A new school year. A new roommate. Will I be able to handle this? I’ve screwed up before. What if it happens again? I know I have people who I can talk to. I know I have medicine that is supposed to help me. I know I am okay, so why do I feel so scared?
My neck is twisted over my shoulder to stare unblinkingly out the passenger side window. The busy suburban portrait has manifested into blasé cornfield without my conscious awareness. I blink. My eyes had become dry from staring at the passing images without blinking. I cleared my throat. I hadn’t spoken in at least an hour. I steal a glance in the driver’s direction. My dad is driving. I glance at his firm grasp on the steering wheel. Usually a relaxed one-handed driver, my dad is gripping the wheel at a perfect 10-2 formation sitting perfectly erect with his eyes never leaving the road. However, his olive toned hairy skin could not hide his increasingly whitening knuckles. The tension between his hands and the wheel seeped to my side of the truck cabin. I clenched my jaw and looked back out the window. We don’t talk about feelings. We talk about books. We talk about social issues. We talk about changing the world…not ourselves.
My dad senses my being uncomfortable with the elongated silence and tries to break the silence with questions that I could easily provide answers. Concentrating on facing the front windshield, I mumble responses offering no elaboration. Rapidly approaching Normal, I did not want to create an engaging conversation that would speed up time.
I stare back out the passenger window at the cornfields. The typical Midwestern cornfields. The normal life. The place where suburban kids go to get a college degree. I rolled my eyes. What does normal even mean? Just because this town is called Normal doesn’t mean it’s the standard. Just because it’s the town of the state’s first university doesn’t make it NORMAL. My first year here was anything but fucking normal. What if this year it’s even worse? What if I didn’t make enough progress at home? I really only have Claire…Kristi is nice and all but we don’t know each other. What if we don’t get along? What if she thinks I’m weird? What if we don’t like each other? What if she judges me for wanting to drink? Fuck. Why did I screw up so much last year? I drove away my only friend…
After what seemed to be hours of questioning from my father followed with a stream of constant questions and badgering from my brain, I realize I am even less ready to move back. I want to peel back layers of my skin and step out of my body and leave my brain behind for someone else to pick up. I want to reach over and take control of the wheel and press on the gas pedal until I am back at my parents’ house. I want to be back in group therapy swapping stories with the girls who understand what I’ve been through. Reality didn’t take kindly to my wishes because we arrived at the Normal Exit off I-55 according to schedule.
As usual, my dad heads straight to Moes. As usual, my stomach clenches. I sit on the edge of my seat and turn to look at my dad with somber eyes. I try and tell him with my eyes that I can’t mentally handle going to Moe’s. I try and telepathically tell him I can’t handle the memories that will flood my brain the moment I step over the threshold. I want to tell him vocally, but I see the happiness in his eyes. His eyes reveal the happy memories he attaches to Moe’s. His brown eyes actually twinkle while he talks about the burrito he is going to order, because he thinks Moe’s is a happy tradition between father and daughter. Our traditional trip to Moe’s reminds him of previous Daddy Daughter date nights to the ice cream parlor near our house. Moe’s reminds him of our old traditions of getting smoothies and sitting in the back of his truck talking about the stars and planets on summer nights. I see how the memories of Moe’s bring delight to his typically serious eyes. I settle back in my seat. I can’t take away that happiness. I’m already an awful daughter; I will not tear apart his world more.
My dad orders his burrito. I order a quesadilla. We bring out food to a table and sit across the table from one another. I place the paper-thin napkin across my lap. I unwrap the frail quesadilla from its tinfoil wrapper. My dad immediately starts enjoying the long-awaited burrito. I engage in a staring contest with the quesadilla that lay seemingly innocent on the table before me.
Eat the quesadilla, Michelle. Eat it. Eat all of it. And don’t go throw up. Do it. You. Can. Do. It. I stared at the ginormous greasy tortilla and melted cheese with juicy tomatoes squashed between the melted cheeses. It looks delicious, but if I eat all of it, I’m either going to cry or puke. How attractive.
I break the staring contest with my quesadilla to look up at my dad. My dad met my eyes across the table, burrito in hands, and stopped chewing. His harsh eyes softened. He set his burrito down, sipped his iced tea, cleared his throat and asked tentatively, “Are you sure you want to go through with this? You can still come home. You can go to school somewhere else.”
My eyes started to feel warm. My skin started to tingle. My chin started to tremble and I bit my lower lip. Mom must have told him I was thinking of transferring to get away from the memories. But I can’t. I need to get over it. I need to. I need to face it.
‘Katie won’t be here anymore, so it should be easier...’
“Whoa. What? Where is she?” My dad, shocked, dropped his burrito with a splatter on the table.
I shrugged and looked down at the quesadilla, resuming the staring contest.
‘She transferred. Thank God. I couldn’t handle…’
GODDAMN. 1. Why am I telling dad all this NOW. 2. Why am I crying?
‘Dad. She told all my friends about me being bulimic. Before I could. All the friends I had feel awkward around me because Katie apparently told them all this stuff about me. I don’t even know half the stuff she said because my friends, or people that used to be my friends at least, feel awkward talking about it. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to make a whole new group of friends and now I’m completely socially drained. I feel like I understand myself so much better than I used to…but I’m still frail. That sounds so stupid and pathetic but I don’t know how else to explain it. I want to go back to Linden Oaks because everyone was going through the same thing. I could talk about anything. Now I have to censor myself again.’
“Katie did what?” he said in a low voice. I could see the rising anger in his eyes.
“Nothing, Dad. It’s over now.”
“No. It’s obviously not for you. It is for her because she ran away,” he said. “I’m proud of you for staying.”
His eyes started to well up. “But you do not deserve to be stranded.”
“MICHELLE….???” I look up from my dad’s sad eyes to see who called my name. I see no one.
“MICHELLE!!!!” The voice was louder this time. I sit up straighter so I could look across the restaurant. I squint my eyes looking for my caller. Who would yell my name across a whole damn restaurant? Anyone I know Normal apparently doesn’t want to associate with me anymore because they know I’m Bulimic.
Spotted. Skinny. Blonde. Bright. Jumping up and down. Kristi. I get up from the table and awkwardly trapeze towards her. She was clearly one hundred fold more excited to see me than I was about life in general.
“Hey Kristi!” I attempted with lame enthusiasm.
“HI!!! I can NOT believe we ran into each other here!” She kept bouncing on the balls of her feet and pushing her thin blonde hair behind her ear. Her blue eyes were as bright as her personality.
“I just moved in. When are you moving in?? Did I just miss you at the dorm? UGH. It takes forever to get through the line for the elevator, you just gotta love Watterson. Who are you here with? Is that your dad? HI MR. W!!” Kristi ran to introduce herself to my dad while I slowly and awkwardly followed her back to the table.
Kristi and my dad shook hands and introduced themselves to each other. Well if anything, this ball of energy at least distracted me from having an emotional meltdown in Moe’s Southwest Grill. I guess I’m eternally grateful to her for that…
My dad and I unpack all my belongings and move my life into a new dorm room. A new dorm. A new life. At least I can hope. I hug my dad goodbye and thank him for taking the day to drive me and help me move back in. I guide him out of the complex dorm building and plop myself onto my bed. I have a shit ton of stuff. This is going to take forever. No time like the present to start I guess, especially before all my other roommates move in.
With one more box to put away, I open it somewhat hesitantly. I had saved it last for a reason. It was a box full of my recovery materials. I pull out my journal from when I was an inpatient. I pull out my folder of recovery team contact information. I pull out my projects that I saved because of the impact they had on my outlook on life. I sit in a corner of my quad dorm room and spread all my recovery materials around me. I sit in the middle and start to cry. I felt so safe at home. I felt safe on the therapy couch. Now I’m here, a place I used to feel safe, and all I feel is alone. I sit surrounded by my materials and ruminate over advice my therapists have given me. This year is going to be awful. I have no friends. Why did I let my friendships get so fucked up? Why did I let Bulimia and Anorexia take priority? Why did I value calories over conversations? Why did I let smoking override smiling and joking with friends? Why did I let Bulimia define me? Why did I allow the gym to dictate my social life?
As I continue to ask myself questions I flipped through my recovery journal, looking for something to soothe my quickly climbing anxiety. I stopped flipping pages. I saw an envelope with immediately recognizable handwriting. The unintelligible scrawl warmed my heart. I picked up the envelope, closed my eyes, and felt the comfort of my mother’s hug. I ripped open the letter. I read it through as fast as my eyes would allow. I read it again. I read it again. My heartbeat slowed down. My tears dried. I allowed myself to emit a soft chuckle. My mother knew me and my self doubts well. She knew I would need encouragement. She knew I would need love. I put the letter on my desk, stood up with a smile and grabbed my phone to call Kristi. That crazy girl better pick up because there is no way I’m sitting in this janky room alone tonight.
“HEY! I’m coming back in a few minutes. But you want to go out??”
“Yeah! Definitely. OK. Well I’ll see you shortly then.”
I exhaled. I had been so nervous that Kristi wouldn’t want to go out I hadn’t even considered what I would wear or where we would go.
Not even ten minutes later Kristi strolled into the room.
“So are we gonna go out together or what?? We need to do some serious roommate bonding. None of that lame shit. We need to go on a serious adventure and party hard and do reckless shit. You in or what?” Kristi cracked open a bottle of champagne, took a swig directly from the bottle, and peered at me waiting for a response.
My eyes light up. I let myself grin like a mischievous fifteen year old.
‘ Hell yeah, I’m in. Do you take me for a hermit or something?’
Ten hours, five face plants and too many beers to count later, Kristi and I stumbled back to our dorm. We checked in with night operations at the dorm entrance and took the elevator to our floor, giggly incessantly during the ride up. When we finally get into our room, I immediately start undressing. Hah. Haha. I’m fucking hot. It’s like a million degrees outside. A million and one because I’m drunk. Hah. I’m so funny.
Kristi was undressing too.
God we are the same person.
I sprawled across the floor. The tile is so nice and cold.
KRISTI! The tile is cold. Lay down with me!
“Oh my God you are shitfaced.” Kristi turned around from her dressing area and stared down at me while I rolled around on the floor giggling to myself.
“You drank just as much as I did, don’t you go judging my drunk ass,” I exclaimed, laughing.
“HELL YEAH I’M DRUNK!,” she laughed. “I was just letting you know.” She turned around and pulled off her shirt.
‘Damn. Kristi. You’re tiny. I mean, not to the state the obvious because you’re very obviously skinny but like seeing you without a shirt it’s more obvious how skinny you are. I’m surprised at myself that I’m not mad at you for being so skinny. Sorry. Is that rude? I didn’t mean to sound rude. I just used to always get mad at people, internally of course, for being skinny. I wanted to be skinny. I still want to be skinny. Not as much as I used to want it though. Wow I’ve never really talked about his before. Sorry. I’m just super drunk’
THIS is why I should never drink. I tell people every damn thing about myself. Being drunk makes it impossible for me to keep secrets.
‘Sorry I don’t mean to be awkward. I just read my journal about being in the hospital before we went out and I guess it’s all on my mind.’ What the FUCK did I just say that for??
“You’re not being awkward at all! But why were you in the hospital?”
‘Oh I had this massive eating disorder. That’s basically why I’m not friends with my old roommate anymore because we got in all these big fights. During spring break last year I went and lived at the hospital for recovery because I had anorexia and bulimia and it was this whole thing, not to be depressing or anything. But yeah. I take this anti-anxiety medicine…which I really should not drink with. But I mean, then I wouldn’t have nights like tonight! So if you ever hear me talking on the phone with my psychiatrist don’t freak out. I don’t mind talking about any of it, it’s just weird when people get weird about it.’
“Wow. Well dude we’re roommates so don’t even worry. I don’t know how people can get in a fight about eating disorders, not that I’m judging, but I guarantee I won’t fight with you about it. If you need to talk, girl I’m here for you. “
I froze. I continued to stare at her, as if challenging her to laugh and say ‘JUST KIDDING, I don’t want to hear your bullshit.’ She didn’t. I’m dumbfound. I continue to stare at her trying to put a label as to what was different about her in comparison to my previous friends. I couldn’t see anything. But something was definitely different.