My 8-year old daughter and her friend are searching through the first aid items in the hallway cabinet, trying to find bandages – Wait a second…why do they need bandages? Oh well. It’s nothing, probably. We hear my daughter yell, “No, Lyla, that’s gas relief!... No, Lyla!... Lyla, no!” That’s pretty much all Milan says to her friends. “No! NO!” Geez, she’s so bossy. And negative, too. How did she get that way?
Uh…What? Uh oh. Did she get it from me?
I’m so careful about what I say around Milan. Yet, I know that feelings and subtle meanings bleed through. I mean, how can a kid be around someone who is thinking about death fairly consistently not be picking up on it?
And my anorexia. Is Milan aware of that? What if she’s catching that from me? She talks about it sometimes; she says she’s fat. Oy vey. She’s 9 years old; she has the cutest little body in the world. She’s certainly not fat. There’s no way that someone could see her and think, “fat.” I want to be sure that I’m responding to her well, not giving it too much importance but also not dismissing it so that she feels unheard. I’m over-thinking this, I know.
Why is she even saying these things? I don’t say these things out loud. I am so, SO vigilant about this, so careful to not say anything in front of Milan that even alludes to my disease. But people tell me that, one way or another, it comes through anyway. Well, what am I supposed to do? Be someone else? That would come through, too.
I know that Milan knows that I’m concerned about my weight. Several months ago, she and my husband, Tom, accompanied me to my gynecologist’s office. I was getting an endometrial biopsy, a biopsy of my uterine lining, and I had to take a sedative beforehand, so I wouldn’t be able to drive. Since it was a school holiday, Milan had to come along.
When Milan found out that she was coming along, she was very excited. I have no idea why. Maybe it was the newness of that whole world for her. She’s very curious, she’s really into science. I guess I can see the allure. She told me that she really wanted to come into the actual exam room with me. I said that it wouldn’t be a good idea. I really had no good reason to give her other than it would unnerve me. I would be feeling like I would have to take care of her and, frankly, I felt like I really needed the taking care of. I think I just gave her some lame non-excuse, something like, “It wouldn’t be a good idea.” I’m embarrassed that I said that to her, it’s so lame.
Milan pressed the issue. “Pleeeease, Mama! It’s okay! I can handle it! I’ve already seen ‘Jaws:The Revenge!’”
Wow. I’d really never thought of my vagina and uterus in that way, as a man-eating shark with a bad plot that couldn’t possibly live up to the original. as “Jaws.” Maybe she’s got a point. Regardless, I stood firm and said no anyway.
The three of us were in the waiting room, and the nurse opens the door and calls my name. We all walked into the pre-exam area, where they do things like take your blood pressure and weigh you and such.
For years, at least fifteen, I’d say, I’ve been requesting to not be told what I weigh when I go to the doctor. I realized that whatever number it was threw me into the maelstrom of my disease. If it was too low a number, then I felt like I could eat some more, but how would I know when to stop? Once I was eating more, I would enjoy that, and it would be such punishment to have to cut back. Worse yet, if the number was too high, then I would feel too afraid to eat anything at all. I would put myself in Diet Mode, and I would watch everything I ate like a hawk. Worse than a hawk. Like a hawk that was compulsive.
So instead, I would just get on the scale and turn around and ask the nurse to not say anything out loud. Once, I starting asking the nurse for hints. “So, was it good? Would you say that I lost or gained since last time? Is it too little? Is it too much?”
She said, “Look, do you want to know or not?” I shut up.
That day, with Tom and Milan there, I stuck to my usual drill. Got on the scale backwards, the nurse wrote down a figure, cancelled out the scale, and I dismounted. Then I went into the exam room, without Tom and Milan, and I had my procedure, which was not as bad as the previous time, thanks to the sedative, and we all went home.
Later that evening, Tom said to me, “You know, it’s just a matter of time before Milan tells you how much you weigh.”
Oh. Hmm. I guess that I had decided, conveniently, to not really consider this because, if I had, I know that I would have known in a heartbeat that there was no way that Milan would be able to keep her mouth shut. I must have had some fantasy image of Milan as a mature, empathic human being. Even for her age, her empathy level is pretty sub-par. I can’t count the number of times she’s said to me, outright, in response to my expressing a vulnerable feeling I was having, “Well, I don’t really care about that.”
And, sure enough, within a day or two, Milan said to me, “I know what you weigh.” “Okay,” I said. “Why don’t you want to know what you weigh?” she asked. “Well, because I’m a little off here,” I said, pointing to my brain, “and it’s better for me not to know.”
And then she proceeded, little by little, inch by inch, to squeeze out bits of information to me, until she finally blurted out, “You weigh 121.” “Okay,” I said, feigning nonchalance, when I really wanted to run screaming from the room into the kitchen, grab a sharp knife and start stabbing myself. As bad luck would have it, we were staying with my mother-in-law, and there wasn’t a sharp knife to be found anywhere in the house. So there I was, in front of my young, impressionable daughter, having to put up a brave, and dishonest, front.
As soon as I was alone, I had a freak out. 121!! 121!! I haven’t weighed over 120 in years, YEARS! Fuck! Motherfucker!!
And after Milan told me what I weighed, she didn’t stop there. She told me again, and often, at every opportunity. It was maddening.
Then, about a month later, I decided I was going to go off of one of my meds because it caused weight gain, and it wasn’t helping me, anyway. And I began to lose some weight. And I was glad, dammit.
Soon after that, I had the occasion to be weighed again at another appointment, so, of course, I asked to not be told my weight. But, after it was written down, I got a glimpse of the paper. Okay, it was more than a glimpse. It was more of a deliberate search and stare. And there was the number: 114.
I knew it! I knew it! I knew I’d lost weight! Ha! I’ll show you, whoever cares, which is no one but me!
Then I began to have that predictable anorexic thought: Hey, maybe I should lose more weight! That’s a great idea!!
Of course I didn’t do that because, at this point in my recovery, even I know that’s a bad idea. But the thought still crossed my mind.
The next time Milan brought up my weight - “You weigh 121.” - I didn’t say, “Okay.” I said, “No, I’ve lost weight since then.” I couldn’t believe how low I’d stooped. I was trying to beat a 7-year old at her own game.
So, here I am now, with a thinner body, but still seeing a fat one in the mirror. And my nice black pants, almost all of them, are literally falling off of me. How is this possible? I can’t have lost that much weight. When I look at myself, I don’t see someone who is skinny. Yet the pants. They don’t lie. Right? Am I right? What’s the right? I don’t get it.
I’m always trying to get it. That’s part of anorexia. Figuring everything out, controlling everything, making exact, perfect sense of it all, putting each thing into its own neat, tidy compartment.
And now everything doesn’t fit neatly everywhere. So what do I do? How do I make sense of it all? And while I’m trying to do that, how do I avoid passing along this horrible legacy to my beautiful and bright daughter, she with the lithe, young body that I wish I had? That’s right. I covet an 8-year old’s body. I’m jealous of her. I don’t want the soft, gravity-ruined, aging body of a 56-year old. I want the young, tight, elastic body of my daughter.
I think I stand a really good chance. Don’t you?