She made an agreement with herself, from the very beginning. She would never, ever purge. She would never ruin her teeth and esophagus, never allow herself to be put in such a position that the only way out was from vomiting up her food (and her emotions). She knows that this is what anorexics do. What bulimics do. It feels dirty and low. She would never hurt herself in such a way. Never! She can promise herself that she will never ever do this, because she has control. She has the power to say yes, and to say no. She imagines what it might be like; even goes so far as sticking her index finger down her throat in an attempt to cause her natural reflexes to constrict and push. But she only gags. And after all, that’s all she wants, isn’t it? The gag reflex that will always be there. The reassurance that if all should go wrong, she still holds the power. But, never would she ever act on that power. Never.
Until. Until one day after she has moved to her own little apartment a few blocks from her childhood home, the home where her family still lives, she is invited out to dinner. On this day she is feeling particularly yucky. She has been slowly restricting to the point that she will wake up in the morning, and still feel exhausted. She will go to work, and act like all is well. She will go home for lunch, and lie down, only for a minute. That minute will turn into ten, and when she opens her eyes to rouse herself, she will sigh and look at the clock and see the time, which is dangerously close to the time when she should go back to work, but she is so tired that she closes her eyes again for just one more minute. Which turns into a half an hour. And then she has to get up, because what would her excuse be, if she were late to work? She would never allow herself to be late. On this day she allows a little lunch, which is a hotdog on a bun, and a small dish of slow-churned ice cream. She only has to get through until 3:30, and then she will come home and read until her parents pick her up to go to dinner.
That night, her parents arrive to pick her up, and she gathers her purse and her book and hops into their van. They announce they have decided to visit a restaurant in a small town that is fifteen minutes away. It is a sports bar, and she has never been there. Immediately her anxiety kicks in. “What will I order?” she wonders “A burger? Pizza? What will be on the menu?” She has no idea, and consoles herself with the thought that she will at least order a drink, and will go from there. They arrive at the restaurant, and are seated. She quickly peruses the menu, and sees that all of their burgers seem to be at least 1/4 lb. She knows she will never allow herself to eat that much, and all of the sandwiches come with fries too. Except for the items on the kids menu. Those burgers don’t say anything about how big they are, but she knows they must be smaller. She will order one of those. She orders a Diet Coke, and this is where things start to take a turn for the worse. Their waitress brings their drinks out, and she can tell from the first sip that her Coke is not Diet. Her heart begins to beat faster as she stealthily spits the bubbling drink back into the clear glass. How many calories were in the few little drips that went down her throat? How many bites of her burger will she have to give up, because of those calories?! When the waitress comes back to take their meal orders, the girl asks for a fresh drink, as she is sure she got a regular Coke, and not the Diet Coke she had requested. The waitress returns with the drink and places it in front of the girl, and then proceeds to take the meals orders. The girls orders a burger and fries, though she isn’t sure how she will manage to eat anything. She has done what no good anorexic ever would. She has drunk something with calories, and without knowing it! She peers suspiciously at her new soda. Is it Diet? She sniffs it, as if that will give away whether or not the drink is really Diet Coke, or actually regular Coke in disguise.
Their food arrives. The girl begins to pick at her fries, and chats a bit absent-mindedly with her mom and dad. She decides to eat a third of the fries, and then moves on to her burger. She sees, much to her disdain, that despite her request for only mustard and pickles, a tomato and lettuce have also been added. Is there mayo hiding in there too? She hopes not. After the first bite, her dad says “Huh, I think they got my burger wrong. There’s only mustard and pickle on mine.” Oh no! The waitress had accidentally given her dad her burger. This means that her dad is eating her little regular hamburger, the one that would come with a kid’s meal, and she has been eating his 1/4 lb. burger! She is already more than halfway through her sandwich. How much extra meat has she consumed? Are the buns bigger on the regular sized burgers? Was there mayo on hers?! He dad tells her it’s no big deal, as she apologizes for not noticing earlier that she had the wrong burger. But it is a big deal. She is already wondering how this could have happened. How she will ever forgive herself.
After dinner her parents drive her back to her apartment. She is relieved to get home. Her mind has been racing ever since she realized her Coke was regular. (She didn’t dare take a sip of the fresh glass, what if it too were regular? She would be punishing herself for eternity if she made that mistake again.) She felt her distended belly rumbling as it digested more food than it had seen in weeks. She unlocked her door and shut it behind her, rushing to put her purse and book down on her way to the tiny bathroom. The toilet kind of disgusted her, so she bent over the bathtub. Tentatively, she stuck her finger into her mouth, slowly pushing her hand back further, until she could almost feel her gag reflex kick in. She moved her finger that critical half an inch, and readied herself for the outpouring of food that was sure to come up.
She tried again. She took her toothbrush out of the cupboard and stuck the handle n her mouth. Still nothing. Who was such a failure that they couldn’t barf when they needed to? Shouldn’t her body know how to do this? All anorexics seemed to be hardwired for this, at least in the books. But no. She couldn’t make it happen. She bent over further, and repeated the motions. There! She could feel her stomach constricting. It was working…now just a little bit more. Acid began to burn her throat, and she could feel her dinner begin to make its way back the way it had come. She did it. She was not a failure. She was a champion. But, something was wrong. Yes, there was the guilt. Her parents had bought her this meal, and here she was throwing it away. And also, she couldn’t do more than that little bit. That was all that came up. She began to cry in frustration. She didn’t want those calories. She had been tricked. It wasn’t fair. She began to undress. Maybe a shower would make her feel better. She turned the water on and stepped into the tub, closing the curtain behind her. She wouldn’t give up so easily. She knew the walls of her apartment were fairly thin, and she didn’t want her neighbors to hear her retching. All of a sudden she remembered the promise she had made to herself so long ago. The promise of never forcing herself to be sick. But she had to. She had to! There was no other way to feel OK about what she had put into her body tonight. And so, she continued her attempts to rid herself of the food that was her medicine, and her poison.