover, we amble, treating each step as though painful, and we want to delay the agony in between the last step and the next as long as possible. On the walk from the doctor’s office to my mom’s van, I did just the opposite. The sky above shone clear--the opposite of the one above us now--as I stormed down the walk to the van door, trying to race away from my mom and my problems. Which didn’t work of course. My mother’s entry was softer and slower, as all of her was when compared to me. My opposite, she was as pale as I was tan, as freckled as I was unblemished, and, as she shuffled into the driver’s side, as aquiver as I was frozen. Her voice shook like I’m shaking in your arms as she begged with me not to let them put me in a hospital, to just get better so she didn’t have her baby taken away from her.
I replied nothing, just continued to stare out the window as though the parking were the reason I and 1 in every 100 girls in the United States are affected by this disease. I held my silence as my mother turned the key and wended our van out the parking lot. For a while, my mother and I heard only our chaotic thoughts and the van’s motor chortling. With our too–stiff backs glaring at each other and mouths reduced to a three-year-old’s Crayola-squiggle, we did look ridiculous. Usually the radio chattered along with me, battling away the quiet, but today I kept it off, the silence shouting to her that something was wrong.
Because something was wrong. Though this was no miscalculated problem, no broken toy, something was very, very wrong.
Do you remember, Lover, only three days ago, what will prove to be our last night together, how I closed my eyes for far longer than a standard blink? How I bit my lip as though it were a cherry, and you thought me funny? I was doing then exactly what I did in my mother’s van--fighting the tears welling in my own eyes as, listening in the deafening silence. And I finally heard what people had been yelling to me for months:
Something had been wrong for a very long time.
You cannot hear me, my running prodigy. You hear these thoughts no more than you heard me correct you when I told you my eyes were green, than you heard my pleas to let them stay that way. Though we stand here now, three years in the future, though I managed to not be among the 10% who die of anorexia nervosa, though I’ve achieved the impossible in gaining all the weight back and more, my life remains as tipped out of balance as I once made the bathroom scale. By standing here, clutching you, I’ve allowed you and the wind to sand away all of me I fought so hard to regain. Now, sheltered in your arms, I wait for you to pull away, to plunge the sword, and make what you once proudly called “us” as extinct as those purple dinosaurs.