There are great cliches about people with a history of disordered eating. One, of course, is that food becomes very important to them. With my history, food has always been at the root of my experiences.
My father didn't eat. And if we did, as kids, he would say You ate yesterday and our hungry bellies would drop. Food became taboo. So much so, I vividly remember being five and almost choking on a hotdog so I could eat it before my father caught me. I remember being four and my father counting the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer and being punished for eating them. I remember being older and hiding in the pantry to eat. When food is a crime, you don't care what you put into your mouth, every morsel is a tiny revolution.
It wasn't only food, though, it was what food could do. Food had the power to nourish and comfort but it also made you wider in the hips and filled cheeks with color. When I look back on pictures of myself in middle school, I'm a stranger to myself. My whole perception of myself given to the loudest voice in the room, I would cup my belly fat in my hands and hate myself for it. I would believe flabby, fatty. It was true that I would be beautiful if I was skinny. And, pretty soon, the only voice louder becomes the one in your head. The one that only repeats the worst thoughts. And so I stopped eating. I only let myself indulge in Weight Watchers approved foods, I learned how to make myself throw up. I got so dehydrated and malnourished I fainted in Las Vegas and, when I came to, I was afraid the IV would make me fatter. I took sodium pills because I wouldn't eat anything with salt on it. Those pictures, now, are of a girl who was only as fat and ugly as she let herself believe. My arms, which I hated, were thin. My belly, which I thought made me an ogre, was just human.
And that became my first foray into cooking: control. If I made it, I knew what was in it. I did not eat to enjoy, I ate to punish. Because I had known food only to lead to punishment. The Saturdays spent being bullied into eating tomatoes, my least favorite food, and--when I couldn't stomach it--being punished. I was the fatty who couldn't eat the healthy foods my father wanted me to eat. On Saturdays, my parents would go out for lunch. It was really the only time my father ate and it was the only time, as a child, I remember my parents really spending time together. Getting to go out for lunch with them was a glimpse into a teasingly normal family dynamic. And so I would do try my best. I would work on the times tables and coax my gag reflex into swallowing the mushy, seedy, tomatoes. But, often, I failed. I would be left at the windowsill, watching the car drive away, hysterical. I had failed. I was a failure. A fat, ugly, failure.
I would starve myself and wait for my father to compliment me. He never did.
But, when I moved to New York, I thought food and I were liberated. It wasn't simple as that; I spent a lot of time reverting to old habits. In college, especially, I would eat nothing but a cup of soup and then walk up the 17 flights of stairs to my dorm room. I was known for my cupcake obsession and my illicit dorm room cupcake maker. I wanted to be a happy, baker person. And so, when I first lived alone, following the summer of 2015, it was my chance to reinvent myself. For the first time in my life, I stopped comparing myself to other bodies. I turned off the voices that told me I would be beautiful if I was skinny--and that's why no one loved me. I baked when I wanted, and shared my wares with my students. I meal-prepped and ate foods that were nourishing and comforting. I filled my home with whatever foods I wanted to try. Baked cookies with butter, even though--growing up--we only made them with applesauce. Food was my friend. And it was delicious.
I take food pretty seriously. Probably still for control but, different yet. I still can't get myself to eat creamy things. I hate tomatoes. I am quick to fall into old habits and, if I don't monitor the voices, they have their worst lines memorized.
We're at that weird point of the summer where, in a normal year, I'm enjoying the time off. I'm in the midst of projects, maybe teaching summer school, definitely partaking in my fair share of sunny shenanigans. We've had picnics and movie nights, rooftop drinks, bridge walks. We've gone to free concerts, all of the museums, visited every new bakery. There have been lots of tacos. I'm almost ready to go back to work, but then I find another show on Netflix that I haven't seen yet or more goods to be baked, so not really.
But this is not a normal summer. In fact, summer has gone on for far too long. The forever-vacation, that started in March, has become my own personal bell jar. I spend most of my days in the same athlesiure shorts. I had to retire the matching HOMEBODY sweatshirt at the beginning of June but the shorts have become sort of like a quarantine uniform. I obsessively check my emails, I can't sleep. I fall silent. I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again. Sometimes the world does feel like a bad dream.
But we're slowly getting back into the swing of real-life. Not that I have any idea what that will look like but--it's official--I am Mrs. Ziskin, 8th grade ELA teacher. And I couldn't be more excited for using my new name in this new classroom. And, how lucky am I, to spend my days with my favorite person?! When I left our old school, Jordan and I mourned the end of our together-days: We were afraid it was the end of something magnificent. All we wanted was to capture and bottle the way it felt to be able to walk into the room and see our person, whenever we needed to. Send a text and they appear. To share lunch, snacks, laughs. And, somehow, less than a month later, we were back at it: no more than five seconds away from one another. Sneaking snacks on Zoom calls, mid-day cuddle breaks, making tea.
But then the weekend hits and it feels so much like the weekdays. Only there are less emails. And, suddenly, you realize you've already done everything you needed to do this week. Where weekends used to be a catch-all, now it's dropped time. And the courses I've taken, the books I've read, the planning I've gotten done--none of it happens fast enough or feel productive enough. The world, for the first time, lacks purpose. The hours hold less meaning.
I try to enjoy it while I can, knowing this--like everything--is fleeting. I have a hand-full of gratitudes that are as consistent as the days of the week (Jordan, exercise, mom, wedding plans, tea) and something, every day, that grounds me.
I take a deep breath and listen to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.