This is how I ate dinner: At 10 minutes to nine, I would reach out to the ledge outside my window, pull out the baggie, and bring it to my bed. From my desk drawer, I'd get out a small china saucer and a knife, and then I'd settle down in front of the TV. I never ate before nine o'clock — any earlier would have meant exchanging anticipation for an unbearable longing for morning; it was easier to eat late, knowing I could just fall asleep afterward.
At nine I would start to slice the apple: first into quarters, then into eighths, then 16ths. I lined these slices around the saucer, forming a perfect circle, then moved to the cube of cheese. With the same precision, I sliced it into 16 slivers, paper-thin almost, and placed a sliver on each piece of apple. Then, one by one, I cut each slice of apple and cheese in half and took it to my mouth. I ate each fragment in exactly the same way, nibbling the corner of the fruit first, forming it into the same shape as the square of cheese, then eating the apple and cheese together, edge by edge, until nothing remained but a tiny square center, saved for last.
I ate slowly enough for each fragment to last four minutes. The ritual lasted two hours.
When it was over, I would wash the saucer and knife, put them backing my drawer and get into bed. And then I would lie there in the dark, thinking about the bagel I'd eat in the morning, and hoping that the next day would be a good day, too.
* * *
A woman I know who's recovered from an eating disorder once told me, "At some point, I just decided; I'd rather be fat than crazy." At some point, the damage you've wrought — on your life, your happiness, your relationships — simply becomes too clear. At some point, usually after you've been in therapy for years and made all the intellectual connections about what the behavior means and what you're trying to accomplish with it, you begin to accept that it isn't working, it just isn't working. And at some point, the obsession becomes so thoroughly, deeply, profoundly boring that you simply have no choice: you just can't do it anymore; you have to find other ways to cope.
Today, my weight stable and the bulk of this behind me, I see women everywhere who have not learned to cope. I see them at the beach in the summer, legs like sticks on the sand. I see them running along the banks of the Charles River, their faces gaunt and grim as those of prisoners. I want to stop them in their tracks and shake them. I want to say: "I know where you are, I know what you're doing, and believe me, it doesn't work." But I know they have to see that by themselves. And I know some of them never will.
I didn't start to recover until I left Providence, in the fall of 1984, and moved to Boston. That, at least, was a symbolic move, physically leaving the place where it all started. Another important move was to find the right kind of help. For me, that meant a shrink who didn't feel sorry for me and who described therapy as a "joint venture," something I would have some stay in.