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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Love Affair with Ed: an Explanation

My love affair with Ed probably began the same way as everyone else: we met as children, flirted through adolescence, and eventually became closer and closer until we were inseparable. I suppose I had always been a chubby child, or so I was told (although, looking back at the photos, I think I looked healthy, and not fat at all). You know, there were the usual cruel jokes from crueler children who were probably even more insecure than I was, though I couldn’t have known about that at the time. When you’re 8, you don’t know that bullies are bullies because they hate themselves. You hear that, but you’re not sophisticated enough to realize the much deeper implications; and anyway it’s nothing you’d remember when you’re trying to reclaim your fragile second-grade dignity after said cruel boy says you look pregnant.
And somehow age doesn’t make you any wiser—not in these cases. At 12 you’re much more mature, and you begin to realize that people have pain and people have anxiety and boys are still mean and immature…but you don’t realize that that’s where careless, nasty comments come from. Especially not when they come from the boy you’ve developed a massive crush on. Especially not when you’d been under the impression that he liked you, too. Especially not when he explains the flatness of a sidewalk-chalked United States as “Shaina jumped.”
Those shreds of dignity? Maybe you can braid them or something and pretend it’s all fixed.
So I knew I was chubby; I knew I wasn’t as pretty, as stylish, even as smart as some other girls. I was funny—the class clown. With crippling stage fright, I somehow managed to crack the class and myself up on a daily basis. I was strange and funny and ME (at least, I think I was). I thrived on my reputation as a lover of sci-fi and supernatural phenomenon. It was what I was known for—it was my image. So even if I wasn’t desirable or even pretty, I was still at least me…ish.
Throughout junior high and then high school, the boy who had been the object of my affection became the object of my obsession, and I sought him out whenever I could. I just wanted him to notice me, to like me—instead, I succeeded only in scaring him away and I’m pretty sure that by the end of high school, he outright hated me. I tried one last-ditch effort after graduation to explain my feelings for him, but receiving no response, forced myself to acknowledge that he’d likely be happy never to talk to me or hear about me again.
Besides that, high school wasn’t the nightmare most people say it was. I know I’m supposed to talk about how hard high school was, how isolated and dark my life was, how nobody understood me or my pain. But the truth is, I found a lot of kindred spirits in high school. I fell in with the anime and manga kids, the ones who taught themselves Japanese and carried Pikachu backpacks. I tried to get in with the Drama kids, too, but because I was terrified of being away from home (that’s another issue entirely), I wasn’t willing to devote my every free second to the stage and was therefore not-so-subtly rejected from their clique.
No, school was great. Home was different.
My parents divorced when I was 4 and unlike most kids, I was always happy about that. I remembered their fights and didn’t miss that at all.
Mom was overprotective, I know that much. She was also very manipulative, and given what’s happen in recent years, I think I have every right to say that. Because I don’t know what’s real about my childhood anymore, and therefore try not to think too much on it, I can only go by what I experienced and what I can deduce with my current knowledge. But for years I lived with the intense fear that if I spent too much time away from her, she would certainly die. This may have been a leftover never-dealt-with-phobia from losing my baby brother at a young age. Whatever the source, I somehow believed myself to be endowed with the superpower of “protection through proximity,” and believed also that my stepdad (a lovely man, I now realize) was plotting to kill her. So you can understand why I didn’t do extracurricular activities: it was, for me, literally a matter of life and death.
Dad remarried a beautiful woman who is still fortunate to be naturally thin. Both of them being cops, and noticing my disdain for sports and physical activity, they tried to get me moving on my visiting weekends. You can imagine this was met by me with petulance, loud complaining, and learned manipulation. Mom had me convinced I had asthma and allergies (neither are true), and I used those as crutches for years. Dad and Michelle would ask me, “Don’t you want to be able to run and play with the other kids?” What they didn’t realize was that my best recess was spent swinging, because I’ll never be able to fly but I like to get as close as I can. I knew I was too fat in their eyes and began lying when they’d ask about my weight, saying I was about 80lbs, even to the point where I was old enough that that weight would have been ludicrous. What really stuck with me was the time my dad was drinking a Slim Fast, and asked if I wanted to try it. I didn’t, but I never said no as a kid (even at the risk of my own happiness), so I took a sip, and Dad said I should finish it. In my mind, that translated to “Maybe if you drink some Slim Fast you’ll lose a bit of weight, Fatty.”
So there was that, and the Christmas Eve wherein my emotionally troubled then-uncle caught me at the hors d’ouevres table and called me a horse.
Again, a 13-year-old doesn’t understand the way an adult’s inner pain might manifest itself into a dagger of hate directed at her; she only knows that her Uncle Rick, whom she’s always trusted, has just said something horrible, so it must be true.
So I suppose there were incidents that led me to make friends with Ed; but I think it was the breakdown of my home life towards the end of high school, paired with my mother’s instability, that took our relationship to the next level. I was a teenager, dealing with body issues, insecurity, and, stupid as it may have been, unrequited love. And even though I was 16, I remember times when it did hurt and even though I had friends, I did so often feel alone and left out, so I began to rely more on myself. I became an escape artist, concocting wild fantasy world based off the anime I loved, wherein I had all the love and companionship I wanted. It was pure Mary Sue; it was fantastic. But it made dealing with the world and me much more difficult and I resented myself for it. I resented reality. I wanted to punish myself, punish mom, punish those who dismissed me; I wanted to feel pain; I wanted attention, maybe even sympathy. So I began cutting myself. To be honest, it was just scratching at first. As much as I fantasized about making everyone feel bad, I was terrified of being caught. And in any case, as my little sister grew older and more aware of the tension in the house, and as Mom slowly sank into paranoia and alcoholism, I found myself increasingly obligated to clean up the messes Mom kept making.
The summer I graduated, the shit finally hit the fan at home. Mom was in deep trouble (at that point I had no idea of the extent of it, or the extent to which I was about to be involved). After a particularly bad night, Mom, my sister, and I left the house with the dog and precious little else, and went to stay with my Granny in her 1-bedroom apartment for what would end up being a month. I won’t go into great detail about the things that went down, the level of betrayal I faced, the absolute horror at finding a strange man knocking on our apartment door at 3:00 in the morning and feeling fortunate that at least Mom was deep in a wine-induced sleep, and so heard neither the door knocking nor her phone ringing when the strange man became confused by her absence and tried calling (just to be safe, I took her phone and buried it under pillows to muffle it, since I couldn’t risk pressing buttons that beeped, then watched out my bedroom window as he left, came back, and finally left for good). I knew what was going on when she “went out with friends.” I knew what was up when I’d come home from work at 10:00 at night and find “an old friend from high school that she’d recently reconnected with” sitting on our couch in the dark. I knew I wasn’t just mistaken when I insisted my wallet was missing, only to have it reappear after catching her sneaking out of my room a few hours later. I never questioned, never outright accused—I always just tried to keep it all together as best I could: throwing away hidden bottles of wine as I found them; accepting that I’d never get all my missing money back and I’d just have to hope I’d get to keep my future earnings; staying awake late into the night to make sure the strange man downstairs didn’t kill us all; and, when I was alone, plummeting into violent rages of screaming and self-hatred, using my Exact-O blades (purchased legitimately for art and design classes) to rip open my legs. That was the real cutting, and I was pretty clever about it: after the initial sessions, I began cutting scars open again so it wouldn’t be as obvious if anyone ever saw my legs. I wore pants all the time anyway, and I always carefully cleaned up after myself. I don’t think I ever wanted to die necessarily, regardless of how much I thought, wrote, or drew about it. I had too much to take care of and too much guilt at the prospect of hurting my family.
And that’s how life was. Eventually we moved out of our scuzzy apartment in Old Town Peoria and moved to a townhouse in our old neighborhood, but things didn’t really improve. The best part for me was just being closer to my friends, which allowed me to spend more time away from home. I’d had enough by that point, but got some relief in January when Mom announced she’d move in with her then-boyfriend, and I could stay in the townhouse for the remainder of the lease.
It was during this time that I got hired as a Barista for the new Seattle’s Best CafĂ© in Borders, which turned out to be one of the best things ever to happen to me, despite later clashes with management. Because it was at Borders where I met some new friends, who provided something that was safe and stable, and that I desperately needed; and most importantly, I met Jake. Jake and I got along immediately and shared a mutual attraction, not to mention a myriad of interests. Most of all, I knew I could trust Jake, so I let myself fall in love and tomorrow is our 6th anniversary. He’s my best friend and the only person in the world who has seen the best and worst of me, who has seen ME as I really am, who understands me, listens to me, supports me, loves me, cares for me, lets me be free while providing a safe and solid ground to come back to; who never judges, never criticizes; who knows and accepts the REAL ME. He has talked me down from more ledges than he’ll ever know, and I know I’d be lost without him. Life hasn’t gone the way I’d planned, but I can always find comfort in Jake’s arms, in the way he makes me laugh even when I don’t want to, and in his unending love.
Around 2007, I was working at Borders and attending ASU for my English degree, and I decided it was time to take charge of my physical health. I’d always been afraid that too much cholesterol might lead to diabetes or pulmonary embolisms, so I got a gym membership and began working out. I’d been at a size 5 for a while, not really knowing or caring how much I weighed, but as I exercised and began eating less junk and more healthy food, I shrunk to 110lbs and a size 3! Suddenly the fat kid wasn’t fat! I was on top of the world—I felt great, looked great, everything was great! Dad and Michelle even commented that I looked fit and healthy, but I probably shouldn’t try to lose any more. And actually, I agreed! I had no intention of losing any more weight, and I don’t really know what happened. All I know is that somewhere along the way, working out became a chore, and an obsession. Somewhere along the way I lost control of it. It wasn’t healthy anymore, and neither was I. 110 turned into 105, but for some reason that wasn’t good enough. I’d gotten this far—I could do more. The first time I burned 100 calories on the elliptical machine, I bragged about it and felt so proud of myself. That night, I bought a salad for dinner and ate half of it. I was being healthy, I told myself. But I could do more. I already took the bus to school and often to work (my bus pass was free through ASU, and with the price of gas and parking, you can see the appeal), but what if I walked to the next bus stop a few blocks away? Borders was only a mile away from my apartment; the gym only a few blocks more. What if I started walking to work, then to the gym? I could take the bus home! So 2007 turned into 2008 and I kept losing, but I didn’t see it. To be fair, nobody who saw me on a daily basis noticed how drastic it was, because it was still gradual. Jake expressed his concern for my health, but it was only recently, looking at photos of me at my lowest weight, that he was truly horrified. My coworkers might’ve commented here and there that I was skinny, but I took that in stride and never believed a word of it. Even as I celebrated finally fitting into a size 0, I still saw myself as grotesquely overweight (anything over being technically underweight was unacceptable to me), and reminded myself that pant sizes today were larger than they’d been when these sizes were first determined. I measured my waist every morning, and never got below 25 inches, so I figured that in reality, I was probably a size 9 or something. After graduating in December 2008, I was no longer able to use my bus pass, so began walking everywhere. I walked to work, then to the gym, then home, all the while restricting my diet further and further. I ate carrots, leafy greens, and bananas, along with the occasional mixed nuts or dried cranberries from Sprouts—and most of it was raw. The only things I cooked were beans and barley (barley was lower in calories than rice), and cut portions into fourths, and then further into eighths. I became angry if Jake suggested I could have more than a quarter-inch slice of pizza. I was suffering, but I was thin. I was disciplined. I had done what those people who called me fat would never have thought possible. I could see my bones, my veins, even the places where muscles intertwined, but in my mind it was just good fitness, hard-won results, and there was still more I could do.
In January 2009 I checked my credit score for the first time and realized the magnitude of the damage Mom had done to my finances; in March I was laid off from Borders. With my world completely turned upside down, I decided to make the best of it and reassess my situation. Maybe it was time to seek out a “real job,” with an office and business-casual and all that shit that I’d always dreaded in the first place. But the world was different, and we’d finally gotten rid of the imbecilic radical evangelist who had stolen the Presidency twice in a row. I felt a surge of optimism and Dad and Michelle, happy that I was taking all this bad stuff in stride, took me on a shopping trip to buy some new, business-y clothes. The only thing that bothered me was that I’d have to skip the gym that day, but if I just ate a bit less, I should still be OK. I knew they were concerned about my weight loss, and agreed to stay away from the gym until I gained some weight back (as Dad tearfully implored me to do), but that night, after finding out I’d eaten nearly 800 calories in a salad at dinner, I felt another heavy surge of self-hatred. Of course my family was alarmed at my thinness—they’d only ever known me as my former chubby self. I was perfectly healthy, they just weren’t used to seeing me that way. So I’d stay away from the gym for a bit like I promised I’d do; but I never promised not to do basic calisthenics at home, or ride my bike. So the weight loss continued. In May, thanks to Jake’s sister, I got hired at the Lake Pleasant Petsmart, working in the Pet Hotel overnight. It was a job, and I had rent to pay, but I was sick of my old apartment, so used the new job as an excuse to move to what seemed like a nicer apartment that was, in reality, only a couple of miles closer to work. By now I was regularly experiencing severe hot flashes and swelling in my neck, and I suspect it was my thyroid gland going completely haywire.
Working overnight didn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal, but it turned out to be one of the worst experiences ever. I’d been going back to the gym by this time, but when I came to visit Dad on Father’s Day, he finally gave me an ultimatum: stop going to the gym altogether, and start eating more, or he was going to come live with me to monitor my behavior.
And that was the end of it, but not really. Of course, I was completely exhausted with lack of nighttime sleep and poor quality daytime sleep. First, I just enjoyed eating again and not working out every day. But then I began to retain water. I started feeling short of breath and having heart palpitations. Jake, afraid I might be experiencing congestive heart failure, implored me to go to the doctor and drove me to the appointment. But the doctor was busy, so I only spoke to the nurse, who said I was fine, everything was normal, and some water pills might help with the water retention. In hindsight, I should have gone back for a follow-up, but that became unimportant as the weight came creeping back. I tried to keep it at bay, and for a while succeeded.
In March 2010 I was hired for what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. A “real job” that paid 30K per year, had benefits, and might finally get me ahead in the game. That job turned out to be another awful experience, because who would’ve thought that sitting in a cubicle with no view outside, doing data entry all day, would turn out to be psychological torture for the girl who thrived on color and art and creativity? And along with that came the hard-core weight gain. I went to a stretchy size 1, then 3, then 5, then seven. I got blood work done, tried starving and exercise bulimia again, but for all intents and purposes there was nothing wrong with me, and the weight wouldn’t budge.
And that’s where I’ve been since October 2010. I’m now in culinary school, and I don’t work out as much as I should, but nothing matters because the weight won’t budge. My family says I look great and healthy; Jake tells me he loves my body and thinks I’m sexy; but I see Ed hanging around in my peripheral vision, and part of me wants to get closer again.
This is my reality now. I cringe at what I used to do, used to be; but also lament my healthy weight of 110, and how nice that was, and how much I wish I could be back there. Maybe I just need to be patient, and this will all work itself out. I hope I can be a size 3 again, and I hope this time that will be enough for me. But if I’ve learned one thing about Ed, it’s that he’s coy and calculated, and may lead me down even more dangerous paths, and I hope I’ll have the strength to resist.

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