Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Starving in a land of water: Drowning without Food
           The space in my childhood home between bedroom and kitchen was a fully functioning demilitarized zone. By this I mean to say that entering to the kitchen between meal times was absolutely not tolerated when my dad was watching us. My dad put away bags of chips in one sitting, greasy fingers and belly round. He hoarded all the food in his stomach that he could handle, probably because as a kid he didn’t get much. However, he felt the need to teach his daughters the value of food and that wasting food wasn’t acceptable. His goal was accomplished, however, at the cost of making me feel constantly unworthy of eating.
           My mom was the exact opposite, which is always the case when it comes to my parents. The only rules that applied when mom was around were: eat when you’re hungry and desserts are reserved for after meals. Our kitchen was painted a cloudy, almost gray, blue and the adjoined dining room a happy corn yellow. Both of the rooms were splotched with white over top the yellow and blue: displaying my mom’s artistic touch. I remember the little window that sat just above the sink and always thinking of it as a way out. I wanted to escape the suffocating space of my double-wide trailer, the cold of Michigan’s winter, and the yellow walls and eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I would be able to shove my face full of chocolate Swiss cake rolls, my favorite processed dessert, or, better yet, I could eat all the fresh raspberries and blueberries I could find: feeling the natural sugar swirl around with seediness on my tongue. No attention would be paid to the way my thighs rubbed together when I walked, how my feet bowed out to the sides to accommodate the jiggling trunks.
           One night, while my mom was at work caring for an elderly couple, the house was pitch black. Only the living room television illuminated the space playing various infomercials, and Billy Mays’ voice rang through my ears. I felt my way down the hall, across the back of our beige couch, and eyed my dad snoring loudly upon it. His rounded belly rose and fell evenly, looking full and fed if I had ever seen it. I made a break for the kitchen and as soon as my foot tapped against the linoleum floor my dad jerked from his sleep. He grunted his usual, “What are you doing?” and waited until I was back down the hall to put his head back down. So much for dinner.
           Defeated and hungry I stared blankly at my tiny television. My mind wandered back to riding around in my dad’s company car, him emphasizing that “you can never drink enough water,” reiterating that while food was bad for me, “you can drink as much water as you want.” I decided that this was the night to challenge his theory. I started by polishing off lemon-flavored Propel in a bottle that waved to the grooves of my fingers. I went across the hall to the bathroom in order to avoid notice from my dad, and refilled the bottle with tap water. Returning to my room, I started sucking the water through the twist cap. The water sloshed in my mouth like rapids before plunging down the waterfall of my throat and pooling in my stomach. One down.
           I refilled the bottle again. And again. And again. I was possessed by the idea of water’s capability of filling and cleansing me. After each bottle, the bloat in my stomach was merely from too much water, not because that was how it looked all the time. I eventually had to stop drinking mid-bottle and pee every five minutes. Captured in my obsession, I thought it would still be a good idea to keep drinking. And so I continued. My stomach felt bloated and slushy. I laid on the multi-colored carpet of my room letting the Propel bottle protrude from my mouth; I felt full and unsatisfied, my tongue chastising me for the lack of taste.
           After the severe belly ache from that night, I decided that I had had enough water for the next month, and then some. Weeks, even years after, I would pass a mirror and see my body stretched as if it was still full of water; my stomach waving up and down with each step, legs crashing into one another, as if the waterfall of water from that night stayed just beneath the surface waiting to burst out. My mom told me once I was older, that I hoarded food in my toy box which she would find after she got home from work. I don’t remember doing it, but I picture soggy PB & J’s, pathetically melting fudge pops, and browning apples in the purple side compartment of my toy box. I imagine her beginning my parents’ daily argument with: “You’re starving your own kids! They have to hide food because they’re so afraid of you,” before delving into their usual topic of money. My dad would defend himself with “Look at Taylor, she looks more than well fed,” always honest about what other people looked like. My dad wanted to teach me the value of food, but I just ended up hiding it away like he did.
I started pushing my food around at the dinner table, forced to stay long after the meal had cooled to finish it. People started asking if I was anorexic, rather than if I had the stomach flu; I went to Florida for a week and shrank my stomach so much that I couldn’t eat more than three bites of buffet grilled chicken. I never gave up food longer than that, afraid of getting in trouble or sent to therapy, but that water made me thirsty for thinness. If I told my dad that I wanted to lose weight, like I did the summer after my freshman year of college, he would look at me and say: “Probably five in each leg, ten in the stomach,” always emphasizing the need to eat an apple a day and to stay hydrated with, you guessed it, as much water as I wanted.

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