Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 13)

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, and Part 12]

I don’t know her name, but for all intents and purposes, let’s call her Jennifer.

A fleeting glimpse of Jennifer is enough. We exchange a glance for about two seconds before I break away. As if I could ever forget.

Everything about Jennifer—and girls like her—triggers me. I have memorized her gaunt face, protruding cheekbones, hollowed eye sockets, and pronounced collarbones. I see how she piles on the makeup to soften hard angles and mask the perpetual fatigue. I feel the effects of her sleep deprivation: migraines, brain fog, and lightheadedness. I hear the drag in her step and feel sympathy for those bony legs—subject to acute cramps that jolt her awake in the dead of night.

When was the last time she’d had a decent meal and good night’s sleep? Jennifer hasn’t the faintest idea, nor does she care. Hunched over in hunger, her skeletal shoulders flinch defensively everytime someone touches her. Most of all, she harbors an abject hatred for mirrors, unable to recognize or face the monster she’s created. What is happening? Why do I no longer look like me? Can I ever go back?

I may no longer look like Jennifer, but there’s no fooling her. For neither my fleshiness nor her litheness can disguise the fact that we’re two peas in a pod. Branded by our common experience and sporting the same battle scars, we belong to a category of people hardwired to live in our heads and never feel comfortable in our own skin. Right now she’s hiding behind excessive makeup, and me extra layers of fat, but the second our eyes meet, the jig is up.

ED recovery is hard enough without triggers like Jennifer. The way ahead has been paved with frequent indigestion, perpetual abdominal bloat, uneven distribution of regained weight, the vengeance of two years’ worth of PMS, and constant confusion that comes with still thinking I’m a thin person but no longer inhabiting the body of one (and the redundancy of almost two-thirds of my wardrobe). It’s well and good to talk about rebuilding a loving relationship with food and your body, but know this, ED recovery is no walk in the park.

I long to make Jennifer, and all other triggers that threaten to derail my ED recovery, disappear with the wave of a magic wand.  So I do that—in my head. I mentally compose a “Trigger Box,” into which go Jennifer and the rest of my “trigger list,” including (but is not limited to): thinspo blogs, celebrity magazines, weighing scales, food labels, calorie-counting apps, cooking, baking, my running shoes and weights, the gym and treadmill, and all “petite”-sized clothes I once starved myself into. The Trigger Box is sealed (and reinforced) with duct tape, and I scribble with a red marker “DO NOT OPEN” before hurling it down the basement, i.e. the deepest recesses of my subconscious.

As Jennifer’s gaze bores into my back, I can feel her desire to reach out and connect, but I refuse to engage. She’s silent but the cacophony of her thoughts is deafening. You busted your ass to be thin, only to throw it all away? How could you? What will you do now?

“Excuse me! Wait!” she calls out, her low, gravely voice stopping me in my tracks.

I have no choice but to turn and look her squarely in the eyes, which are wide with a strange mix of curiosity and fear. “Were you talking to me? How can I help you?”

Jennifer bites her lower lip nervously, before launching into spurts of short sentences. “Yes, you. Thanks for stopping. I’m sorry if this is abrupt. I’ll make this quick. I just wanted to know … what’s recovery like? I mean, what’s it look like?”

“You’re referring to … ?” I mouth the words ‘eating disorder.’

She nods, her eyes fixed intently on mine.

“I don’t know,” I reply, “but I hope that if and when I get there, I can tell you.”

“I don’t wanna do this anymore,” she mutters in a low breath, “but I’m afraid.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Being fat. I could never let myself recover unless someone could assure me a hundred percent I wouldn’t get all plus-sized. D’you know what I mean?”

“I do. But I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything. I don’t even know where this is heading.”

“So you just jumped in? With your eyes closed?” Jennifer asks, incredulous and taken aback. “You’re so brave!”

Am I? Until she mentions it, I hadn’t really thought about how I’d cope if I settled into a post-ED size of anything that fell outside my comfort zone of a US 6/UK 10. Suddenly aware how swiftly I’m edging toward a US 8/UK 12, I feel seized with a newfound fear of the unknown. Gee, thanks, Jennifer.

“I have to go. Can I give you my number? You’ll call me when you get there?” she asks.

We part with awkward smiles, her cell phone number programmed in my mobile as a personal reminder to get better, even if not on Jennifer’s terms.

Does a huge part of me hope my ED recovered size falls within a range that isn’t too hard to accept? Of course. But being called brave is something new. Maybe there’s something to be said about having “jumped in with my eyes closed”  and representing a fragment of hope for someone else who’s still contemplating.

And just like that, Jennifer escapes from my Trigger Box.

[to be continued]

Singapore Writers Festival 2016

A quick plug about my upcoming events at the Singapore Writers Festival. I’ll be speaking at two sessions, and both are free.

On Saturday, I’ll be reading for the kids—a different chapter of Tea in Pajamas from my previous readings. Joseph Tey, the book’s illustrator, will be conducting a live drawing demo in the second half, and we’ve scheduled in more time for that so more children can join in the fun. Kids, come dressed in your PJs, and you might walk away with some exclusive merchandise and freebies!

At Sunday’s event, I’ll be reading an excerpt from my ongoing series, Everything Takes Forever, and sharing how writing helped me through a difficult time. This is for an older crowd (teens and up) as it tackles weightier (no pun intended) issues like body image and self-confidence.

Click on the images for more details

SATURDAY 12 NOVEMBER, 4.00–5.00pm

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SUNDAY 13 NOVEMBER, 3.30–4.30pm

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Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 12)

"The threshold" by Angelo Amboldi via Flickr. Permission under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“The threshold” by Angelo Amboldi via Flickr. Permission under CC BY-ND 2.0.

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11]

The glare from the light is almost blinding. How long have I been here? The memory of my reluctance to to enter this space is still fresh in my mind, yet it seems sufficient days and months have gone by for me to have grown accustomed to and—dare I say—comfortable in the dark of my surroundings. Oh the things I would’ve done just to have bypassed this state of perpetual night—to have skipped straight to the rainbows and sunshine. Yet now darkness is all I know, and to my mind, my only reality.

He’s standing a few feet from where I’m huddled in a heap, in front of door that opens into the light—a tall and lean figure, with one hand outstretched. Like a statue, he’s held that same pose from yesterday, and the day before that, maybe even in the preceding weeks or months. Possibly years. Unflinching, unwavering, unyielding. “Get up,” he says each time. “Let’s go.”

Today is no different. He’s calling out to me, and I hear him, but I’m not listening. I’ve been lying in a semi-awake state, my body curled in a fetal position, and my thoughts paralyzed by pain.  All that crying has left a filmy residue over my eyes, and pretty soon even his silhouette starts to fade into a distant blur.

Go where? I’m exhausted and only want to go to sleep. Lulled by the soft splat of tears as they fall from my eyes to the floor, I imagine that these are magical teardrops that would, upon touching the ground, transform it to a mushy quicksand that swallows me whole. How I’d love to disappear beneath the muck and be put out of my misery.

“And sleep, that sometimes shuts up sorrow’s eye, steal me awhile from mine own company,” I say, reciting the lines of Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not that I ever played her. Shakespeare has always been, for me, more about literature and less about theater. From behind beat-up paperbacks, I’ve done a thousand dress rehearsals in my head, like I’m doing right now.

“Wake up,” he says, as I almost drift off. “Look, it’s a new day.”

As I lift my eyes to the bright and beautiful scene beyond the door, I realize the light no longer hurts my eyes, and I can even see him clearly now. He helps me to my feet and patiently leads me by the arm as I take slow, furtive steps toward freedom. But just before we cross that threshold between night and day, I freeze.

Ignacia deserved a chance,” I say. “Why?

He doesn’t say a word. There is a tender, faraway look in his eyes, and deep down I know even if he offered me a thousand answers, none would be satisfactory. Not in this lifetime anyway.

The moment my foot makes its first contact with the grassy earth outside the door feels almost surreal. If this is what hope looks like if it were a physical place, this is it, and it is breathtaking.

All around me are Douglas-fir—they look just like giant, unadorned Christmas trees, with their short, flat needles poking out from thousands of twigs, and trunks that are rough and deeply grooved. Birds are pecking away at several fir cones that have fallen to the ground, and overhead, the sky is a cloudless, magnificent blue.  After having stewed for so long in the silence of my gloom—accompanied only by the sounds of my breathing and the cacophony of my thoughts—I now feel startlingly outside of myself amid the bristle and rustle of nature.

A strong momentum is edging me forward, but I resist the urge to run into the outstretched arms of this forest sanctuary. There is one thing left to do, and that is to say goodbye. Just one parting glance is all I need for closure.

What would the dark room look like, now exposed to the light? All this time I was in there, it was pitch black, and I never got to see what lurked within its walls.

As I turn to face the big reveal, I mentally brace myself for a horror-movie-worthy sight of creepy cobwebs and malevolent shadows. But reality is nothing of the sort.

It’s just a room. Sparse, hollow, nondescript. Plain and altogether unremarkable.

And in the middle of it sits a familiar pile of bricks.

[to be continued]