Two Boys

Sophomore Yearbook Picture

Sophomore Yearbook Picture

 

This week’s SCOTUS circus has been tough on me. The whole #MeToo movement has been tough. I buried those memories for a reason. But here they are again. I blogged about #MeToo and included only a brief paragraph about the following incident because, like Christine Ford, I too got away. I considered it a good story with a happy ending. But so much could have gone wrong. And even though I was spared a worse fate in that instance, so much of that night is seared into my brain.

When I watched Christine Ford’s testimony, I was shocked by the similarities and I wondered, if either of the perpetrators of my assault were on the short list and then became the nominee for a spot on the highest court in the land, how I would tell my story.  How many details could I prove? Could I track down the witnesses? Did I have locations and dates?

So I grabbed my yearbook from my sophomore year in HS and the journal I kept that year, thinking I could piece it together. I did. It’s making me feel sick.

Here’s the story:

I had been “going out” with a boy in my grade who happened to be a known actor, especially to teenage girls. I was dancing then and a student at a professional school, so my classmates were actors and models and athletes and dancers like me. I had just turned 16. According to my journal (and my memory), the Actor pursued me. I was injured. I had two stress-fractures in my right foot. This meant I didn’t have to go to ballet all day every day, which gave me time to hang out and meet boys and flirt. The Actor told his friends that he loved me and I fell for it. He was charming and beautiful. But before whatever it was that started between us, I’d “made out” with one of his friends who went to a different school. That ended when the Actor started pursuing me. I chose him over his friend. I don’t remember that boy’s name, but I write about a boy named Scott and there are no Scotts in my yearbook, so I’m guessing that’s him.

Yesterday was the first time I read my journal from that year. Ever. I kept journals from age 10 to 24. When I was 16, every entry still began with Dear Diary and ended with Love Always, Lindsay. This journal was a birthday gift from another dancer, it’s bound with flowered cloth and inscribed. There are a month’s worth of entries at the start of this diary – April 22nd , my birthday, through May 29th, 1985. And then the entries stop. For months. I didn’t remember that. I only know because yesterday I looked.

The last entry is the night before the event I’m about to describe. I’m excited about hanging out with the Actor, even though there are several mentions in the days leading up to this night of friends inquiring about my virginity on his behalf, because he didn’t want to be my first. We had been “going out” for a few weeks it seems, and my virginity was becoming an issue. I should have realized how shitty that was. It’s worth mentioning that I had an eating disorder. I was about 105 lbs when I was injured (I’d gained weight).  It’s an understatement to say I had low self-esteem. That may be why I still liked this boy even though he didn’t want to be my first. He told his friends he loved me… He kissed me like he loved me… I had just turned sixteen…

On this night, like several other Friday nights before, we were at his mother’s apartment, on the 38th floor. His mother was never in NY, so he had a guardian who had caught us together before, making out on his balcony. But the guardian wasn’t there that night. Those details are not in my journal—they are details I remember. We would have walked, as a group, to his apartment from the Subway station a few blocks east.

According to my diary, it was Friday May 30th, 1985. I didn’t write about the incident, so it could have been a few weekends later, but that was the end of the school year and I know it happened while we were still in school.

We were drinking. My friend Melanie was there. She had also dated the Actor and was at the time dating the same friend whom I’d kissed, Scott. She’s in the yearbook I plucked from my shelf yesterday, but I can’t find her on Facebook or through Google. I can also guess from the yearbook, which other kids might have been there that night, because for those weeks I was injured, we were a tight crew.

We were drinking gin. Playing quarters. The gin was gross, slightly yellow, and in a large bottle, the kind with a handle, made out of bumpy glass. I’ve never seen that gin since. The boys were not drinking as much, because they knew how to play the game. I remember that.

The next thing I remember is being in a bedroom with the Actor. It was near the front door and away from the living room where the rest of the kids were still drinking and listening to music. Maybe we were kissing? Maybe we were talking? It wasn’t scary. I really liked him. I thought he liked me, too.

Then Scott came in. He shut door behind him. He may have locked it because right away, even though I’d been drinking, his presence put me on alert.

“Let’s play a game,” he said. “Lose the virginity.”

He looked at the Actor. I did too. The Actor laughed.

“No,” I said, probably assuming it was a joke. But it wasn’t joke—it was game on.

I tried to leave, but they blocked me and grabbed and wrestled me onto the bed. I can feel that awful claustrophobia now, writing this. Trying to get away from two boys who wouldn’t let me go, was scary. I knew these boys, and I didn’t think they would hurt me until that moment, because it was like I wasn’t there. They were looking at each other, not me. This was between them. Scott was mad—at me and maybe the Actor too, but when they were attacking me, they were a team.

I fought so hard it took both of them to pin me down. I screamed. I don’t know if there was loud music or if Melanie was already banging on the door, but I never stopped fighting them. And they never stopped fighting back. And they never stopped laughing. It was like a rope that tightens around you the more you struggle, or a boa constrictor that squeezes more air out of you every time you breathe–I was in danger. Still, they couldn’t really achieve their goal if both of them had to hold me down at the same time.

“Get the telephone wire,” one of them said.

I don’t remember who held me or who went for the wire, just that something had gone terribly wrong and that it was about to get worse. I was also really hurt. Because the Actor said he loved me. And now I knew how untrue that was.

The wire was unplugged. They tried to tie me with it, but I was moving too much.

That’s when Melanie burst through the door. I remember the light, though there was maybe a lamp on in the bedroom, because I could see the boys faces during the whole ordeal, their wide smiles and wet white teeth, but when Melanie came in, the light from the door was much brighter. The boys let go of me and I ran.

To the balcony. I was crying when I climbed over the rail. That’s true. And horrible to admit—my own worst crime. I was heartbroken and drunk and that’s what I did. I vividly remember looking down at the blurry traffic, 38 floors below. I thought Melanie told them she’d take my place, but I don’t think that’s true, or if she said that, it was to get them off of me, to save me, because it was also Melanie who pulled me back over that rail, off of which it’s a miracle, I didn’t slip.

“You’re a fucking asshole for risking your life,” Melanie said when I was safely inside. She held me and I cried and she made me promise I’d never do that again.

The gin and the adrenaline made me puke. I recall several other kids taking care of me—not the Actor or Scott. When the guardian returned, he found me in the bathtub and drove me home to Brooklyn.

That was the last time I ever hung out with that group of kids. The day before that night, was the last time I wrote about them in my journal. I told my mother that story for the first time last week. I’d even rewritten it all in my mind, editing out all but the happy parts of that relationship, the times he walked me to the subway and listened to every word I said, his friends telling me he loved me, the kisses that made that seem true. The truth was embarrassing. Only I know how little he cared about me. Only I saw their faces when they were pinning me down. Why would ever share that shame?

The next page in my journal reads: 1986. Never again did I write Dear Diary. Never again did I sign an entry with Love Always, Lindsay. The following several entries are my teenage attempts at poetry. Here is a piece of one dated March 2, 1986:

Sunny days
Perish
Under storm filled emotions
Cry hard
Life seems too rough
Running you over,
Passing you by.

The next time I remember seeing the Actor was at our junior prom. Would have been May 1986, a year after the event. I brought a date from another school, some guy who was a model. I wanted to make the Actor feel bad. I knew he’d be there. He told me I looked beautiful—I wanted to punch him in the face. I remember this encounter vividly too, the kids sitting at his table, the friends that were no longer my friends.

I have no idea what the impact of this event was on my life. I am fairly certain though that the Actor wouldn’t remember much, probably wouldn’t remember me at all, wouldn’t remember my name or my face. He’s sober now and has struggled.

I also have no idea what would have ultimately happened if Melanie hadn’t broken in to the room. Could they have really have held me down? I don’t know. Scott—if that’s his name—was spurned and angry, it had been his idea. I don’t know if they could have followed through or if they would have eventually given up. I don’t know. I know I’m thankful Melanie got there when she did and that she pulled me off the balcony ledge. I’m ashamed I risked my life like that. I’ll never forget looking down at the streams of red taillights and yellow taxis so far below.

I quit dancing fall of 1985, but it was several more years before I sought treatment for my eating disorder. I was already in a bad place when this happened, or I wouldn’t have gone to his apartment knowing that he didn’t want to be my first. I can’t point to that night as a defining moment—I never have—though had I fallen off that balcony, well….

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Christmas Cards

card-blog-pic.jpg

I’ve always loved Christmas, even when it was difficult, which in my childhood, it often was.

My parents announced their separation (which became a divorce) while the tree was still up in our living room. I was six; my brother was nine. We had just returned from my mother’s parent’s house and there was a huge snowstorm that prevented my father’s parents from visiting us in Brooklyn as planned, so they took that opportunity – the night we were expecting another round of presents and cheer – to tell us that my father was moving to Manhattan to live with his girlfriend (who became his wife).

I have very little memory of Christmases before that year. After that year, ours was always a divorced Christmas: two trees, two nights for opening presents, and one massive dinner with “All My Parents,” as my brother used to tease, referencing the soap opera, All My Children.

My mother was always very busy leading up to Christmas. She’s a goldsmith and Christmas orders were a huge part of her annual earnings, so she didn’t have time for perfection, though she did try. We would get our tree after the 20th at the earliest. She and I and maybe my brother would buy it on 7th Avenue and carry it home ourselves. We kept the box of ornaments in the basement, which was scary – creaky old steps led to a dark cluttered catacomb with a roaring oil furnace burning in its depths. My mother always said: “Be careful,” when I’d head down for that box. And, “Put on shoes!”

She and I would decorate the tree and though I never said this out loud, this was what I thought when I removed each ornaments from the tattered cardboard box: Before, before, after, before, after, acknowledging that a dangling ball or a mirrored apple was added to the collection before or after the divorce. (I still have some of those ornaments and I can still tag each one with one of those words).

Divorce defined my childhood. We were one of the first families we knew that split up; my best friend’s mother referred to me as “from a broken home.” I was mortified every Tuesday when I had to bring a suitcase with me to school. I was embarrassed and ashamed when the school directory came out and I was one of very few families – the only one in my class – with two addresses by my name. Still — or maybe because of that — my mother managed to make Christmas epic every year. She’d bake the cookies she must have baked before at midnight on Christmas Eve as if without those homemade green and red sugar coated stars and trees, Santa wouldn’t come. She’d frantically roll out sheets of dough, but she’d get it done. She’d do most of her shopping a few days before Christmas. She’d say, “Don’t go in my room!” When Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s bags multiplied, tucked into the shadows of her personal space. She’d creep into our rooms after we were (supposedly) asleep on Christmas Eve and stuff our stockings with excellent gifts. In the morning, after we’d opened the goodies in the stockings, we’d find towers of presents jammed all around the tree. She’d spend way more than she could afford I’m sure, but she wanted it to be special. And it was.

At my dad’s, which was always the “Eve of Christmas Eve,” we would politely take turns opening gifts around the perfectly trimmed tree, cleaning up the paper before it even landed on the spotless floor. At my mother’s, we would tear through the boxes, tossing ribbons and screaming with delight as my mother’s boyfriend watched with what appeared to be genuine happiness and smoked cigarettes. (To me, the cigarette smoke was like chestnuts roasting on an open fire – cozy and warm.) Our cat Sally would roll around in the mess until she found the perfect box to curl up in. (We never had tinsel because, aside from the fact my father thought it was “tacky,” if Sally ate it, she would barf.)

But my mother never made a card. Even when my parents were married, there was never a card. Maybe it just wasn’t a thing then, though I do recall other family portraits atop our mantle.

So when we had our first child, I made my first Christmas card. My son was a little over 1-year-old. (He was born in August so our announcement covered as a holiday card that first year.) My husband and I drove out to our favorite beach at sunset, dressed our boy in a red jacket, and shot out first Christmas card pic, which was a wide shot of our toddler watching the surfers ride California waves under an orange sky. It was epic. I had the shot duplicated and handmade the cards. The following year I had my son scribble with red and green markers then added a picture of him sitting on our beloved dog. When my daughter was born, I did that card by myself, too, taking one hundred pictures to yield one of my son holding her, both of them with adorable smiles. We never did a family shot because my husband was never there when we could shoot. He was a Stedicam operator (now a cinematographer) and was at work most of the time. If I asked over the weekend, he’d stall, the daylight would escape, and I’d get upset – why won’t you help me? Don’t you like sending the cards?

This is one of those things that now, 23 years into my marriage, I’ll always remember as the beginning of the end. It meant a lot to me to send those cards – he sent them, too. But it was an inconvenience. The kids sometimes cried. If he was working, he didn’t want to be bothered during his precious down time. The only way for me to get him to help was to “nag.” By the time my daughter was two, I gave up trying. (I know she was only two, because that year, after I’d purchased the card stock (on which I would have the greeting (always different!) printed before having the cards cut and scored), I was so elated – and exhausted! – that I pulled out of a back alley and T-boned a silver Saturn while my daughter was in the car. (No one was hurt) By then, I had accepted that I was on my own. It had been important to me. I wanted him to help, but I acquiesced. It just wasn’t worth hearing him say: “I don’t even want the stupid card.”

I was alone with those two little kids months at a time, so when I did get to see my husband, yeah, I had a lot to complain about. I was lonely, I was frazzled, why didn’t he call? I was becoming that wife who cries and begs. He didn’t like to hear about my childhood – it made me sound “damaged,” so I couldn’t explain what the card meant to me, or how nice it was for me to be part of a community that exchanged holiday cards at all. One card, not two.

There were a few years that it timed out and he did take the photo, but mostly, year after year, I found a spot in the yard or on the porch, stuck them in a red shirt or dress, and shot it myself.

My daughter started performing in the Nutcracker at age five, which was a four-month volunteer commitment for me. Yet I still made the cards and glued the photos to the front of each one. I addressed them late at night. I licked all the envelopes until my tongue hurt. And it was worth it. I have a stack of them in my desk – the cards from every year – and seeing them, reading the greetings, remembering my children at 8 or 9 or 12 – brings me joy. I’m thankful I persevered.

For the past two years, I’ve caved and had them made online. They cost more, but it’s so much easier. I gave in to convenience. And I was sick of being a martyr. If he wasn’t going to help, I would make it easier on myself. Lord knows I wasn’t going to complain.

This year, there is only a remote chance there will even be a card, because we are planning to divorce. It’s only been a few months since we decided and we’re not fighting (because I no longer care that even in this age of Find-Your-Friend apps, I never know where he is). We’re being civil. We have too much to untangle not to be, plus the kids. So last weekend, I very nicely asked: “I will get the cards made again this year, but would you take the photo, please?” Straight forward, no whine, magic word. If he did, I would do everything else and he could send them to his family and clients like he always does. He agreed, but the weekend came and went sans photo. I didn’t pester or nag.

We can live without a card – it’s weird now anyway, hypocritical, a lie. But they’re still our children and like it or not, we’re still a family. Very few people even know – not even my father knows, so not sending a card might be a tip off, though that’s really not on my mind. As my wasband (the word I’m using for “engaged to be divorced”) always said, I’m the one who wants the damn card. I like it. It’s a tradition I’m not ready to forsake.

So I tried to get the kids – who are now teenagers – to pose. My daughter came down wearing only a red hoodie with the hood cinched around her face. She refused to change, so I took a bunch of shots like that, with her naked legs and her hands covering what was left of her face, and threatened to send it to everyone we know. Still, she refused to change.

“Then we’re not having a card,” I said, because she had mentioned a few days before that she wanted one.

“I changed my mind,” she said. “Who cares about the card?”

“Fine,” I said, and walked away. It really is too close to Christmas. It will be a nightmare writing out addresses last minute. Screw it. Saves me times and money. Why would I even care?

I texted wasband and told him I couldn’t get the shot. “I guess it’s their choice now,” he replied, meaning I suppose, if the kids won’t comply, that’s that. But as other cards arrive at my house every day, I think: those kids didn’t get to make the choice. Mom or Dad – hopefully both – wanted to send a holiday card. They wanted to show their friends and families around the country how their children have grown, they wanted to be a part of the mantelpiece collection, which is something I love seeing each year – all these children smiling at us, wishing us happiness and joy and peace.

“I’m sad about the card,” I said to my daughter this morning while I was driving her 30 miles to Project Gratitude to make care packages for families displaced by the fires.

“Then make it.”

“It’s too late. I’d have to get it done today. You and your brother would have to let me take the photo today.” I was thinking about the before and after and how right now, we’re stuck in between. We were listening to Ed Sherran and I was feeling a little sad about the whole situation, probably just because it’s Christmas. (Truly, most of the time, my prevailing emotion is relief.)

There’s a dad in my neighborhood whose wife left him somewhat suddenly. They have a son the same age as ours. The Christmas after they split, a card with just the dad and boy arrived, smiling at us from the bleachers of a baseball park. It was super sweet. I saw that dad a few months later and told him how much I appreciated his effort. I knew it was hard to do and not just the photo/card selection/ordering part. It took balls for him to send that card.

“I thought about it,” he said. “It was weird, but I really didn’t want to stop sending Christmas cards.”

This afternoon, I managed to get the shot.

#MeToo

Born a girl in this world

 

Okay, here goes. I don’t like to admit all of this stuff. I don’t even like to think about it, but everyone is being so brave so I’m going to be brave, too.

I’ll start at the beginning, or at least the earliest event I can remember. Some of these will seem big and some will seem tiny – it’s weird that some of the smallest moments stung  the most.

Fifth grade: the computer teacher, a very overweight man with a beard who was in my memory around fifty, made me sit on his lap in front of the whole class. He did the same to one of my friends.

Sixth grade: I’d curled my long hair with pin curls. My science teacher, who was also around fifty, made me stay after class to tell me how I looked like a beautiful Botticelli painting with my hair curled. (They’re all nudes!) I promptly started losing weight.

Ninth grade: by now I’m a serious ballet student with a serious eating disorder and “runners knee” in both knees. I went to an osteopath who mostly treated dancers. The word was: if a dancer couldn’t pay her bill, she could spend the weekend with the doctor instead. For a few months, I took the subway from my high school up to his office three times a week for physical therapy. Every single time, I had to go into his office in only my underwear and the little gown and bend over for him so he could “check my spine.”

Tenth grade: my ballet friend invited me to dinner with her aunt and her aunt’s fiancé. My friend was from Minneapolis, working as an opare for a family on the Upper East Side. Her aunt and fiancé took us to one of those trendy Tex-Mex restaurants. I was fifteen and weighed less than one hundred pounds. The fiancé bought us real margaritas. He kept leaning across the table and telling me that I was beautiful, but it was more menacing than flattering. After the 3rd drink, I was so drunk, I stumbled to the bathroom and puked without sticking my fingers down my throat. They brought us back to their Yuppy apartment and the fiancé dragged me into the bedroom. I distinctly remember the door shutting, the triangle of light disappearing, while this man attacked me. I still had vomit in my mouth when he stuck his tongue in it. He had a beard and it scratched, and his tongue was disgusting and horribly powerful. He was taking off my clothes. I didn’t say stop or no or anything. (Not that I could with his tongue in my mouth) I was frozen and I was terrified. But then my friend’s aunt opened the door and saved me. She put my friend and me in a taxi and sent us home. I never mentioned it to the friend or my mother or anyone until a few years ago. I didn’t consider that an assault because I got away.

Around this time, one of my dearest friends from elementary school was raped by a senior on a study date. She came to my house right after and I didn’t know what to say or how to help. I still feel terrible about that.

Tenth grade: a boy I was seeing and I boy I’d spurned, shut me inside a bedroom. The boy I was seeing wanted to have sex, but I was a virgin and he didn’t want to be my first. He said: “Let’s play loose the virginity.” They held me down and I fought, so they tried to tie me up with a telephone cord. A friend of mine heard me screaming – it was a party – and came to my rescue. I got away, but I was so upset I ran to the apartment balcony and climbed over the rail. We were on the 38th floor. The same friend pulled me back to safety. I can still see the traffic, blurry in the distance, down on 43rd.

Twelfth grade. I got an A in English and my boyfriend said, “That’s just because the teacher wants to fuck you.” (He had gotten a C) When I turned 18, that same teacher said with a lecherous face and a wink: “You’re legal now.” The drinking age was 21.

College, sophomore year. I missed my ex and found him at a party. We were both drinking. It wasn’t a good relationship – he was a jerk – but I couldn’t seem to get over him. I brought him back to my room and we started making out – I know, my bad! He was taking off my clothes, but also, he kept insulting me, telling me how we could never get back together, that this was just a hook-up and meant nothing, telling me the only thing he liked about me was my ass. So I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I told him to leave, but he said it was too late for that. I said no, I don’t want to do this. I tried to fight him off, but he was already on top of me. I cried the whole way through. He left as soon as he was done and called me “sunshine” when he saw me the next day.

Within a week or two of that event, my suite mate was raped by a senior who climbed in her window in the middle of the night. Again, I’m certain my response was off. I remember hating him (I still do). I think we took her to lunch to make her feel better. The following semester, she left school. I’ll never forgive myself for not doing more.

Same year, a few months later. A senior asked me on a date. He took me to dinner at the one fancy restaurant in town, but managed to talk only about the women who wouldn’t give him the time of day at our school – he was pissed off. We lived in the same dorm, so after dinner, he insisted I come back to his room for just one drink. He shut the door. He started kissing me, but it was so off, I stopped him and said I was leaving. He said: “But you owe me – I bought you dinner.” I got away. What a dick.

After college, when I was dating my husband, we were with his friends at a bar. One of them reached under my skirt and grabbed the top of inner thigh — like, the very top of my thigh.  He said something about my muscles, how he had to squeeze them. The rest of the men just laughed.

When I worked as a motion picture assistant camera person no one ever said, “If you don’t sleep with me, you’ll lose your job.” But there was constant sexual banter and I was one of very few women on set. I had to be able to laugh it off. (There was also endless bullying and hazing. “If you’re not crying every day in the darkroom, you’re not doing your job.”)

One of my jobs was to mark actors feet so the director of photography would know how to light the scene. I had to crawl on my knees to do this. On one movie, which featured real gangsters, one of the “actors” would cover his mark after I set it and say (in front of at least fifty other men) “Mark me again,” so I had to crawl on my knees to his feet and mark him again – while all those other men watched.

Once in North Carolina, I was on the back of the camera truck doing paperwork and an electrician who I thought was my friend, climbed up beside me. He said: “I’d like to write my name across your face with my cum.” Gross.

I had one boss who would always interrupt me when I was saying something really important, like, “It’s 10 minutes till the film break,” and say something like: “Do you know you have beautiful eyes.” This sounds like a compliment, but I was trying to do my job. And what the fuck do my eyes have to do with the film break?

The actor on a movie I was working on threw a big party for the crew. I was married, but was on location, so I went alone. My skirt was knee length, I was wearing black tights and clogs. But I did dance and have fun. The next day on the truck (which is shared with sound) the boom operator yelled at me: “If you’re married you shouldn’t be out there dancing like you’re available. It looked to me like you were single.” He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the job. PS – what is the single girl dance? I wasn’t on a pole for crying out loud.

I grew up riding the New York City subway so getting “accidentally” groped or rubbed up against was part of the deal. I worked on a movie set so I thought being able to play along with the banter was also part of the deal. For the most part, all of those stories end well. I never lost a job and I was saved twice. As for that college ex…. Recently a friend of mine met him at a dinner party. She said: “Oh I know you – you raped my friend.” (God bless her!) Apparently he hung his head and said, “Yeah, that was fucked up.” Even my husband didn’t think he should punch his jerk-ass friend for grabbing my upper inner thigh. And I didn’t even consider most of those instances harassment or assault. But every one of those events is seared into my memory – they make me feel gross and ashamed and pissed off. So much has to change – hopefully this is a start.

Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #7 — So Much For Not Dieting

So my doctor put me on a diet. It’s not a weight loss diet – but it’s very restrictive. I resisted at first, knowing that a restrictive diet is like a gateway drug to me, but I have chronic sinusitis apparently made worse by acid reflux and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to not be sick.

I’ve been on the acid reflux diet for a year and a half and am just now getting off Prilosec (because it made me anemic). Here’s what I had to give up for that: coffee, chocolate, citrus, wine, beer – everything with bubbles including seltzer, spicy food, tomatoes, deep fried food, and here’s one I’ve only embraced recently to get off the meds – no eating at all 3 hours before bed.

So I’m really hungry. All the time. My acid reflux has gone from severe to moderate – it’s a slow process. My willpower is fueled by my fear of getting sick. Even after surgery, I’ve had maybe 10 sinus infections in the past year. It’s like I have MRSA between my eyes, right on my brain. I’m terrified of tomatoes, so I’m not tempted to touch them. I don’t want coffee even, which used to be my favorite part of every day. I will do anything to beat that infection.

About 3 weeks ago, my doctor added dairy, sugar and white bread to the list. Sugar! So, even when I’m really down, I can’t sooth myself with a bag — even a small one — of Swedish Fish. I always had a bite of something sweet after a meal and now, that’s gone too. I was someone, who even in this blog, bragged about always eating the dessert. Now I have to ask waiters to put the sauce and the dressing on the side, I have ask: “Are there tomatoes or lemon juice in that? I have to read labels because there’s dairy and sugar in everything. I have request the almond or coconut milk. It reminds me of being 13 and cringing at my dinner options, not wanting to break my diet, always afraid of the food. I’m amazed that I’ve stuck to it, but also a little alarmed. The no-food before bed means I’m hungry all night, but I still won’t risk it. Even though, I’m still pretty much, just as sick and am currently on yet another round of antibiotics.

I’ve lost weight. And I can’t lie, I like to lose weight. I know that’s bad. I’m aware that I can’t lose too much, which means I have to weigh myself again. It’s like being forced to smoke a cigarette after quitting. For years I’ve avoided scales, but now I have to check at least once a week. Maybe it’s like how they say the fear of heights is really the fear of jumping off? I don’t want to be too thin, but there’s part of me that’s scared that that will change and I will jump off the ledge. And it’s really hard to gain weight on this diet. I’m practically living on avocados. Plus now I have to deal with the anemia. My doctor prescribed 1000mg of iron a day. Ha! I can barely choke down 150mg. So I’m cooking every single (absurdly plain) meal in an iron skillet. So much for the carefree no diet no restrictions lifestyle I worked so hard to achieve.

Here’s the Ana part: while I don’t want to lose more weight, I don’t want to gain it either. I like that my clothes are loose. I do. That’s what I meant when I told my doctor I didn’t do well with restrictive diets (though there was also a part of me that thought deprivation would make me want to binge). Turns out, I don’t want to binge. Turns out, when I’m not hungry, I’m now sort of uncomfortable. And my willpower is so strong. It wins every battle. I’m not having hard time not eating sugar, because my willpower is in charge. Yeah, I know — I’m on thin (no pun intended) ice.

One quick note for those who might be wondering: every time I go to a new doctor, I mention my eating disorder history even though it was so many years ago. Mostly they blow it off. For real, I was bulimic for seven years and my doctor does not think that’s related to my acid reflux. But I think it is. I think it’s like how sports injuries show up years later as arthritis, (Can’t wait!), that the way I mistreated my body, is coming back to haunt me now.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Life After Mia, Entry #6 — I wasn’t just homesick.

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Freshman Drop Off

I see on my Facebook page all these freshman heading off to college, or already there. My nephew was dropped off last week. He looked so young in the obligatory photo, standing in front of an old building, making a half smile. This was my advice to him the day before: don’t be too cool for school. If they make you toss a water balloon, just toss it. He is from Brooklyn, like I was. A New York City kid. It can be jarring to meet kids who don’t ride subways and fend off drug dealers and go to concerts regularly or read the New York Times. So that was my advice to my nephew. Play in the games. Have fun. It doesn’t matter if they’ve seen all of Truffaut. Which he has, for sure. Have fun in the three-legged sack race.

But that’s not what this post is about.

When I showed up at college — my first choice college — I cried every day for at least two months. I know — so not cool. I had actually forgotten the full extent of my daily public meltdowns (back then, we had to use the phone in the hall). I still can’t hide my emotions, but this was pitiful. So pitiful in fact, I think I’d blocked it out. But then at my reunion last year, I reconnected with one of my freshman hall-mates and he said: “We’d see you out there crying every night. You had that white hair, so it was kind of hard to miss. I wanted to help you, but I didn’t know what to do.” When he told me that (and again, right now when I wrote his words in this blog) I welled up. He wanted to help me. I can see myself sitting on the carpet of that 4th floor curved hallway wearing black leggings and a black t-shirt with bright white bleached hair, trying desperately to wipe tears off my face with the back of my hand as I cried shamelessly into that pay phone. I mean, homesickness is a thing at college, but this was a situation. If other kids — boys — were concerned — my grief was unusual. It was a spectacular.

I’d landed in my last choice of dorm — even my mother, who was an alum, felt sorry for me. She was of course in the “best” dorm, where all my Brooklyn friends had been placed. I didn’t get along with my roommate. I missed a boyfriend who was at RISD. I guess I was calling him or my mother from that hallway phone. I wanted to go home. Please, mom, can I come home….? But there was more to it than that. And I never really thought about it until recently. Like a month ago recently, which is absurd — I write about my eating disorder all the time. I wrote a whole book about it — Beautiful Girl — but that’s really more an “after” story. How I coped after I’d stopped puking. How I was declared cured, but was still somewhere in the middle, somewhere lost. Since the book takes place Sophomore year, I didn’t suffer homesickness when I returned to school after my summer of treatment. I was apprehensive, but not homesick and those few months of Freshman year are only briefly mentioned in the book. Frankly, no one had brought up my awful crying to me until my reunion. “You were so upset — we didn’t know what to do. I wanted to help.”  

It wasn’t normal homesickness. What I realize now, is that I was in withdrawal. Plain and simple. I didn’t have a private bathroom. I was bulimic, and I couldn’t purge at school. I was just cut off. Which was a great thing (until I went home or after I’d figured out a way around the public bathrooms). I was proud of myself for not puking. But then I was I flooded with all the emotions I’d been purging since I was thirteen: grief and pain and whatever else my eating disorder effectively buried. I wasn’t in treatment and no one knew I was sick, so there was no one to warn me about life without my disorder — which is just life really, but you have to feel it and fucking deal and I wasn’t used to that. I had no clue how to exist without my big fat nasty crutch. The boyfriend was mean, which I’ve come to realize is just another twisted dealing mechanism of mine — picking mean men. (I’m working on that one!) I don’t remember what the boyfriend said in those phone calls — whatever it was, it gave me an excuse to cry. But that many tears? For that many days? When there were cute boys rights across the hall watching and wishing they could help? No. It was withdrawal, just like a drug addict, and I couldn’t control it. I mean, I should have been embarrassed, sitting out there with a red swollen face, begging mommy to come get me and bring me home from the college I’d wanted so badly to go to. For fuck sake! I was the at mercy of an unleashing of bottled up rage. There was probably even a physical component. My body must have been freaking out. My whole system must have been totally confused. And then there were the endorphins I was suddenly stripped of.

It’s just wild for me to realize this now, so many years later, the real reason the start of my freshman year was tragic instead of joyous. It wasn’t just because I blew off freshman week and thought balloon tosses were lame — I had been stifling all kinds of childhood fury — and when I was dropped off with my trunk and my boom box, the vault sprung open all at once, on that strange curved hall on the fourth floor of my last choice dorm.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Book Shelf

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Summer reading is upon my children.

The Odyssey

Animal Farm

Of Mice and Men

I knew I had copies of these books, but I didn’t know where, so this morning I went looking.

I’ve gotten rid of my vinyl and my CDs (which I regret now, even though at the time, I had no idea I’d even be able to play them again). But not my books. Or my mother’s books, or even her great aunt’s Shakespeare collection, with her name and the date, 1894, handwritten on custom labels on the inside of each hard-bound play. My book collection keeps growing. After my grandparents died, I asked for my grandfather’s Joseph Conrad set, and the Robert Lewis Stevenson’s with their rough cut, time-yellowed pages, and beautiful hand drawn maps. No one else wanted them. But I remembered gazing at them in awe when I was little and visiting their wonderful house in Carlisle, PA. The books were on shelves on the second floor in the large space between the bedrooms, an extra room really, the perfect place to sit and read.

When I was old enough to ride the subway in NYC – twelve – I would grab random books off my mother’s shelf to read on my hour-long commute to ballet and later high school. In 7th grade, I swiped The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski. It was engrossing and wildly inappropriate. That paperback is still with me. It has lived in North Carolina and three different houses in Los Angeles. Now it’s on shelves that are 104-years-old, in a room called an inglenook. It’s like all those books needed the right place to land and here they are, alongside books I read in college and books I read last week. My husband complains whenever we move about the weight and volume of these books. Do I really need them? Will I ever read them again?

The answer is yes. In the past few years I’ve re-read The Handmaids Tale, another one I swiped from my mother when I was sixteen; The Secret History, which was mine, Less than Zero, also mine. Often when I’m writing, I have an urge to read a passage I recall. I’m only 5’4” so I keep an antique child’s school chair nearby as a stepping stool. I climb up in search of whatever it is I’m looking for only to get completely lost remembering reading all of the other books on the shelf. It makes sense that Alice falls down a hole lined with books – it’s the ultimate rabbit’s hole.

Now, my children get to read from the same copies, with my 8th grade handwriting (much neater than now, by the way) and tidy underlines. It doesn’t always work out. My treasured Narnia collection fell apart when my son read it and even more tragic, my mother’s hardback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird split in two. Also, the print was tiny in paperbacks published in the 80s, the pages were small, the paper so weak that pages crack when turned. Sometimes I have to invest in a new copy, even though I’ve gone to the trouble of transporting the old one so many times.

This morning, I started with my son’s bookshelf, looking for The Odyssey, which he has to read. And just like always, I was instantly swept up in memories. There were all the books I’d read to him as a child, the words of which instantly filled my head as soon as I saw the titles on their spines, like Stranger in the Woods: “Come see! Come See!” All the Harry Potter books were there. I read them aloud to him starting in kindergarten. Now he’s almost 17. I found my copy of Animal Farm, but another student’s name is written inside, an older kid who’d passed it down. The teacher was the same though and his name was written inside, too. I was instantly transported back to that very 8th grade classroom in downtown Brooklyn. I could see Mr. Norregaard lecturing. We made masks of our favorite characters out of foam. Mine was Napoleon the pig. I’d spray-painted it pink and when I wore it over my head, the fumes made me high.

I found Of Mice and Men – a new copy I’d purchased for my son in 8th grade and decided to read it this summer too, since I never have. I will finally fill that gap. (There are many!)

On the next shelf down, I found the ashes of our first dog, whom we all desperately loved. They’re in a velvet box. I remembered how my son begged to keep them in his room. There’s a picture of her in her prime taped to the top and a picture of my husband and me in our 20s, holding Marley when we’d first rescued her in North Carolina. We’re on the beach and look impossibly young. We’re smiling, in love with our puppy. We look so happy in that photo that’s held in place with a rubber band. I know we fought then too. I touched my smiling face in the picture, trying to connect it to myself now.

I found Beowulf, another gap in my English degree, but not The Odyssey and remembered that I never did buy a new copy of Homer’s epic poem. It was Beowulf I’d bought, because of the movie. I wanted to read it aloud to my son, but never did.

My copy of The Odyssey was on the top shelf in the inglenook. I bought when I was in college and mistakenly chose to write my thesis on Ulysses. The price tag is still on it. $5.95 at Shakespeare&Co. The back cover look likes it was gnawed on by a rat, which is possible, since the books spent many months trapped in boxes when we moved into this house thirteen years ago. We did major construction and yes, rats got in and chewed the edges of our books. I don’t remember going in to Manhattan to buy it, but I can picture the inside of the store and myself tracking it down, likely wearing opaque black tights.

This is why I will never part with these books. I need them. Even the ones with rat bites. A few years ago I culled the collection to make room for new ones. One of the books I parted with was Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, on which the musical Cabaret was based. I got rid of it because it stymied me my senior year of college when my seminar professor gave us the trickiest essay question ever for our final exam: Write an essay on a book we read for a class you missed. That’s right, the book from a class you cut. We read one book a week in that seminar and met one time a week. I was a “try hard,” as my daughter would say, and read every book, except one. And attended every class, except one. The book was Berlin Stories and my bullshit essay dropped me from an A to A- for the semester. I got rid of it because seeing it made me mad. Every other student had 2 to 4 books to choose from. I wasn’t the intended victim of his essay question – I was a casualty. But then last year my son’s Jesuit high school put on the most surprisingly excellent production of Cabaret, and sure enough, once again, I regretted not reading that book. I looked for it for a few hours one day then I remembered dropping it off at Out of The Closet with What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

My books – even the ones that are missing – tell the story of who I am. There are books from boyfriends and best friends, some written by family members, some signed. Some pristine, some tattered, some chewed on by rats.

My daughter is only 2 ½ years younger than my son, but when it comes to books, it’s like she’s from another generation. She doesn’t even have a bookshelf in her room. Her school has everything on an iPad now, so except for the picture books she did love as a toddler which are on the bottom shelf in the Inglenook, she will never stare at a row of books and relive moments from her past. She won’t get to time travel — everything she reads is stored in a cloud. Which is tidier and lighter, but not the same. This summer she will read my tattered copy of Animal Farm and the brand new Of Mice and Men. I’m not buying them for Kindle this summer. It’s only two short books. I’m not buying the Audible. I want her to hold the book and wonder why I underlined whatever sentence I underlined in Animal Farm and maybe even underline her own favorite passages in Of Mice and Men. Then forever, when she sees these books, she’ll remember this summer before high school, the boyfriend, the boredom, me screaming at her for stringing a bra up the flagpole in front of our house. In twenty or thirty or fifty years, she will see these books — even someone else’s copies, maybe her children’s? And time travel like I did today.

 

Our Subway Fire

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A few nights ago I made the mistake of looking at Facebook right before bed. The first thing I saw was an article my brother shared about the New York City subways, which are currently plagued by delays and breakdowns. He was mentioned and quoted. This is what I read:

[my brother] likes to recall his childhood experiences riding the subway in the 1970s, such as the time he, his mother and his sister had to escape a smoke-filled, burning 6 train and walk along the tracks until they were able to emerge at 77th Street. (“We took some oxygen from the ambulance, which was very exciting,” [my brother] recalled. “Then we just walked over and took another line home.”)

My blood pressure skyrocketed. I was already under the covers, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, not after reading that. My brother is an editor at that paper and his Facebook feed is read by his co-workers and employees as well as my family and many mutual friends, but I couldn’t stop myself, I had to reply. (I can’t get the exact words because it’s all been deleted, but I’ll try)

I wrote: That fire was terrifying. The passengers crushed through the cars, which were so packed, we had to walk on the benches. There was a man yelling: move faster! I was sure the car behind us was already on fire.

I was six and my brother was nine. We crept down the bench alongside my mother who was packed in with the rest of the adults, shuffling too slowly through the cars as they filled with smoke. It was rush hour. We had been to the pediatrician on the Upper East Side and were headed home to Park Slope, Brooklyn, an hour ride away. My adrenaline surged as I typed another reply on my brother’s page.

We had to walk a long way to the station on the tracks in the dark. I fell and almost touched the third rail and a man grabbed me and yelled at mom like it was her fault. The station was filled with smoke and everyone was screaming as we escaped up to the street. There were fire-trucks everywhere. We were coughing so they gave us oxygen. There was a reason we had to take another train. I’ll message you! There was a reason we couldn’t get a ride.

Then, with my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I opened the message app and wrote:

Mom couldn’t call Dad because he was with [his girlfriend]. He wouldn’t give her the number. I can’t believe your memory of that fire is so benign. WTF?

I was thankful I have a sleeping pill scrip. Because I needed one. My whole body buzzed as I lay awake outraged that my mother survived that with two young children and that when we were finally safe and out of the station, there was no way for her to call our dad. They weren’t even separated yet, but my father was taking a night with his girlfriend and my mother wasn’t allowed to call.

I have lots of memories of my parents fighting – horrible fighting – of their announcement of the separation and him leaving, then the divorce, then the marriage to that same girlfriend he was with the night our subway caught fire. I never know when one of these will surface and upset me or what my reaction will be. My brother’s gloss-over undid me.

The next morning, I thought: did I post something crazy on my brother’s page? I didn’t out my dad – all I did was describe the fire correctly – it felt like we were going to die. I can still clearly see the track I almost touched and the live 3rd rail, because everything else was black. I fell and my hands hit that surface between the tracks where rats scurry, but it was more alarming when the stranger grabbed me around my waist. I dangled in his one arm as he berated my mom. He carried me several more yards.

I turned on my phone and there was a message from my brother. He lives in New York, so he’d already been awake for at least three more hours. This was our exchange:

Brother: Should I have told the interviewer that? The story was about the subway, not mom and dad. I told her tons more stuff than she used. Sheesh. I deleted it.

Me: I know. Sorry, I was about to go to bed and read that. I’ll delete my replies. But it was a terrifying fire.

Brother: I deleted the whole post, and the comments that followed.

Me: You can post it. I won’t comment.

Brother: It’s gone! Mommy started attacking daddy. It was insane.

Me: Really??

Brother: YES

 Me: To you or daddy?

Brother: To all the readers on Facebook.

Me: OMG

There was something about this that thrilled me – my mother having the same response and going off on Facebook. I wish I could have read what she’d written, seen if my father had replied too, but the whole drama was erased. Also my brother and I share this history and something about our exchange made it seem like we were close. As kids, we were bystanders, conspirators even. Maybe that’s why I was so roiled? My brother’s quote was a cover up that spared my father who should have fucking been there to get us, or at least not with his girlfriend in an apartment my mother wasn’t allowed to call.

I called my mother. “I’m so glad it wasn’t just me that got upset. What did you write?”

“That your father couldn’t be reached to help us. It was horrible. And we didn’t just get on another train, we had to walk twenty blocks to the IND.”

I thought about what that must have been like. I have two kids and a husband who works out of town. I’ve been in that place where you realize there’s no use calling because the emergency is happening and there’s nothing he can do. My mother was only 35 years old. Twenty blocks in the dark with two kids who just escaped a fire – that must have been hell. And then getting back on a Subway and riding all the way home to Brooklyn. I don’t even remember that part. I guess my brother doesn’t either. The memory ends for me at the fire trucks, with the firemen who gave us oxygen as we sat on the curb thankful to be outside and alive. That was when my mother couldn’t call my dad for help. We were on our own, the three of us, from that moment on.

“What set you off?” I asked, thinking it wasn’t like her to go after my father about shit that went down in the 70’s. She knows it’s my brother’s feed, that my father will read it along with the newspaper staff. I didn’t even cross that line.

“I saw what you wrote,” she said and then paused. “Your brother made me promise not to tell you this.”

“What? Now you have to tell me.”

“Your father replied to your post.”

I raced through the words I’d typed – only stuff about the fire. Except for: There was a reason we had to take another train. I’ll message you! There was a reason we couldn’t get a ride. But would my father even remember why he wasn’t there?

“What did he say? I won’t tell him you told me. I swear.”

“Your father wrote: ‘Glad I missed that.’”

My brother deleted my mother’s tirade before my father could see it. “Why does he always protect him?” my mother complained.

“Dad doesn’t even remember,” I said, laughing almost, because it’s so absurd. Here’s this event — a big event — a subway fire — that my mother, my brother, and I still vividly recall. The details of our memories vary — maybe brother did think the ambulances were exciting — he was a boy who loved trucks and trains. Maybe he doesn’t remember my fall on the tracks because that was between my mother, my brusque burly savior, and me. My father, who’d taken the night off from parenting, doesn’t even know any of it occurred. Because he wasn’t there.

 

Life After Mia Entry #5 My Teeth

Sometimes curious people ask: “Did you mess up your teeth?” They look closely at my mouth for signs. “Yeah, I did,” I reply, pulling open my top lip to show them the bridge in the way back.

This past December I was constantly reminded of how I damaged my teeth because I needed another root canal. I was so terrified of reliving my experience when I was 16, that I put it off until the pain was too unbearable to go on, even with 10 Advil a day. I stood next to the dentist’s chair trying to come up with ways out of it: “Can we just pull the tooth?” “Is there a chance it will heal?” (I’d already finished 2 rounds of antibiotics) “Have you ever done a root canal only to lose the tooth after it’s done?” I asked the last question because that’s what happened to me when I was 16. It’s why I had a bridge attached to my back top molars. It fills the space where the tooth I lost once stood and attaches to the next one toward the front. That bridge needed to be replaced, and when my dentist took it off, the back molar had a cavity, which rapidly turned into a root canal.

Let’s go back.

I was 16 and I must have had bad pain in that now missing tooth. My parents didn’t have dental insurance, so they found an affordable dentist about 2 miles from my mother’s house in Brooklyn that I could walk to (or take a bus, but you know, walking 2 miles burns calories so…) Dr. Arguelles also gave us laughing gas. Even for a cleaning. We loved that.

Dr. Arguelles must have determined that I needed a root canal, but like my regular dentist now, didn’t perform them himself. I knew it was my fault. I was very diligent about brushing my teeth post-purge and usually only purged at home where I could, but I’d read every article ever written on my disorder and knew that my teeth were at risk. Still, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I imagined guards, like Invisalign, that I could use to protect my teeth, but there was no such thing. I had been trying to stop for at least a year, but I couldn’t abstain for more than a few days.

My parents signed me up for a root canal at NYU dental school, which was a large classroom-lab over looking the East River. I would meet my mother there after ballet once or twice a week. Each time a different student would have a go at the nerves in that tooth. “I’ve never seen this before,” was often said. “Especially in someone so young.” “The roots are calcified.” It was humiliating. There were four roots in that tooth, so the process took weeks. I don’t remember it being painful, (They burned something in my tooth I recall. There was smoke), but in between those sessions, I was left with a big hole in that tooth. I knew I shouldn’t purge with that hole there, that the acid would get inside my molar. I knew it, but I couldn’t stop. I smoked for years, but was able to quit cold turkey. I’ve dabbled in other drugs and never gotten addicted – this was different. I was completely at the mercy of my disorder. About 4 weeks in, I took a bite of celery (which is ironic – I must have been trying hard that day not to binge) and the tooth just broke in half. I had to go downstairs and show my mother, who had wasted all those nights schelpping me to NYU. It was mortifying. All of it.

Dr. Arguelles yanked what was left of that tooth. The molars on either side had to be ground down to fit the bridge, so three teeth would never be the same, but my secret was hidden. Until last December when my new dentist convinced me to get the bridge replaced.

Just like when I was 16, insurance came into play. I had used my allotted annual amount on the new bridge, which wouldn’t work if I didn’t save the tooth. If I could wait till 2017, I would save over $800. “How much to pull the tooth?” I asked several times, but then I would be missing two teeth. I could get implants, but they are very expensive and involve bone grafts and more dentist visits, none of which include laughing gas; all of which give me real anxiety, terror and shame and embarrassment that’s been hidden under that bridge since I was 16.

Finally the dentist insisted I have a root canal. So I drove to the office, but when I got there I was paralyzed even though my tooth had been screaming for four weeks. I was in severe pain, but I was too terrified to get into that awful chair. Because I had let it go so long, the procedure couldn’t be completed in one visit – it already seemed like the same spiral I was in as a teen, even though this time my tooth would be properly filled and stabilized by the temporary bridge. Plus, I haven’t purged since I was 19. It was totally different, but I couldn’t move. About twenty minutes into my standoff with the root canal specialist, my regular dentist pretty much shoved me into the chair. He said: “You have been in too much pain for too long. I can’t watch this anymore. We will work out the insurance later.”  Within seconds, I was getting shot up with Novocaine. “Wow, you’re tough,” my dentist said as he injected the roof of my mouth with that giant needle. “I’ve been in much worse pain for a month. This is nothing,” I said.

The root canal doc then got to work even though I was literally shaking. I was terrified before he even started to drill. Really terrified. Which isn’t my thing. I mean, I’m not danger averse. Or afraid of pain. But it wasn’t the pain that scared me – it was something else all together. When my regular dentist returned and asked: “How are you doing?” I said with the rubber apparatus in my mouth: “I’ve decided to cooperate.” “That deserves a high five,” he said, which made me laugh.

The root canal was fine. It was over in 45 minutes. “Wow, I can see why you were in so much pain,” the root canal doc said. “The nerve is so inflamed, there is literally blood gushing out.” Strangely, that made me feel better, like I didn’t have a choice, because all of it still feels like my fault. It is really. It’s my fault I fucked up my teeth. I did this to myself. I’m costing us money that could go to the kids. (Even my husband argued – “If you’re in that much pain, you have to get it fixed.”) I was stalling. I kept remembering the moment the first tooth broke, how mortified I was, how scared, how guilty. (I still have nightmares about teeth falling out) It was just one tooth, but it meant so much more than that. The moment my tooth broke so many years ago, was the moment I knew I was screwed. I was out of control. Either I would get help or…. ? Ultimately, there was no other way out.

Thankfully, the specialist really was the best and there were no complications, no calcifications, and once the work started, no more tears. And today, I really have no pain. I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t man-up when I needed to and that I forced my dentist to take on the role of a parent. (Though I didn’t mind when he called that night to check on me and admitted he has to force patients into the chair all the time. That made me feel better.)

I’m not sure who I’m writing for. If any bulimics are reading this, get help now – like I said, there is no other way out. I’m lucky I got help when I did. But my recent tooth episode was a painful reminder of that desperate time in my life. The new bridge may be smooth and pretty, but the truth beneath it isn’t.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Filed under mia ana eating disoder recovery eating disroders

Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #4 “Zero Metabolism”

fullsizerender“You have zero metabolism.” That is what Dr. S told me when he agreed to take me on. He was an MD and world-renowned. That meant a lot to me then. I was 19 and had been bulimic for years. I’d lied my way through eating disorder support groups and PsyD shrinks, but I’d read Dr. S’s book and I was impressed, so I believed him when he said: “This is going to be miserable for you.”

I’m pretty sure zero metabolism isn’t an actual medical term, but Dr. S was smart to play up the seriousness of my situation. When my blood tests came in he sighed heavily and clasped his chin. “You got lucky, kid,” he said. My cholesterol was really high and I remember something about calcium in my blood, which apparently was bad, but the worst thing was what I’d done to my metabolism. When I was still very thin and dancing, my weight would swing as much as twelve pounds from eating almost nothing and not throwing it up. The day I quit dancing, I ate dinner –  one meal – and I gained eight pounds. I was better off at 19 because I’d adjusted to a heavier weight (around 120lbs up from a low of 98lbs) and was purging less, but still, I was terrified of gaining more. At that moment in his office, I longed for my fantasy farm.

My farm fantasy was a constant during those years. Here’s how it goes: Someone, anyone really, discovers my disgusting secret, removes me from my life, and sends me to a farm. I was fourteen when I started dreaming about this farm without mirrors or scales. I would wear baggy work clothes like overalls, and all day, every day, I would farm. That was my great teenage fantasy – forced manual labor. I would relinquish my black tights and work in the fields. I would eat what was served and not puke. I would gain weight – even in the fantasy, I wasn’t a fool – but after enough time, maybe a year or two, my metabolism would heal and my body would start using the food I ate instead of storing it. At the end of my time on the farm, I could be released back into the world and eat like a regular person. That was my dream.

I’m not a doctor, I was a patient, but I still think there was some logic to that fantasy. And ultimately, that’s kind of what happened to me. Also, on that same first day in Dr. S’s office, he banned diet soda, which was a staple of my diet (I drank at least five cans a day.) Again, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but I do believe giving up diet soda helped. And, as I’ve mentioned, Dr. S allowed me to run – within reason, but still, it kept me moving and forced me outside – so I didn’t immediately blow up as we’d both expected and my face thinned when those weird glands went away.

But I was still far from healed. During the remaining three years of college, my weight fluctuated up (when I ate too much) and down (when I dieted) as much as thirty pounds. It was traumatic. I was recovering, but I still kind of longed for that farm. It wasn’t until I graduated that I found it.

My first real job was on a movie set. I was an assistant camera person, which involves 12-18 hours (really!) a day of hard labor, especially back then when they still shot with 1000′ rolls of 35mm film. (It’s heavy!) I’d arrive on set and eat off the catering truck – eggs usually, because otherwise I’d be too hungry too soon and what was important to me then was being good at my job. I ate the company meal for lunch and stopped at craft service for handfuls of candy throughout the day. I was too busy and too exhausted to care about calories. Yes, I gained weight, but not too much. The physical work kept it in check. Eventually I stopped dipping into that candy, but other than that, I ate a lot as a second AC. I certainly couldn’t diet. After about a year, I found myself at a new lower weight – pretty much the weight I am now, even after two kids.

I wanted to be a filmmaker – and earn a living – I didn’t think then that working on movies was my farm. But looking back, I realize that after those years, I could – and did – eat like a regular person. Sometimes now I wish I hadn’t spent almost a decade doing that job, that I’d gone to graduate school or chosen an executive ladder to climb instead, but maybe I unconsciously fulfilled my greatest wish. I didn’t stay on that road, but as far as eating is concerned it was the reset my body needed to heal.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Filed under mia ana eating disoder recovery metabolism

Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #3 Sports Vs. Exercise

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In a lot of ways, sports saved my life. It’s a little controversial, because a lot of folks with EDs are not allowed to exercise. Over-exercising is its own ED. But I couldn’t stop moving. I was lucky that I was able to transition from exercise to sports.

I’d been a ballet dancer used to hours of training and honestly, a lot of endorphins, too. Plus bulimia involves some serious endorphin hits – the secrecy, the food itself, the moment of victory after you’ve purged (before the horrible crash). It’s short lived, but addicting. Much more like drugs than the sustained high I get from sports.

After I quit ballet, I decided to go to college, which had until that point, not been my plan. I transferred out of professional school (only had to attend a few days a week) and returned to my regular high school. (”You look quite a bit plumper,” my French teacher said. (It’s no wonder that to this day I hate French)). For exercise, I went to the gym and ran around Prospect Park. No one knew I had an eating disorder – they just assumed that without 3 three ballet classes a day, I’d gained weight. I looked “healthy,” so no one stopped me from working out. But exercise still felt like a punishment, like I was doing it to fix something about myself that was bad. I was.

Then I went to college where there were co-ed bathrooms and roommates – I couldn’t purge. I felt healed. I joined an ED support group and pretended my sickness was in the past. But I also joined the varsity swim team. I had always been a good swimmer and a friend in my freshman English class encouraged me to go to tryouts. (I’m pretty certain it’s a no-cut sport, but still). I willingly put on the not-at-all-flattering racing suit, goggles, and cap and strutted out in front of a room full of accomplished swimmers, half of them men – juniors and seniors even. And I joined the team. Practice was every day from 4-6pm. Meets were on Saturdays mostly, but some Wednesdays, too.

I started in the slowest lane, but I loved the workouts. There’s lots of counting, which I wasn’t ready to give up. 1X500 free, 4X200 breast, 4X200 back, 4X200 fly. It was all on the dry-erase board so it was easy to follow along. And much healthier than my old calorie lists. My muscles rapidly grew – I’m a mesomorph, which was a detriment to my ballet career – big quads don’t look good in pink tights. But I wasn’t bothered when after only a few weeks of swim practice, the arms of my t-shirts were tight. I moved up to a faster lane. I remember distinctly thinking while I was underwater at practice, that my body was kind of awesome – so strong and capable, how it was amazing it could learn those strokes. That was a total about-face from when I was a dancer and hated every inch of that same body, even when I excelled. In the pool, I was a powerful mammal instead of a china doll – I loved that.

I gained ten pounds and I wasn’t derailed or devastated. I’d never seen as much food as they serve in the college cafeteria and I was always starving after practice. The whole team walked down from the pool to dinner together and sat together and ate together – that alone was an accomplishment – eating in public, eating with friends. While I was at school and on that team, I never once puked. (Back home for breaks, was a different story).

Meets were terrifying. Truly. I hated them. But the feeling afterwards was pure adrenaline: I’d done it. I’d climbed up onto those blocks and launched myself into the water. I started the 100 free relay, (Terrifying!) and I regularly placed 3rd in the 500 free.(20 lengths!)  Even when Coach put me in the 200 fly for the 1 point – 1 point for 8 lengths of butterfly! – and I came in dead last with all my teammates cheering for me to finish, I was proud of myself. Proud that I got up early on Saturday and boarded the bus and stood shivering in the most unflattering uniform, proud that I was a hardworking, determined, amphibious girl.

That summer, I finally got up the nerve to ask for the help I knew I needed. I never purged again.

The next year I ran cross-country. Running was definitely more ED than swimming and I did lose weight, but I wasn’t purging and that was my main goal. Also, running in nature gave me a tremendous positive high. It was beautiful around my campus – that moved me. Ultimately running on a team was a bit of a trigger – the weight loss and the counting were too much. So I tried to run only with friends, to make it more social and fun, to keep myself in check without giving up darting through the woods or cresting a hill at sunset under a purple red sky.

After college, outdoor sports became a major part of my life. Windsufing and skiing (and later snowboarding) kept me sane. I loved being on a mountain, especially when snow was falling – it was so quiet and peaceful – like I’d floated into Narnia. I loved being on the ocean, too, cutting through mast-high swells, and riding waves. In nature, there are no mirrors or scales. There are sharks and rocks, but it turns out I’m strong, I can manage it. I used to be afraid of a cookie, but I could tackle the Pacific. When it gets scary, my brain hyper-focuses. Teetering on a cliff, there’s no time to count. Stuck on a reef in a five wave set – the only goal is to survive. There’s no time to over-think – that’s a tremendous relief. Eating disorders offer momentary breaks, but the price is self-loathing and shame (and a horrible electrolyte imbalance). After a session on a mountain, I’m left with an incredible feeling of accomplishment and wonder: How is it that I can ride snow? Never: how will I get down to 95 pounds? 

Then there was doubles tennis, playing hard for someone other than myself – my partners. It isn’t exercise – it’s a game. I ran and lunged and hit a ball to score a point, which is totally different than running and lunging to get rid of some flab. Also, the few great partners I’ve had, remain dear friends. I wish I’d played a team sport as a child. It might have helped.

Of course, I can’t ski or snowboard that many days a year. (And as a mom, windsurfing in the Pacific is too dangerous – they need me not to drown) Instead I find a hike or even a nice walk. I don’t listen to music – I listen to nature – I unplug. I live in Southern California, so even a stroll down my block offers relief: the sunshine, the hummingbirds, the flowers everywhere. It helps. If I’m in New York, I head for the park. If there’s a beach or a mountain, I find it. I need to keep moving, but it’s drastically different to play games for pleasure than to punish myself with excessive exercise. I don’t want to Just Do it. That sounds like chore. I’m healthier when the goal is to have fun or to unwind or even to to win (or try anyway) a game, instead of trying to get fit or lose weight.

Memo: (written a day later) 

Entry #3 doesn’t feel entirely honest now that a day has past. It’s all true, but so is the fact that I still exercise a lot. And I don’t always zen out. I try. And often achieve it, but once or twice a week, you can catch me in an exercise class. (Or using a yoga app or Pop Physique DVD in my house.) And I always find a way to fit in those hikes. I stopped playing tennis because it took too much time and then, once I’d stopped, I realized how much it hurt my body, which I have overused. I cut back on running because I can’t run responsibly. Right away I want to add miles and shorten my time. I start looking at my watch. Finally, my knees and my back took a stand and shut running down for good. There’s an app that counts the runs you ski in a day, your total vertical, your top speed. It’s really cool. But I started trying to outdo myself and worst of all, I stopped taking in the view. So I deleted it from my phone. Needless to say, I could never have a Fitbit.

Yes, sports changed the paradigm – I learned to embrace my strengths instead of battle my flaws – and that was huge. But I still have to be careful not to over-exercise and that is different. That’s leftover from my ED. I have to find a balance because there is still something in me that needs to move. When I go on vacation there’s almost always a sporty activity involved. I’ll go kayaking or paddle boarding – I’ll find something. I never go to a gym, but I do take the stairs. I wanted to clarify – I don’t not care about staying fit. I care. I’m no longer compulsive about it, but it takes work. And I don’t think I’ll ever sit still.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.