I was nine years old when my eating disorder started. It started in January in Bay Shore, New York. It was the day my uncle put his hands and mouth on me. I was in the kitchen making Campbell’s Vegetable Soup to have with my cheese and salami sandwich. It was the last time there was ever a “normal relationship” between me and eating. I remember when he was done I ran into the bathroom, locked the door, grabbed a towel from the closet and puked. I was in too much shock to cry.
I was always the tall kid with long arms and legs. My mom’s DNA would ask my grandma if I was eating. She would get so mad at the idiots questioning her about my eating habits. She would answer in exasperation, “Yes, Diane eats. She eats whatever she wants when she is hungry, Ann.” I am almost sure my uncle’s wife was trying to compose herself by looking for a tranquilizer in her purse or she was uncomfortable with my grandma’s reaction to her ridiculous nonsense yet again eager to pop one. Aunt Ann said, “She is so skinny.” My grandma said, “She is healthy and she takes after me. If she wants spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast I make it, a cheeseburger, pizza, a hotdog, I make it for her. She is not going to eat because someone wants her to eat. You need to mind your own business and leave her alone.”
Everything changed after my grandma died when I was eight. My mom’s sister Elaine was married to a Westchester County police officer. She thought she had it made moving from the Bronx to Mount Vernon. I didn’t think so then and I don’t now. My aunt and uncle were buying a house on Long Island and my uncle thought it would be better for me to be raised in the suburbs than in the city. I don’t know how he convinced my grandpa to let me and my mom go out to the sticks and leave him and my other aunt behind, but he did.
I was not happy at all. I cried, screamed and had tantrums. I felt I was leaving my grandma behind. I didn’t want to leave my dogs behind. I didn’t want to leave my grandpa behind, and I didn’t want to leave my aunt behind. I didn’t want to live with my aunt and her husband. I didn’t like him. I didn’t like him at all. The abuse went on for years and years. My eating disorder grabbed me by my throat and ran rampant. I turned 10 years old six months later. I went through that summer chewing my food and feeding it to the dog. When my aunt caught me, she put the dog in one of the bedrooms or outside. I chewed my food and spit it in a napkin to throw away or sneak it to the dog later.
When my breasts started to grow I was horrified. I wasn’t one of those girls to wear a training bra. I went straight into a woman’s size and was bigger than my aunts and my mom. The summer I was 12 we were shopping at Modell’s for school clothes. My aunt made a comment that sent me falling deeper into the insidiousness of my eating disorder. She said I was “top-heavy” – all I heard was heavy. Which I took as FAT!
I was growing into my body and didn’t like the changes. I didn’t want to have woman parts. My uncle was doing unspeakable things to me with child parts. I couldn’t comprehend what he would do to me with woman parts.
My aunt went on, “Diane, don’t you want boys to notice you? Don’t you want a man to marry like I have? Don’t you want a man like your uncle to provide for you, to give you a house, to look good for?” No I did not. I sure as hell did not want a pig like your husband. I can get whatever I need myself. She looked at my breasts and said, “Men love breasts. You know how your uncle is.”
I mumbled I had to use the restroom. I went to the snack counter bought a hot pretzel and a soda. I ate it and went to the bathroom and vomited it in the stall. I looked at my chest and wished them away. I hated them. I didn’t want them to be the reason more men would put their unwanted mitts on me. I purged the remainder until there was nothing to bring up but bile. Instead of going back to the dressing room I grabbed a few books to read and hid in the pet section. Of course, after a while, I heard my name over the store intercom asking me to return to the woman’s fitting room.
I did gain some weight when we moved to Long Island. I did not know I was stuffing the abuse down. I didn’t drink or smoke pot to deal with my chaotic environment, so I didn’t realize food became my coping mechanism. I was less arms and legs and more boobs and curves. I was becoming more like an hourglass. Which I thought meant fat. And when my aunt started focusing in on my curviness I started to “perfect” my eating disorder.
She would tell everyone, “I don’t know who she takes after. If she watches what she eats and takes care of her figure she will have boys lined up around the corner. Her grandfather will have a shit fit and Charlie will have to chase them away.” I did not want any male attention. I was still playing with Barbies. I was just 12, for goodness’ sake. My aunt exclaimed, “You’ll be going to the seventh grade. You’ll be meeting new boys.” What, was she out of her mind? New boys? I didn’t like the old boys – unless they were willing to play hide and seek or go bike riding. And even that was pushing it. I just wanted to be with the animals and read.
One Friday night when Mister Softee came around an older neighborhood boy asked to buy me an ice cream. He always looked at me funny. He would always come into his sister’s room to talk and show off. Whatever. He would ask us to come into his room and listen to music. He was a drinker and a pothead so I steered clear.
He said, “Hey, you ignoring me?” Nope. Keep your eyes above please. I answered coolly, “No, thanks.” His younger brother Jimmy pedaled over. He pulled out his Pac-Man wallet to buy ice cream and candy for himself and a Mickey Mouse cone for me. He looked at his brother with a smirk and walked away.
He asked if he could sit on the stoop with me. I said yes and we talked. His mother called from across the street that Dukes of Hazzard was coming on. He said he wanted to stay and hang out with me. Hmmm…He never missed the Duke brothers. His brother sauntered over and said he was going to miss it. He said, “I already told mom I was staying here with Diane.” Joseph looked at his brother, then me, then his brother, then me and his brother again while casting his eyes at me. He stood there. Uninvited. Jimmy said leave. Joseph said, “You can’t make me.” Jimmy turned to me and in a whine said, “tell him to leave.” I looked at Joseph and said, Do you mind? Your brother and I are talking.” He volleyed, “You’d rather talk to my brother? My little brother?” Jimmy interjected, “She thinks I’m cuter.”
I was totally thrown by this interaction. I thanked Jimmy for the ice cream and said I was going in. I stood up and went inside. My aunt started laughing and said it hasn’t even started. I went into the bedroom to read.
I went from bingeing and purging to learning the art of starving after my aunt made a comment that I wasn’t going to be able to eat whatever I wanted soon. She had to toss in that I had to be careful I didn’t end up as big as a house. WHAT? You don’t say that to a 12-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy, a 20-something-year-old, a 60-something or 90-something. You just don’t. It is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels. It is dangerous.
My disease progressed rapidly. I perfected starving the best. I was so caught up in my disease I did not see how dangerous all this was. I liked the control. I liked having control in an environment filled with pandemonium. It was my saving grace to focus on what was going in and out of my mouth. I needed to have something I was able to dictate. I did not realize just how out of control I was. Nor how it was destroying me.
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