I’m pretty certain the book was intended to scare the pants off young women about the dangers of eating disorders, but it sure as hell didn’t have that effect on me. The title character, while assuredly sick and insanely unlikeable, gets to be thin, gets to be completely crazy, gets to take control back from her parents, and gets to leave school and the real world to escape to self-absorbed treatment. To a certain type of control-freakish, weight-obsessed, narcissistic teen, this sounded pretty appealing.
Eating disorders were glamorous to me in the same way that pedicures were. They were "rich" people indulgences and symbols of excess, and I was poor and horribly unglamorous. When I went to friend’s houses I would go to their bathrooms and covet their bath products--lotions and pomades and fancy French makeup tucked away behind vanity mirrors with bright movie set lighting. My bathroom at home had a massive hole in the wall from a plumbing experiment, a bathtub that was sinking into the floor, and a sink that didn’t work, forcing us to brush our teeth in the tub. People that lived like me didn’t have eating disorders, they were happy to have food to eat. But I didn’t let that restrict me. “You can never be too rich or too thin” I thought. I would have to settle for thin.
I never really got to test this adage, though, since every time I attempted to starve, my intense survival instincts kicked in and I would find myself gorging on food within a matter of hours. I would plan it all out--set up a secret diet chart in my closet, get psychologically geared up, and then cave at the first scent of something delicious. It became patently clear that despite my best efforts, anorexia just wasn’t for me.
First of all, there was nothing “delicate” about me. Dramatic, funny, powerful, and intense, I’ve always been a “What you see is what you get” in-your-face type of girl. I may have wanted to be a floaty, ethereal fairy princess, ala Moonchild in the Never Ending Story, but I was probably more akin to Atreyu. “I came to live out loud,” as my mom always used to say, and my body seemed reluctant to relinquish any of that power by starving myself.
Secondly, even aside from my bouts of binge eating, I was consistently a big eater. My older sister and my mom were as well. Blessed with relatively high metabolisms (it may be all the twitching we do), and the healthy, balanced meals my mom always prepared, the three of us put away an amount of food that was anything but ladylike. Dessert, too, appeared after every dinner, and sometimes after lunch. Typically chocolate ice cream with malted milk sprinkled on top, we each got around a cup-and-a-half in our chipped blue glass bowls.
Given my measure of normalcy, I had no idea I ate more than other people until my first year in college, when my roommate indelicately pointed it out. “Damn, girl, you eat SO much,” were Suzanne’s words to me as she watched me down a linebacker-sized dinner. “What? Really?” I said. Didn’t everyone eat a whole bag of pasta with a whole jar of alfredo sauce on it? In my defense, my 19-year-old eating habits might have been a direct result of undernourishment for the previous couple of years.
When my mother cooked, she cooked well. All throughout my childhood we were fed exceptionally well, particularly given the fact that we had almost no money. Even if chicken hearts were on the menu, by god they were good chicken hearts. But as the years went by and her job teaching brats teenagers while raising two more sapped her of energy, cooking started to fall by the wayside. Also often missing from our home were groceries in a combination one could easily make a meal from.
My mom wasn’t big on processed foods, which was great, but there was frequently nothing to eat in the house that didn’t involve serious culinary skills. If she did buy something easily consumed, like bagels or crackers, she would often complain that we “ate it too quickly” and refuse to buy any more. What she did buy, however, were condiments. Our refrigerator was crammed and overflowing with all manner of mustards, sauces, chutneys, and jams, their glass bottles clinking merrily each time the fridge was opened. Considering the size of the fridge, this was quite the accomplishment.
For much of my youth, we had used a vintage fridge barely bigger than today’s bar refrigerators. It didn’t even have a freezer, just a little extra cold cubby at the top, which could be completely filled with two cans of orange juice concentrate. The rest of our frozen goods were kept in the freezer chest in the basement, which meant a terrifying run down the stairs for whomever had been tasked in retrieving the ice cream that night. Nothing short of ice cream would have sent me into that basement past dark. Large and dark and crammed with weird silhouettes, like a potter’s wheel, an old photography enlarger, and an antique coat rack, the bowels of my mother’s 1920s home was like an underground tour of neglect.
As this arrangement was fairly inefficient, and our fridge ludicrously small, my mother finally, with much prodding from us, set out to buy a new fridge. Always a fan of shopping, I accompanied her to Sears, where she was suckered by a smooth-talking salesman into buying a refrigerator dramatically larger than what we needed. Uninitiated into the necessity of using a measuring tape, I gave my blessing, simply pleased that it was big and modern. When the thing was delivered, however, it became immediately clear we’d made a mistake.
“Oh my god, that thing is huge!” my sister said, with a worried look on her face. “Yeah, isn’t it great?” I said. Somehow the delivery man got it through the narrow hallway into the kitchen, where it sat like the 8th wonder of the world. “Ok, yes, it’s too big,” my mother and I admitted, but what was there to do? Calling upon the help of a friend, my mom had one cupboard almost completely sawed away to accommodate our new appliance. “There,” she said triumphantly, “It fits.”
“What the hell is that?” we all asked twenty minutes later as we ran to the source of the noise. Our new fridge sounded like an airplane taking off, spinning and whirring as it worked. We soon learned that the noises came and went as the fridge pleased, bringing on nightly panic as we adjusted to our new kitchen symphony. Soon though, my sister had given it the pet name “Monstro: The Largest Refrigerator in the World,” my mother had filled it with condiments, and it faded into the background along with all the other quirks about the house.