Fragile Bodies: The Truth of Half Life
Author's note: This is a real life experience for me just with different names and ages and such.
Out of the RadarOut Of the Radar
I left New Seasons for the third time with a diet plan and a course of therapy. While I was happy to finally gain my life back, my subconscious still longed for the tables on boxes and numbers on scales. I would tell that part of my mind to fade away or at least lie dormant as I tried to bury those thoughts in the smallest place of my heart. I believed that my disordered thinking about eating has a half life and that as time goes by my former obsessions shrink to the smallest particle. The truth about half life is that they never go away completely. The past years of starvation left a permanent psychological dent that will reemerge if provoked, but I was optimistic enough to leave that in the past.
Dr. Parker the therapist I had been seeing throughout my struggles with anorexia nervosa is the primary therapist in my treatment plan. I had her phone number and I was strongly encouraged to call her if ever needed. It was in her office that I dealt with the issue of hallucinating the ghost of my best friend post-mortem. I came to accept the fact that she stayed in my mind, the vivid hallucination, because I deeply missed her. I was content with the breakthrough in my therapy. Although I never liked Dr. Parker and had the suspicion that she was draining my parents financially, I submitted the 'copying skills' in pursuit of my goal on a much broader spectrum: recovery.
I went through the motions, going with my mother (Dr. Marrigan) to the clinic for a routine monthly check up which consisted of urine samples, blood screenings and the obvious weigh in. Living with my mother, as opposed to my father (Professor Overbrook), Jennifer and my half sister Emma, I no longer had to deal with the Bubble-O-Meter 3000, the scale which I could easily manipulate. Jennifer no longer recorded my Tuesday weekly weights; Dr. Marrigan made mental notes at the routine check ups, encouraging me with each pound I had gained. I was gaining about three pounds every monthly weigh in. As the winter faded and my once fragile body began to thaw, my weight increased to a healthy 114 pounds with an optimal BMI. Although I was slightly uncomfortable with the weight gain, I was showered with praise and encouragement which made the struggles to put on weight worthwhile.
Towards the end of spring, a time where I was able to maintain my weight, my treatment plan lightened up. I still had routine check ups and weigh ins but I saw Dr. Parker on a two week basis instead of a one week. Dr. Marrigan diverted her focus from what was on my plate to work related affairs. I ate what I was suppose to in order to maintain trust with my mother and my treatment team, and towards the end of the school year at the time of my graduation I was declared a 'recovered anorexic'.
Throughout my recovery I had frequent images of Cassie trying to pull me to join her back in the motel room. I could feel myself holding the see glass, coaxing her to look through it and then hearing her explain to me she could no longer be on the other side with me. She was always in my memory and sometimes she manifested herself in ways that I was comfortable with. I would sit at the kitchen table for breakfast and Cassie would be across from me, smiling with a plate of waffles, her familiar smell of ginger, cloves and burnt sugar blending with the scent of warm maple syrup. When I finished my plate she vanished. Although I had 'learned' to deal with the hallucinations through therapy and a period of medication, I didn't pick up the phone and call Dr. Parker when she came back. She came back to me in the sweetest way, just like I remembered her when she was alive, when she and I were best friends until we drifted apart. I embraced these hallucinations and sewed them into my reality. It was as if she were still alive.
The times when Cassie and I ate together, she didn't speak. She enjoyed what she was eating and I knew that she was in a place where she didn't need to run to the toilet and puke. These were glimpses of the normal Cassie which in turn brought out the normal me, the normal Lia. We were two girls living life, although it wasn't possible for her.
The times when I would lay in bed, checking my collar bone, my ribcage and my hip bones self consciously Cassie would sense my insecurity and drift into my dark bedroom in her blue dress and her cold skin. Her scent would flood my senses. I kept my hands on my bones, secretly wishing that I could simply see them again. Cassie would whisper "You miss them, don't you?" and I would fight to shake my head, to scream that I was healthy and beautiful. Nothing came out but a sigh of defeat, my will of steel giving in to her soothing voice like the cold of winter. Cassie would hold my hand, which lingered on my bones and she would close her eyes, reminding me without words or the things that I held onto with a thin thread: the numbers, the calories, the weights, the jealous stares, the bones. I would cry myself to sleep with her rubbing my back and singing to me. These occurrences didn't happen that often while I was in the prime of my recovery, but she would slowly come back to me more frequently in the dark, especially as winter came.
Living back with my mother I would walk out of the house and see the house where the Parrishes lived, where Cassie once lived. Mrs. Parrish eventually coped with the death of her daughter through her gardening talents. There was a section of her garden which she maintained in Cassie's memory, not knowing that it was the same plot of land at which Cassie first purposely threw up at such a tender age in her childhood. I was the only one who knew that. When it crossed my mind and when I thought about telling someone, I would picture Cassie smiling, saying "It's our litter secret, Lia-Lia." In the middle of spring Cassie's garden was a part of the garden tour hosted by Mrs. Parrish. The flowers were award winners, their pictures featured in Amoskeag's gardening magazine. I went to go visit the garden with a crowed of older women who were flower enthusiasts. Mrs. Parrish would stare at me longingly, as if she could see her daughter in me and then she would approach me where we would make small talk. We never talked about Cassie's death, only her memory.
When Cassie would appear during the daylight hours of the approaching summer, she and I would go through my summer clothes. I looked like a normal 18 year old girl at a healthy weight with a size 4 jean. I twirled my floral skirts for Cassie taking in her smiles of approval. This was the normal Cassie, the girl who supported my recovery; I pulled a blue bikini out from the top shelf of my closet. I held it up with adoration. I pulled down my skirt and panties, sliding the bikini bottom on. I tied both sides snuggly to my hips. I admired my legs in the full-length mirror. I gently pulled off my top, unhooking my bra and held the top of my bathing suit. I took a hard look in the mirror seeing the dreadful reality of my body. My breasts had grown rounder and fuller with the weight I had gained but I could clearly see the regret on my ribcage, the dark scars between my ribs and the remains of stitches from my deepest lacerations. Cassie would cringe and I would cry, dropping the bathing suit and curling up on the floor. Sometimes when I cried over my scars Cassie would hold me. Other times Cassie felt like she couldn't console me and she would regretfully vanish.
Back when I was released from New Seasons I stood in my room holding my cell phone, the same one I had had this whole time. I couldn't bring myself to delete the messages Cassie had left on my phone the night she had died alone. I had thirty three cries for help from her and although they were always painful to hear, I couldn't let them go. Some nights I would listen to them, picturing where she was during each message: lying on the bed, looking out the winder, holding the wall, leaning over the toiled. I would close my eyes tightly picturing her body on the cold floor and then I would feel her breath on the back of my neck. "I'm still here, Lia," she whispered. "I'm still here."
There was a night where I had a dream of the time where I was most vulnerable. I was standing in Room 115 of the Gateway Motel in Centerville, in front of Elijah. He saw my emancipated body: the hallow breasts, the protruding ribs, the scars. "How much do you weight?" He asked in amazement. I knew he was thinking 'How can she still be alive?' I was at my lowest weight, standing naked in front of a boy. His reactions made me hate myself, hate my body and hate what I had become. But I needed him to understand and that was the only way he could really see. I had faded in and out of sleep. I woke up and saw him leaning in a chair with a deck of cards. I drifted into sleep and woke up again to find him gone. That was the last time I saw him.
My dreams and visions of what had been became more frequent and powerful. I managed to maintain my recovery enough to slide out of the radar. That summer I was accepted into the local university which was advised by my family and Dr. Parker. They wanted me to be close to my resources to stay safe in my recovery. Although I was still living in the Amoskeag area, I had freedom I never thought I could have while in New Seasons and more leverage to slip back into unhealthy habits. I lived in a dorm room with a minifridge taking the place of my end table. I had picture frames on top next to my bed of my childhood, of Cassie. On the edge of the surface I had the see glass where I could pick it up at any time. I would look through it and remember the day where the stars aligned, where the light of the moon kept me alive.
I had a roommate, Chelsea, whose bed was on the opposite wall. She, too, had a minifridge as an end table. I later learned that this was a common thing among university students. Her fridge was stocked with Pepsi and plastic take out boxes of what she brought back from the cafeterias and dining halls on campus. The boxes usually had things like lasagna, chocolate cake and biscuits with gravy. I could tell that she never thought twice about anything she put in her mouth. She looked to be about 130 pounds with a BMI of about 23, since she was about five feet and five inches tall.
Chelsea was outgoing and well rounded. She was also Physics major but also swam for the varsity swim team. She had room to eat whatever she wanted. "Lia," she would say to me before leaving the room. "Help yourself to any of my soda." The last thing I would see was her long auburn hair sliding through the door before I heard the familiar click that assured me that I was alone. I never opened her fridge. I stuck to my own which was crammed with diet root beer, sliced turkey and plain yogurt.
When I was alone in my room Cassie would sometimes appear. The first time I saw her she was sitting on Chelsea's bed, her knees to her chin and her arms around her legs. "You finally made it," she grinned. "You never thought you would be on your own, but look at you." She glanced at the fridge and then at the vanity mirror. "You have freedom, Lia-Lia." I smiled nervously at her. I thought of the scale I had kept secretly in my room at Jennifer and my father’s house, suddenly regretting throwing it out the window. I wanted to see the number. Wanted Cassie's approval.
"Cass," I whispered, breathing slowly. I knew what was happening. I thought of picking up my phone and calling Dr. Parker. F*** Dr. Parker. I thought of pulling out my book of coping skills from New Seasons. Those didn't do s*** for you Lia. I thought of running out of the dorm, jumping in my car and driving to Jennifer, to my mother, to the insane asylum. All of these things came into my mind like red light warnings. I felt like it was my last chance to hold onto what I had worked so hard on achieving. But I was pulled back. Lia, you can't abandon me. You have to come back. I thought of half life, my disease shrinking to half its previous size and then half of that size. Only this time, the small particle left of my disease started expanding, multiplying, and flooding my brain. It was a flood of a clogged drain from Cassie's vomit. I had nowhere else to turn. I looked at Cassie for help. I needed to know where to go.
I saw silk sliding from Cassie's fingers. Webs weaved to the baseboards of Chelsea's bed, to the windowsill, silk slowly trailing on the thin carpet floor, catching hold of my bare feet. I tried to step away but I lost my free will, control of my legs. Cassie latched onto me, her spider body spinning a web around my limbs, silk lining my ribs. I stopped fighting and leaned towards her. Silk sealed my lips. All I could do was watch. "Lia," she whispered. "I missed you.”