Friday, March 18, 2011

the cruise.

i stepped onto the sun deck and pulled my hair into a low bun at the back of my neck. i looked to the left and to the right. aside from a twelve-year-old girl at the far end of the deck by the hot tub, i had to be the smallest one there.

i pulled my cream-colored cover-up over my head, glancing down just enough so that my eyes caught my hip bones jutting out from my black bikini bottoms. the waistband rested against them, creating a small sliver of space between my swimsuit bottoms and my abdomen, which i loved.

i stretched and turned my face so my chin was parallel with my arm and stared from my shoulder down to my forearm. the joint at my elbow bulged like a swollen sore from the skin-covered bone shaft that connected it to my shoulder. i was pleased.

i grabbed a book and i sat, noting the expanse-like space between my two thighs and feeling peaceful. i wondered how people who ate regularly felt about their bodies in swimsuits.

i stepped onto the sun deck and squinted towards the expanse of blue water on all sides. i'd never seen water so blue, nor had i ever been on a boat so big. the morning sun lit the wooden floor of the deck and brightened the white rails that surrounded its edge. i lifted the strap of my brightly woven shoulder bag that was filled with far more books than i would ever be able to read and lowered it to the ground beside the lounge chair closest to the deck's edge. i wore a grayish-cream zip-up jacket
that was dotted with soft blue flowers. the wind blew it into me and the zipper was cold on my legs. i breathed deeply and slowly pulled the zipper until i ran out of track. i took it off, i sat down, and i noted how easily it all had happened.

i don't have the pure kind of translucent skin that looks straight out of a jane austen novel, but my peaches 'n cream complexion still requires spf 30. i dug through the world's worth of clutter inside my bag and felt around for the bright blue tube of coppertone that would allow me to survive the sun-filled hours that would follow. as i rubbed the thick, white paste into my shoulders and arms, i could feel the hardness that had become triceps and i could make out the grooves that my dumbbells had left in my shoulders. i couldn't say my arms were skinny, but they were certainly firm, which was more than i could say when i'd initially gained the weight. i was satisfied. my legs elicited similar sentiments.

my stomach was a different story. after months of ab work (approved by my nutritionist), it was still slightly soft, especially when i sat. it was also consistently bloated, (which i'm told is a result of the severe neglect i inflicted on my digestive system and will eventually go away) and although it's balloon like appearance is easily hidden under clothes, it was not so concealable in a swim suit. i made a face as i rubbed the soft folds with cold sunscreen, and hoped it wasn't as bad is it seemed.

i opened my book and started to read but could manage only to focus for a sentence to a short paragraph at a time. when i grew tired of grasping and resettling my elusive attention, i turned to my friends and joined their conversation.

they seemed to think something was hilarious. as i smiled faintly, i noticed how beautiful they all were. i was not beautiful, but i was starving, and that was as close to beautiful as i knew i would get. i jumped up and bounced myself onto an open end of a lounge chair, joining their circle. "i'm hungry," one of them said, "has anybody not eaten lunch?" my mind jumped to attention and although my focus refused to assemble for books or conversations, it was readily available to address the situation of lunch, and so i began to think. i quickly determined how much food to put on my plate, and how much of it to actually eat. i was thirsty, but i only filled my water glass half way to make sure my stomach wouldn't stick out.

i pushed the issue of my stomach past me and read awhile, my obnoxiously large headphones blaring. i got a little restless and ended up twirling my ankles around on the top of the railing as i read. my six best friends surrounded me and i remember feeling sure i'd never loved a day as much as that one.
as i looked around at them, i noticed how beautiful they all were. i started to think i was probably the least beautiful, but i cut off the thoughts' access to my mind and heart. they would not rob me of even the tiniest parts of my joy.

we took a break for lunch which we topped off with cones from the frozen yogurt machines. afterwards we returned to the deck for the afternoon's remainder. i read until 5 or 6 at which point i pried myself out of my chair to go and shower.

later on, at dinner, i ordered all kinds of things. i stirred them around and cut them up and took bites here and there. it worked out well and i managed to have a decently fun time.

i wore one of my favorite dresses to dinner, at which i ate and enjoyed. all our food was paid for already, so whether or not we would order dessert was hardly a question. six of the seven us ordered "warm chocolate melting cake". we agreed it was one of the best things we'd ever eaten, and it would end up making an appearance at each of our dinners to follow.

i brought my camera along and took a bunch of pictures. i looked them all over, giving great care to the ones i knew would upset my mother. i always knew i'd been doing things right when i posted pictures on facebook and she called me to tell me how sad it made her to look at them. when i looked at one of the pictures, an emaciated young woman stared back at me. something deep inside me fearfully suggested that i eat something and start to take better care of myself, but i suppressed the urge. "maybe after spring break, i'll eat a little more," i told myself. but then i realized that summer was soon to follow.

we'd all brought our cameras and were taking lots of pictures. i think a lot of groups of friends pose their silly pictures so they're super indie or super sexy, and then they put them on facebook. none of my friends really ever put pictures on facebook, nor do we ever pose our silly pictures. but we take plenty of completely hilarious photos regardless. it usually starts with a picture that was meant "for real", in which someone looks like someone or something else. we all start posing like the someone or something the person resembled, which makes us think about someone or something else and pretty soon we are making all kinds of demented faces and laughing so loud we're turning heads. this was how dinner both ended and segued into the rest of the evening. it actually worked out perfectly because there were photographers with these hideous backdrops on every corner. we gathered in front of one and decided we would all smile with underbites. apparently an underbite means something different to me than it does to any of my friends. in the photo that resulted, i look like a charity case that my friends brought along on spring break to boost either their consciences or their resumes. the mere mention of my face in the picture elicited suffocating, wet-your-pants kind of laughter on the part of all seven of us for much of the rest of the trip.

after dinner we went around to some of the lounges and dance clubs around the boat. everyone was dancing and laughing and getting rid of random men that kept approaching. they looked to be having the time of their lives. i did what i could to at least appear unawkward, taking advantage of the times i had to pee and sitting down every so often to look at the pictures i was taking. i always dreaded going out. my friends had so much fun when we went out places. they weren't the typical kind of college girls, stupidly and facelessly making their way onto the dance floor, latching on to whatever man was willing, never remembering enough to differentiate one night from another. my friends could take a dance floor by storm, making their way to the center two or three at a time, turning every male head in the room. i dont suppose any of them noticed, but i was the tag along. at some point in high school, i'd stopped being able to have fun. i wanted to reach inside myself and find the person that could just enjoy a moment without feeling as though every eye in the room was ripping her apart. but the only time any sort of fire entered my eyes and i found myself passionately and eagerly engaged was when someone suggested we call it a night.

after the photo fiasco we ended up singing karaoke. i sang some alison krauss because i love alison krauss. we obnoxiously filled at a least a 30 minute period with back-to-back performances of some combination of the seven of us. when we'd sung all the songs we knew we walked out on our high heels and proceeded past a couple of bars to a dance club. we walked in with raised hands and made our ways through red leather couches to the dance floor. each of us has her own way of dancing and some are better at it than others. given that rap is not exactly my music and clubs with white walls and leather red couches are not exactly my scene, at moments i felt out of place. but i remembered the ways in which i'd grown to love myself and the scenes in which i felt most at home and i settled into the knowledge i was who i was and that i would have things no differently.

the next day we stopped in mexico. the beach was pretty. i always enjoy a good beach. i saw a few girls who looked my age. they were really skinny, which was unfortunate, because i could think of little else. i wondered how many calories they had eaten already and how tight their jeans would be if i tried them on. i was not so happy with myself as i'd previously thought. why did some girls get to have everything? i started thinking of more ways to cut calories.

the next two days were stops in mexico. we spent both of them on beautiful beaches, which i loved. i saw some skinny girls and i didn't like the ways i compared, but i didn't have a lot of time to think of them further. the first stop required a walk through some village streets that reminded me quite a lot of Honduras. i stopped and talked to a little girl in a lavender outfit and kissed her head and felt right at home. there were vendors everywhere, and they enjoyed my spanish, i think, because i spent a good portion of the day jabbering with them in the sand. i let a woman give me a hair wrap and i bought a ridiculous looking mayan wall-hanging because i hated knowing that those people's livings were made off hot day after hot day scouring the sands for people either willing or drunk enough to buy their things. i met one woman giving 20$ massages who hosted a church in her home and i met another who was walking around selling shirts she'd made with her hands. my friends and i sat in a circle of chairs eating the best salsa and guacamole any of us had ever had. the day came to too soon an end.

cozumel was similar. we spent the day on a beach with swing sets and kayaks and and a waiter named solomon (sah-loo-MAH-n in spanish). i learned that stand-up kayaking is either too difficult to be a legitimate sport, or is a very legitimate sport for which i have no legitimate ability. i read quite a bit and listened to a lot of wilco.

both of the mexico days were the kind that will elicit soft smiles twenty years from now. thinking of them now makes me thankful and warm.

the remaining days were fine. i pushed around a lot of food and made a lot of trips to the bathroom to look in the mirror. i survived the dance clubs and lounges and i managed to make everyone laugh heartily at least a few times. when it was over i went to spend the last couple of days of the break at home. my mom looked at pictures and made some comments about hoping i'd be able to have kids when the time came. i wasn't satisfied with the way she'd reacted to my bony photos. i'd gotten worse out of her in the past and i wanted that again. i wrote out a plan for what i would and wouldn't eat when i returned from spring break. i would be thin by summer at the latest but hopefully before. i hoped the weight would fall fast. the sooner it went away, the sooner i would be worth something.

on our final day at sea i was less than thrilled with my body. i had a feeling it was due in part to the fact that when i travel, things get stuck in places through which they normally maneuver pretty easily. the venture away from my routine with food and exercise was stirring my thoughts around as well. i never thought i'd be thankful for a sun burn, but my back was borderline blistered and so i wore a band t-shirt tied in a knot at my hip for the day's majority. the thoughts were consistent and real, but my personality and great fun were immune to them.

I finished "the bell jar," by sylvia plath and started a.w. tozer's, "the knowledge of the holy". my friends read a lot as well, but the day ended sweetly with the seven of us crowded onto two lounge chairs, just soaking life in.

the following day, we spent the ride back to samford marveling over what a wonderfully fun time we'd all had. we parted ways and headed towards our homes for the remaining three days of spring break.

i ended up at our raw-wood kitchen table with mom, taking her through all of my pictures. i didn't like the way i looked in some of them, but i liked and loved the stories behind and within them, and that was enough. my mom kept hugging me and telling me how happy she was to have me home and how nice and sun kissed i looked. in the early of the night, sleep overtook me and my mom pulled down my sheets and sat and talked with me in my bedside lamplight until my face turned gently to my pillow.

the parts of the story typed in italics are what (based on years of previous experiences) my spring break cruise would have been like with my eating disorder. the parts typed in bold are what actually happened. neither is perfect, but it's pretty clear (to me at least) in which story i would rather live.

happy spring break.




  1. AMAZING post EA...wish I could put into words the emotions and thoughts this brought to me.