In a way (and on some level I knew it was a bizarre way), those were the events I saved up for, week by week. A build-up of pressure, followed by a release, an unleashing. But the release was horrifying — a terrifying reminder of powerlessness, of the fact that underneath it all, my appetite was really much greater than my capacity for denial.
I remember making a dinner for friends one New Year's Eve. I spent all morning shopping — five different stores — and all day cooking. I bought the best bread. I made fettuccine with chicken, garlic, and three kinds of cheese. I made a chocolate-glazed hazelnut torte filled with buttercream. When we finally sat down to eat, I was so focused on the meal, so overwhelmed by it, I barely remember speaking.
Times like that, I tried to mask my preoccupation by imitating others: ignoring the bread basket until they passed it around, taking seconds only after they took more too. But once I gave in I was insatiable. And later, after everyone had gone home or to bed, I always did the same thing. That night, I stole back into the kitchen and knelt by the refrigerator-door light. My stomach aching, I ate two more pieces of bread, another plate of pasta, and two hunks of cake. It was like making up for lost time. Or hoarding up for the next long stretch, like a squirrel.
I loathed myself after episodes like that. I would go to bed aching and humiliated, my head reeling. When I woke up, the first thing I'd think about would be my stomach and face: bloated. And I would lie there, terrified that the bloat was eking its way into the rest of my body, into my thighs and chest and arms, that it was creeping in, undermining all that work, destroying my very identity. And my resolve would grow even more fierce: I will not eat. Today will be a good day. I will not eat.
Sometimes, in a small back corner of my mind, I would also acknowledge that the pain was more than merely physical: I was absolutely unable to manage my life. And I was furious, at least on some level. There I'd been, racing around the kitchen, a 90-pound waif cooking a 9000 calorie meal. And no one had stopped me.
* * *
I finally told my parent sometime in early 1984. I had gone home for a weekend and I was probably at the lowest weight I ever hit, about 84 pounds. It was a Saturday, early in the spring. I had been home for hours and they hadn't said anything about the way I looked. At one point, my mother was drinking tea in the kitchen and I peeled off my sweater, ostensibly because I was cold and wanted to put on something heavier. Underneath, I was wearing a camisole. I wanted my mother to see how the bones in my chest stuck out, how skeletal my arms were. I wanted her to see how sick I was. I may be remembering it wrong, but I don't think she said anything.