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A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia
"Well, it's no use your talking about waking him," said Tweedledum, "when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real."
"I am real!" said Alice, and began to cry.
"You won't make yourself a bit realer by crying," Tweedledee remarked: "there's nothing to cry about."
"If I wasn't real," Alice said--half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous--"I shouldn't be able to cry."
"I hope you don't think those are real tears?" Tweedledee interrupted in a tone of great contempt.
--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
It was that simple: One minute I was your average nine-year-old, shorts and a T-shirt and long brown braids, sitting in the yellow kitchen, watching Brady Bunch reruns, munching on a bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot. The next minute I was walking, in a surreal haze I would later compare to the hum induced by speed, out of the kitchen, down the stairs, into the bathroom, shutting the door, putting the toilet seat up, pulling my braids back with one hand, sticking my first two fingers down my throat, and throwing up until I spat blood.
Flushing the toilet, washing my hands and face, smoothing my hair, walking back up the stairs of the sunny, empty house, sitting down in front of the television, picking up my bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot.
How did your eating disorder start? the therapists ask years later, watching me pick at my nails, curled up in a ball in an endless series of leather chairs. I shrug. Hell if I know, I say.
I just wanted to see what would happen. Curiosity, of course, killed the cat.
It wouldn't hit me, what I'd done, until the next day in school. I would be in the lunchroom of Concord Elementary, Edina, Minnesota, sitting among my prepubescent, gangly friends, hunched over painful nubs of breasts and staring at my lunch tray. I would realize that, having done it once, I'd have to keep doing it. I would panic. My head would throb, my heart do a little arrhythmic dance, my newly imbalanced chemistry making it seem as though the walls were tilting, the floor undulating beneath my penny-loafered feet. I'd push my tray away. Not hungry, I'd say. I did not say: I'd rather starve than spit blood.
And so I went through the looking glass, stepped into the netherworld, where up is down and food is greed, where convex mirrors cover the walls, where death is honor and flesh is weak. It is ever so easy to go. Harder to find your way back.
I look back on my life the way one watches a badly scripted action flick, sitting at the edge of the seat, bursting out, "No, no, don't open that door! The bad guy is in there and he'll grab you and put his hand over your mouth and tie you up and then you'll miss the train and everything will fall apart!" Except there is no bad guy in this tale. The person who jumped through the door and grabbed me and tied me up was, unfortunately, me. My double image, the evil skinny chick who hisses, Don't eat. I'm not going to let you eat. I'll let you go as soon as you're thin, I swear I will. Everything will be okay when you're thin.
Liar. She never let me go. And I've never quite been able to wriggle my way free.
Five years old. Gina Lucarelli and I are standing in my parents' kitchen, heads level with the countertops, searching for something to eat. Gina says, You guys don't have any normal food. I say apologetically, I know. My parents are weird about food. She asks, Do you have any chips? No. Cookies? No. We stand together, staring into the refrigerator. I announce, We have peanut butter. She pulls it out, sticks a grimy finger into it, licks it off. It's weird, she says. I know, I say. It's unsalted. She makes a face, says, Ick. I agree. We stare into the abyss of food that falls into two categories: Healthy Things and Things We Are Too Short to Cook--carrots, eggs, bread, nasty peanut butter, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, a six-pack of Diet Lipton Iced Tea in blue cans with a little yellow lemon above the word Tea. Tab in the pink can. I offer, We could have toast. She peers at the bread and declares, It's brown. We put the bread back. I say, inspired, We have cereal! We go to the cupboard, the one by the floor. We stare at the cereal. She says, It's weird. I say, I know. I pull out a box, look at the nutritional information, run my finger down the side and authoritatively note, It only has five grams of sugar in it. I stick my chin up and brag, We don't eat sugar cereals. They make you fat. Gina, competitive, says, I wouldn't even eat that. I wouldn't eat anything with more than two grams of sugar. I say, Me neither, put the cereal back, as if it's contaminated. I bounce up from the floor, stick my tongue out at Gina. I'm on a diet, I say. Me too, she says, face screwing up in a scowl. Nuh-uh, I say. Uh-huh, she retorts. I turn my back and say, Well, I wasn't hungry anyway. Me neither, she says. I go to the fridge, make a show of taking out a Diet Lipton Iced Tea with Little Yellow Lemon, pop it open, sip loudly, tttthhhpppttt. It tastes like sawdust, dries out my mouth. See? I say, pointing to Diet, I'm gonna be as thin as my mom when I grow up.
I think of Gina's mom, who I know for a fact buys sugar cereal. I know because every time I sleep over there we have Froot Loops for breakfast, the artificial colors turning the milk red. Gina and I suck it up with straws, seeing who can be louder.
Your mom, I say out of pure spite, is fat.
Gina says, At least my mom knows how to cook.
At least my mom has a job, I shout.
At least my mom is nice, she sneers.
A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. Copyright © by Marya Hornbacher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher
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