The picture hangs on the inside of my drawer to remind me. I cry sometimes, looking through my yearbook.
Life is funny.
Sixth grade, I was overweight. Didn’t matter much to me; then suddenly it did. Nobody made fun of me, but I tortured myself. I began to take it slow. Stopped eating until I wasn’t hungry at all. Loved the feeling of passing on food I loved. It smelled so good. I felt real strong.
Then things went bad.
Seventh grade was a blur.
I weighed myself every day. Went from one fifteen to seventy pounds in three months and wanted to hit forty. Needed to hit forty.
And I did everything to get me there
Started feeling not quite there. Sort of dizzy. Like I was underwater, and I cried way too easily. People said my eyes were scary – all black pupil where there used to be blue. It was kind of scary.
I’d run up and down the stairs until I couldn’t move. When they made me eat, I made sure it didn’t stay down.
I was drowning.
I wanted to have cancer.
Because I was killing myself and it killed me.
I wanted to have cancer because then it wouldn’t be me killing me.
I wanted to die.
I’d spend time staring at myself in the mirror of the school bathroom where the lighting was dim. I thought I looked pretty, and I decided I liked my eyes. But that was the only part of me I liked. I began thinking I was fat and hating myself. Hating my body.
Then my heart went out of control. I fainted in the bathroom. That was cool.
The world went white, not black. Blinding white. It sort of tingled. I loved the feeling but I felt kind of cheated that a blackout was really a whiteout.
But my body was eating itself alive.
The cardiologist whispered to my parents; I read Agatha Christie in the waiting room. They couldn’t do a sonogram because I had no fat left on me.
I loved it there. Everyone was so nice and the waiting room was comfortable.
But they said I had to eat or go to a hospital.
I wanted the hospital.
I wasn’t asked.
They took me to a doctor once every two weeks who told me that I was this close to never having children ever and if I wanted to live, I better eat. She told me and my parents I was an “outpatient”. And she gave me a food chart that almost made me throw up when I looked at it. How would I ever eat this much food?
My mother told me once that she would love me no matter what happened. Even if she would have to send me away, she would love me.
But nothing was real anymore. I was living in a fog and I thought it was funny that she loved me when I didn’t see anything to love about myself.
The lunch lady who never gave seconds took one look at me and turned white, which was cool, and heaped my plate with quadruples of everything, which was embarrassing.
My friend was heavy and jealous and she was supposed to me making me eat but she made me not eat even more.
She made me feel strong.
I needed to feel strong.
I spent more and more time in front of that mirror, but I wasn’t me anymore. I was so scared and lost and lonely. And I couldn’t sleep
But my body was taking over. I wasn’t in control anymore. The scariest thing was that I knew it. But I refused to believe it. It was my body, and I was in charge.
So it was that day – it was my third day on a marathon with no food, no drink, and no brain – I ran up and down the stairs fourteen times because I needed to feel that feeling of flying, of being beyond my body, being beyond the pain – it felt so good but I was crying.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt myself reaching my last reserves.
I fainted again. This time, it wasn’t cool. I was desperate, I was shaking and every normal part of me was ready to give up when I opened my eyes and my teacher was standing over me. The one who had cancer, who thought nobody knew. The one I was secretly jealous of.
She took my hand and she said, “Tell your teacher you’re not coming to math class. You’re coming with me.” And I did, because she could be scary and I was scared of her
…but I was more scared of myself.
The math teacher took one look at me and… nodded? She never let anyone out of class. I must have looked like…
I ran to the bathroom. Stared in the mirror.
Even I could no longer deny it. I looked at my hands. They were shaking so hard I had to press hard to get them to stop. I needed to do this and my body was disobeying me.
I had plans.
I was fifty-two pounds- a skeleton – and I wanted to be thirty. Then twenty. And then…
The teacher gave me a drink, crackers, and stared at me as I pretended to eat. Pretended to drink. When a drop of water passed my lips, even though I was fighting, it tasted like… like heaven. I wanted more. I was screaming for more, but silently. Screaming so loud that I was crying real tears, and they went into my mouth and made me so thirsty I burned. I wanted, suddenly, to drink the whole cup. I was on fire. But at that point, I just couldn’t. Physically. Do it.
So I didn’t.
But for the first time, I was fighting myself. Nobody controls me, I thought. Not other people. And not my own body.
When I was born, three months early, under two pounds, the nurses said, “This one’s feisty.” They knew I would survive even though I was sicker than I should have been.
I thought, I’m feisty. I’m sick, but I’m feisty.
I don’t know why, but I talked to that teacher. I told her I wanted to be thirty pounds. She had tears in her eyes when she said, “Go home. Go to sleep.”
It was like I was waking up from a really bad dream. I left early. I could hardly walk home.
I made a decision.
I would live.
Once I started eating, I couldn’t stop. I bloated. I was fat. I hated myself again. The diet that I had fought so hard was now too little food for me. I went through anger that nobody had noticed that I was fighting myself, fighting for my life and losing. I thought it meant they didn’t care. Now I know how hard my parents had fought for me from the very beginning, but you can’t save a drowning man who wants to drown.
I tore up every picture – even the ones where I was recovering and I went to a fancy event and dressed up in a gown and took a million pictures of myself in different poses because I was so proud – but I missed one.
My mother took it down from the hallway where it was hanging without telling me and a year later, she showed it to me.
I cried when I saw it because until then I had never seen myself the way others saw me – but there I was. I looked… dead.
The picture hangs on the inside of my drawer to remind me. And I cry sometimes, looking through my yearbook.
Life is funny.
Rivka Siegel, Age 18, Grade 12, Congregation Bnos Yaakov, Silver Key