Whole Foods gets me so commercially aroused. I can’t predict what will set me off — the swollen eggplants moistened every 30 seconds with a burst of mist, the impossibly fresh smelling salmon display, the partially unwrapped cheeses coyly oozing out their salty creaminess — but my blinding lust to possess the contents of the store always ends in poorly considered choices that I immediately regret. What is worse is that Whole Foods knows exactly what it is doing to me goddammit and has perfectly calculated its titillating bottles of I-will-restore-the-beauty-that-is-your-birthright such that I am forced to give up the whole “I have freewill” charade and admit that my subroutines might as well be a public repository on Github and just as easily forked.
All of this was confirmed one afternoon when I dropped into a Whole Foods wanting only, I told myself, to troll a friend who stocks the bulk goods section. Without my glasses, I wandered about the aisles trying to identify staff members and make out their faces in search of my friend. I had a vague awareness that I was behaving somewhat like the women that I had watched through Target’s surveillance cameras who poked around the cosmetics aisle, glancing from side to side, until they felt it was safe enough to shove $70 worth of mascara into their purses. During my brief stint as Target security, I learned that while men occasionally find a way to tear off the security packaging and take off with video games stuffed into their pants, it is the women, mostly white in their 20s and 30s, who do the most costly damage in the cosmetics aisle. When I noticed a man was following me to the organic range of beauty products, I asked him if he was an undercover employee suspecting me of stealing. He shrugged and said, “you’re our demographic.”
For all of my vain and delusional desires, the truth is I have no idea what common sense really means when it comes to food and beauty products but I am terrified of suffering the consequences. I end up believing in magic by default because learning “the science” would be a chore and significantly duller than the alternative. I am pathetically and completely at the mercy of the New York Times Well blog, top posts on certain sub-reddits, and anything claiming to be “natural” (but definitely not anything on Huffington Post because what a crock of shit they’re hawking) with very little critical capacities on my end other than “it makes sense.” Michael Pollan says fermentation is vital to our something, something bacteria in our gut something and I am stocking up kombucha and kimchi. I want to be effortlessly beautiful and glowingly healthy until I suddenly fall over dead at 101 while giving a quippy acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature. If that means pomegranate juice twice a day, shut up and take my money.
My abundance of hopes and fears manifesting into the purchase of edible or lathering products wouldn’t be so humiliating if I wasn’t also aware of how achingly close such manifestations are to mental illness. The summer before sixth grade, my sister got so sick from a mysterious bacterial infection in the lake that she spent the entire summer in bed. I was pretty pissed at her the night her illness first set in since my parents had put us up in a hotel with our grandma for the evening so that they could entertain the school board. We had been chittering for weeks about how we were going swimming! and order room service! but Rachel didn’t feel well and we all had to go to bed at 9pm because she can’t sleep with any noise in the room. (Rachel’s need for silence was so absolute that I learned to breath into my pillow at night because she would throw pillows at me if she could hear wind escaping from my lungs.) As Rachel’s fever grew worse, my grandma panicked and my mom came rushing over to take Rachel home in the middle of the night and put her to bed where she remained for the rest of the summer, extending her ruination of my plans into autumn.
I was so certain that the lingering frailty from this illness had weakened her the way scarlet fever “forever changed” Beth from Little Women that when she started to get copies of cookbooks from the library and spend hours copying them by hand, I thought, “that is such a Beth thing to do.” Later when she began alphabetizing soup cans and counting out carrots for her lunch, I passingly admired her organizational skills and noted that this is probably a practice that I, as an emerging adult, should cultivate as well.
No one that I knew in my vast network of middle school had ever heard the word anorexia, which seems unfathomable now since writing an essay about it or making a collage of “unrealistic bodies” cut out of Vogue magazine is de rigeur for the modern tween. In my attempts to form meaningful connections with another person, at the point where the detail that my sister is anorexic feels due to surface, I feel both an urgency to rip of this piece of information and sense of obligation to stress its grimness. The obstacle here to achieving full clarity of my experience with anorexia is our foggy, generalized understanding that most of us are fucked up about food and bodies in some way or another and most of us have at least witnessed when that fucked-upness manifests itself into a really bad summer of taking it a little too far with a diet. So there are lots of knowing nods when the subject does emerge and sometimes tales of how their roommate used to throw up and a “I have heard this one before” shrug from the more transnational.
Here is how I earned my Sister-with-Anorexia merit badge: my experience spans twenty three years and almost twice as many hospital stays at various institutions from psych wards to pray-away-the-anorexic resorts, from specialized hospital wings to your straight-forward cardiac care unit. My participation in these experiences varied from joining weekly practice-eating-dinner-normally night, to sitting in therapy drum circles, to driving to the middle of nowhere for family weekend. Obviously it is not a competition between my sister and I over who suffered the most (Lies. Voting will be tallied at the end.) but I ask you to imagine what it is like to spend your teens and twenties attending marathon therapy sessions where you are asked repeatedly and in every possible way to either reason or sympathize with a 70 pound person who calls you in the middle of the night from a hospital bed — where they are being forcefully administered food — to beg you to reassure them that you would tell them if they were fat. With a sizable part of my life filtered through surrealist shouting matches about how I don’t understand and emotional standoffs over meals that turn into one or all of us begging one or all of us to please just not fucking kill themselves, food has come to represent everything that will save or destroy us.
When Rachel was first diagnosed in the mid-nineties, psychoanalysis was still the popular treatment being administered by the fix-what’s-in-my-head set. The task of these earlier explorers into Rachel’s disordered head was to find the root cause of Rachel’s eccentric ideas about healthy food and proportions. Suspect number one, following a time-honored tradition, was my mother. Surely her insistence that we do our homework every night before television, learn to appreciate music, keep our uniforms clean, and find good books to read over the summer was a suffocating environment for a tender soul like my sister. I hated these well-meaning cunts for projecting their poorly etched-out origin story for the worst action hero ever onto my family. My parents were desperate to save their daughter so they submitted themselves to patronizing therapy sessions and drained their savings to cover whatever treatment was recommended. No one had any great ideas about how to get Rachel to eat her food but if only my parents would get their shit together maybe the whole chemical cocktail in Rachel’s brain would sort itself out.
A discernible shift in the psychoanalysts’ strategy occurred a few years later when, during one family therapy session, the therapist announced that he wanted to talk only with my sister, my little brother, and me. I was stoked to be targeted for more focused attention. He gave us an assignment to tell each other a secret about ourselves before the next session. I was twelve at the time so my deepest secret was that I stole a Lisa Frank pocket folder from Target. I was relieved to come clean about my criminal past but when I shared it with the therapist, he seemed disappointed. Many years later, as a college student, I passingly commented to my mother that it was sad that dad stopped hugging us when I got to middle school. She responded, with a hint of annoyance that I hadn’t put it together yet, that it was probably because the therapist theorized that dad was molesting us. The lengthy observational visits from social workers finally made sense but I was irritated to realize that what I thought was a genuine effort to attend to my feelings as a kid was just a fishing expedition to reel in some supporting evidence for that year’s popular theory about why these darn girls just won’t eat their supper.
After the you-don’t-eat-therefore-molestation theory had succeeded at little else but alienating my father, it appeared that Rachel had gotten a grip on the consequences of her personality despite efforts to explain them. We had several normalish years extending into high school but then, facing the prospect of carving out a new life outside our little home on Duck Pond, she started carving up her wrists. This rather messy new development provided somewhat of a better framing for understanding her driving motivations. Eating disorder are often associated with vanity but cutting is associated with suicide, which is infinitely more relatable, or at least respectable, among the existentially imperiled high school set. At last I could talk about what was wrong with Rachel in terms that society would understand: she wants to die.
The closest I can get to wrapping my head around the desire to cut, despite my mostly academic investigations into the subject, is that it is somewhat analogous to the space between my desire for rough sex and to spend an afternoon splashing around in something other than my own stream of consciousness. Since cutting was an addition to rather than substitution for “restricting” (the comically understated clinical term for the behavior of anorexia), this presented a challenging taxonomy problem for the professionals treating my sister. Was her underlying condition OCD? Depression? Anxiety? Body dysmorphia? Something called “Peter Pan Syndrome”? All of the above? Since the treatment of anorexia had by then shifted into its chemical phase, naming her condition was essential to dosing out the proper prescription.
For the next five years or so I watched my sister cycle through various institutions treating various parts of her self-destructiveness with various chemical instruments leaving her at turns hysterical and catatonic. Once when I went to the eighth floor of Methodist Hospital, where they keep all the eating disordered, I found my grown sister, red-faced and out of tears, in the middle of a full-on screaming match over a meal replacement drink delightfully named Ensure.
“But I ate the pudding! I ate all the pudding! I ate everything you fucking told me to!” She then wanted me to take her side and explain to the exasperated nurses that really it was unreasonable to expect this starving person to eat enough to ensure she woke up the next morning because — goddamnit — didn’t they see that she ate all her pudding?
From perspective of the patient, surrendering freedom for one’s own good should at least be compensated by a predictable set of rules: do this exactly and you will be free. I am trying to avoid any references to Nazi concentration camps here but to the emaciated patients housed in these institutions, a firm belief that work will set them free was their only inducement to keep going, at least until they had a high enough caloric intake to begin to recognize that their situation was at least as batshit crazy as this analogy. From the perspective of the nurses (and everyone else), caloric intake is not a hard and fast equation and hedging on the side of caution with someone whose heart rate jumps 60 bps every time they go from laying down to standing was medically (and probably morally) the right thing to do.
So I understand why the medical professionals around her started giving my sister horse tranquilizers but it didn’t make it less fucked up. There was my 26 year-old older sister, curled up in a little ball, coloring in a Precious Moments coloring book. Here she is now, making another friendship bracelet and watching the Parent Trap (the one with Lindsay Lohan before she experienced her own outright rejection of her physical being). Oh look, Rachel — the one who got a scholarship to an Ivy League university and has received standing ovations for her solo flute performances — made another paint-by-numbers! If I am ever forced at gunpoint to make a horror movie (the only scenario in which that would conceivably happen), it would begin with the camera panning low on an old matted carpeted floor with only the noise of a soft clicking chorus of metal against metal. Slowly it would move up to see one ankle bouncing anxiously in its socket. Then one more. And another. A whole row of them. We would pan up to see that these row of ankles belong to the crossed legs of a group of skeletal women, silently and hypnotically knitting — click, click, click — all in unison, all making nothing in particular (scarves? blankets? who gives a shit?), all with a distant drugged-out and malnourished glaze in their eyes. As it is, I have seen this scene and it is fucking terrifying.
It is hard to know how much of this is Rachel’s doing. I most often regard her condition as akin to alcoholism and have been as angry with her resistance to treatment as I would be with a sloppy drunk, even while feeling sympathetic about the self-induced damage caused. Holding on to a belief that part of this is in her control has been an important part of holding on to hope that she will get better. If there is nothing she can do then there is nothing we can do and so there is nothing that can be done. But as long as I hold on to this belief, I have to hate her for destroying not just every opportunity she had to become an adult, not just for destroying my aging parents free-time and peace-of-mind (not to mention their financial stability), but for giving up on being my older sister. She still squeals with delight when people express shock that she is my older sister. It was only in the last few years that she stopped being able to order from the kid’s menu. Once Rachel came and visited me in Chicago during one of her more stable periods and we ran into an acquaintance to whom I introduced to my sister. Later this acquaintance told my partner that he had met my “little sister” and “gosh, she is going to be beautiful when she grows up.” My partner, amused and knowing that my sister’s prolonged undernourishment had made this a common misunderstanding, tested out how “little” he thought Rachel was. His first guess was eight. Fucking eight. After several rounds he refused to go higher than thirteen. Rachel was twenty-eight at the time and still beams at the telling of this story.
An upside of the shift in the sibling pecking order is that I began to step up as a big sister to my little brother just around the time that he entered middle school. We had heretofore been at odds for several years since he was at the age of Peak Annoying at the time when I was at the age of Peak Annoyed. This transition turned out to be a just-in-time acceptance of my own responsibilities since for boys of my brother’s demeanor, being called a “faggot” was a matter of course.
I can locate the exact moment that I realized that I was not only capable but responsible for shaping my relationship with my brother. I was lying in bed one morning thinking of french toast. French toast from Perkins. With blueberry syrup. I felt the hope and the unlikeliness that my parents would be interested in taking me out for breakfast. I smirked at the thought that my little brother would join me in my hopes. Then, as though I just invented the very notion of making a meaningful connection, it occurred to me that with all my sweet new Target cash, I had the means to take out my little brother. And that I should. When I asked if he wanted to go to breakfast, his face said that that was all he ever wanted from me. We both ordered a full plate of french toast and a side of hash browns, which we smothered with ketchup. We felt wild with our new found power. We were taking charge of our destinies. I ordered coffee, which had only just begun to cease being an affectation, and Jonathan ordered root beer. We talked about girls and faggots and the depth of parental annoyance and Rachel, a person whom Jonathan only really knew as rocking on her hard edge of disordered. Our French toast with a side of hash browns was an act of defiance: a declaration that we were well and we weren’t going to give a shit about what the world might do to us. It became our weekly communion; a ritual to solemnize that whatever else we had going on, at least we weren’t afraid of breakfast.
I might hate how brazenly Rachel ceased becoming someone I could look up to in the same way that we all hate our heroes and unjustly deem them pitiful when they turn out to be as flawed as everyone else. But I can’t hate Rachel for what anorexia has done to her for any sustained period of time. Her life has been unforgivingly hard, at least compared to what it might have been. She had to drop out of college — where she had a full-ride scholarship — one semester in and instead took online community college classes from inside a psych ward. Visiting my sister in college required that I first be patted down for contraband like DietCoke and sharp objects like three-ring binders because my sister couldn’t be trusted to resist sawing through her wrists with the edges. At the time when her peers were picking up a study-abroad year, Rachel had to be taken to court by my parents for legal control over her life. During the summer, I worked as a camp counselor and would return home from a week of singing songs about Buzzards to attend a family night in the hospital that culminated in a chorus of twenty or so skeletal women singing weepily to India Irie’s I am Beautiful. Every holiday required several therapy sessions of preparation to process the menu options. Many of these holidays were spent in some sort of treatment, which I suspect was planned.
One Thanksgiving, Rachel flew out to Chicago to “celebrate” with me. This turned out to be a wild, last-ditch attempt for her to avoid Thanksgiving dinner period, a fact that I stupidly only put together after scraping together a fair bit of my sweet graduate school money to prepare my own grown-up Thanksgiving meal for the two of us. The same screaming match that we had been having for about fifteen years ensued — “I am not going to sit here and watch you give up and die.” “I am not going to let you tell me what to do.” — followed by me eating both of our dinners in the company of Star Trek episodes while Rachel clicked numbingly through Facebook. Two days of silent treatment followed until she boarded a plane and had to be checked into a hospital a few days later.
Rachel’s sense of herself in space was so hilariously out of sync with reality, it was as though her and her animal spirit switched bodies and were forever scheming ways to correct the situation. She most frequently used the word “cow” to describe herself and if the response was not an instantaneous and vehement rebuttal and assurance that she was in fact a bone-a-fide girl, then mental collapse was imminent. It was not uncommon for me to leave a visit after such exchanges to return home and find messages from my sister urging me to call her back. Upon doing so, the emergency was that she felt ill-convinced and would I please be honest with her: was she fat or not? I once gave up and told her: “sure Bessie, you’re a cow and I am a sweet little kitty-cat.” This resulted in an emergency therapy session in which I was required to solemnly testify that my sister was not, in fact, a cow any more than I was a cat.
Rachel, like every other patient, felt that she was not skinny enough to be in treatment. They all felt entitled to the opportunity to demonstrate how bad they could make things get before they got better.
“I am not even that sick,” she would say, like I didn’t let her finish a race she felt certain she could win.
One got the impression that none of these patients would be satisfied until they could show you just how low they could go before they died. Everyone at the funeral would whisper in astonishment and awe, “can you believe she managed to get to 45 pounds before she kicked the bucket?”
The saddest part in these sort of interactions wasn’t that she “felt” fat (in quotations here because the phrase “fat isn’t a feeling” is the endlessly echoing Gregorian chant of these facilities), it was that she was so out of touch with her own sense of herself that she required other people to tell her what her place in the world was. But even if she had who she was written on her forehead and was trying to figure it out from the people around her, she kept guessing wrong and then was incapable of moving past her initial guess. Cow! Cow! Cow!
During periods that lasted for weeks or months when Rachel was well enough to process emotions other than the instincts of a starving person (basic emotions such as “who ate my carrots!?”), we had to be extra careful with our words. Most people around Rachel wanted to encourage her newfound wellness by saying things to her like “you look healthy.” This was disastrous. Healthy apparently was the new euphemism for fat that has only yet caught on with the mentally ill. We were advised by the professionals to say things like “you have the twinkle back in your eye.” Eventually eye twinkles became euphemistic for fat as well. (If you are seeing a pattern here, congratulations: you are starting to get the hang of the funhouse that is this disease.)
Rachel wasn’t totally wrong to “feel fat.” A major problem with recovery from starvation, we learned many times over, is that for 3–6 months time one’s belly becomes distended. Apparently the body doesn’t quite trust that it is worth the effort to distribute what it has come to regard as a scarce resource so it squirrels it away inside the core in case it needs to brace for another round of starvation (which, of course, it probably does). It was just like the photos of the little swollen bellies of starving children, except on middle-class white women.
Rachel’s freedom from these various facilities was not contingent upon addressing the mental state behind its physical manifestation. Freedom almost always required that she just voluntarily gained enough weight to minimally qualify as medically recovered. There were other ways out. Most commonly, some broker from the insurance plan that covers the cost of treatment descended from on-high to administer their medical opinion that the patient is “well enough,” a terrifying diagnosis that means that from the perspective of the party footing the bill, further treatment is merely cosmetic and therefore not something that will be covered. Since this sort of medical opinion is generally formed based on hard-won but very tenuous outcomes (the patient has finally managed to get their heart-rate back into the not-about-to-die range), the diagnosis of “well enough” from the insurance company creates a state of panic. Now that the patient is just “well enough” to have earned their freedom from such a facility, they are now “well enough” to see how desperately they need to be in one.
It was a fairly common scene to see one of these patients sobbing in the hallway, pleading with the nurses to do something because they worked really hard and really felt like they could do it this time. Of course, the nurses couldn’t do anything and had hardened their faces long ago. It was the parents whose hearts broke and wallets opened. My mother once quit her job to take on the insurance company full time. That worked a couple of times (my mother is a pro at out-bureaucrating even the most bureaucratic of bureaucrats) but when it didn’t, my parents drained their retirement and then took out a second mortgage. They weren’t alone. Many of the patients had similar stories. If my parents were paying $4,500 for every day it took for me to get my life sorted even in the best of conditions, I think I would require additional treatment.
A lot of people kept saying that Rachel wouldn’t get better until she hit rock bottom. It is hard to imagine how low rock bottom gets when it is not when your father is accused of sexually abusing you. Not when you have dropped out of college and been put on suicide watch. Not when you’re drugged up on prescriptions made for animals because no one knows how to handle you. Not when your parents have drained their savings. Not when you are being held down so that a stiff plastic tube can be shoved up your nose to administer calories because your not being “compliant.” Apparently those were bumps on the way down. Rock bottom turned out to be just your run-of-the-mill heart failure.
Rachel had been following her traditional holiday ritual of stripping her body of every energy-producing tissue. That holiday was one of the particularly grim. When she gets that bad, my mother sat by her bed to make sure she didn’t stop breathing. Very shortly (and with many anxious phone calls), Rachel succeeded in earning her way into a spot in treatment. (This is actually an accomplishment. Anorexia has really caught on with the public at large and Rachel now has competition to get a bed at any treatment facility.) But upon intake, she was found to be so far gone and her heart rate so erratic, that she was immediately emitted to the cardiac care unit.
I was living in England at the time and received a call from my mother that I should “prepare to come home.”
“Prepare how?” I said. “Find something cute to wear to the funeral?”
I compulsively insisted that I should fly home anyway but my mom didn’t want me to “see Rachel like this.” That was a relief. I didn’t either. Truthfully, at that point, I had prepared so many times for Rachel to die, I was so exhausted by her dance with death that I just wanted her to jump and be done with it.
Rachel was doing her damnedest. The nurses in the cardiac care unit apparently didn’t know anything about anorexia or mental illness generally and were focused only on her heart monitors. They weren’t watching to ensure that she wasn’t doing heavy aerobic activity, which at the point was just standing up. Fortunately, this always set of the heart monitors because every time she stood up she was that much closer to finishing her race with death. The alarms in the nurses’ heads did not, unfortunately, go off when Rachel was her usual picky self about food. She manipulated the nurses into agreeing that she didn’t need to eat because she had a “banana bag” (intravenous gatorade). But even this wasn’t enough. She demanded to know how many calories were in a banana bag and refused to be connected to one until one of the gullible nurses called a pharmacy to get a read on the nutritional label — 150kals for your future information.
Somehow, Rachel made it through the cardiac care unit and then graduated to actually treating her disorder. Rachel felt terribly wronged by how she was treated and demanded a meeting with her care team (doctors, nutritionist, therapist, and my mother). It was only there that she was informed, much to the care team’s confusion, that everyone familiar with her vital signs was frankly shocked that she was still alive. It is annoying to think that this is what did it for Rachel, since by that point we were nearly a dozen and a half years into pointing out that this was going to happen. But I think some part of Rachel felt like she did it: she finally got to the edge that she was looking for and having seen it, she could turn around and begin the long walk home.
Rachel’s long walk home has been very slow. We haven’t made it to eighteen months without a hospital stay yet but we did make it passed a year once. Hospital stays are getting fewer and shorter. For a while, my mother would excitedly call and say that Rachel ate dessert. Or tried some cheese. Now it happens frequently enough that my mother stopped her updates. Rachel threw out her XXS jeans and fearlessly wears medium size shirts. (Rachel wears mediums for the exact opposite reason that I do: she doesn’t want anyone to see the shape of her breasts.)
Somewhere deep in our genetic past our ancestors shacked up with a few Neanderthals and both Rachel and I inherited their rib cages. No amount of starvation can hide that biological fact. We get to laugh about that now. It took sewing together 10 years of credits but she graduated college. Then, more swiftly, she made it through graduate school. Rachel has benefited from a maturity in the fix-what’s-in-my-head field: it is now widely accepted that its Rachel’s thoughts that need to be acknowledged and addressed, not explained or drugged into oblivion. It is learning to notice her thoughts, recognize them, and lead them toward a better outcome. It is fortunate that psychologists have grown in this way and Rachel has been able to benefit from it because now she is one of them: she’s a school counselor.
I have been working on my thoughts too. After many years of French toast and a side of hash browns each Saturday with my brother and then many, many more such declarations of independence from Giving a Fuck about food and what it did to my body, I was wearing about 30 pounds more independence than was rightfully mine. Knowing that “I am a cow” is the sort of downward thought spiral that descends rapidly to crazy, learning to talk to myself about what it means to be in my body has been an evolving extemporaneous exercise. I have certain rules for myself. I am not allowed to look at myself from the side in the mirror without clothing. I don’t know why I am unable to reason about my body nude from this angle but I am not and therefore have ruled it out. Second, any goal I set for myself needs to be measured over months not days. I am not allowed to say “I will lose 2 pounds in 4 days.” I am also only allowed to make goals that pertain to how I feel inside my body, not how I quantify it. No such thing as losing 2 pounds. The goal needs to be: “I want to feel like my arms are not bags of partially solidified jello” or “I don’t want to feel like garbage is composting in my stomach… for a while.” I am bowling with bumpers. Sometimes Rachel turns to the side and rubs her stomach wincingly. I remind her that those are her organs and she needs them. Her shoulders relax and she’ll laugh to herself. “Yeah, I need them,” she’ll agree.
It is galling how desperately I seem willing lose my mind when it comes to food-body management, or at least surrender it to someone else’s mind. I am just as susceptible to thoughts of “paleo just makes sense” as I am to “why isn’t everyone vegan?” A few years ago, a handful of friends all simultaneously became enthused with Dr. Furhman’s Eat to Live. I thought the book might be able to help me cure the diabetes and alcoholism that had taken hold of my father. And I am not one to miss out on an opportunity to find This One Weird Trick that’s going to make me my most best self. I consumed the book and felt as I always do with these things: It. Just. Makes. Sense. Living things create living things! Dead things create dead things! Probably cancer. Sure you could eat cheese knowing that you the risk of cancer is small but why risk it? This sort of rhetoric reminded me of the sexual abstinence videos watched in bulk as part of my thesis: “sure you could have sex but then you need to be prepared to die.”
After spending long periods of time with people who want not to desire a thing that they can’t help but to desire, I now see it everywhere. I will read through the oddly specific, vile shit that trolls spew at female bloggers and I feel like I might have real insight into how straight misogynist men feel about women: “I hate that I need you.” I haven’t decided if my body is a temple or an amusement park but I know both extremes leads at best to a stay in the sort of institution where knitting is rampant. Anthony Bourdain recommended the latter and I can’t help but wonder if he would still be here if he chose differently. Living in that place of indecision means subjecting myself to a continual cycle of discovery and repentance, just like the Catholic I was raised to be.
When I hear myself and others in my demographic scuff at the plight of those with anorexia, I hear our collective guilt that we are not as happy as we ought to be. What business do we have to be anything but exuding joy? We, who have food and stability and opportunities. Rachel’s physical manifestation of deficiency is hateful because of our failure to live up to this unreasonable contract that we have secretly made with ourselves: it is our solemn obligation to be happy and healthy because we can’t think of a good reason that can take its place alongside all the other reasons why a person might not be. Twenty years and at least twice as many hospital stays later, Rachel and I were puzzling together over what it is about anorexia that she just can’t quit and she said, “I want people to just look at me and know that I am not really OK.”
I think about that sometimes when I am at Whole Foods buying my green juice. I would do just about anything to make sure that when people look at me, they know that I am.