I've been missing my dad a lot lately, even more so than usual. I've been digging through his medical records in order to write my memoir (a collection of linked personal essays). I'm trying to piece together the time line of each surgery he had, each round of chemotherapy and radiation, so that I can get all of my facts straight and dates accurate. I was so young back then and I can't remember it all. After a while, it just jumbles together into one long strand of memories where the good can't be separated from the bad, like necklaces knotting and interlacing. It's difficult to read his records. There are hundreds and hundreds of pages of doctors' office notes, surgical procedures, lab tests, and hospital evaluations. It's like reading an epic novel where he is the hero in this monumental battle against cancer that spans more than a decade, and eventually takes the life he fought so hard and long to keep. He had such a passion for life, a hunger for it. I miss that.
My eating disorder didn't surface until a year and a half after he passed away. I was twenty. I was at the heaviest weight of my life. I was seeing a grief counselor and taking antidepressants. My first real love had just broken up with me. I didn't eat much even then, but everything I ate was garbage. Candy. Chips. Pizza. Pasta. I didn't care about my body. I didn't care about my health. I stopped taking the antidepressants even though the therapist warned me not to stop without tapering off. I became reckless. I didn't do well in school. I had never received any grade less than an A in my life. Now I was failing one class and suffering in all the rest, except Literature, the only one I cared about. I remember one evening in particular walking back from one of my classes to my dorm room. It was cold and drizzling snow. I felt so alone and depressed I wanted to step off the sidewalk and into oncoming traffic. I saw a car approaching. A girl behind the wheel, no older than I was. Our eyes met. Could she see what I was thinking? I felt my feet veering toward her. I closed my eyes and I visualized the impact, my body collapsing under her tire. Would it kill me? What if it didn't? What would my mother think? I opened my eyes and crossed home through the grass, shaking. That was in November of 2004. By Christmas, I had started a diet. It seemed innocent enough. It didn't begin with the intention to starve myself. I learned to exchange regular soda for diet. I stopped eating bread. I stopped eating cheese. I stopped eating sugar. By the time the spring semester started in January, I'd lost thirty lbs. I stopped eating pasta. I stopped eating flour. I stopped drinking milk. Without even realizing it, I stopped eating everything. I started working out. I counted calories religiously. Each day I ate less calories than the day before, until I was eating no calories at all. No one recognized me. My body didn't look like my body. My face didn't look like my face. By May, I had lost 80 lbs. I was a skeleton. My hair had fallen out. My skin was horrible. I was nothing but cheekbones and dark circles. Everyone told me I looked as though I was dying. Isn't that what I had wanted?
I've said this before about remembering my eating disorder, but looking back now, it really does feel like remembering a dream. It's foggy. It's disorienting. It makes me feel cold. It makes me feel sad. But it makes me remember I don't want to go back there. I know that my Dad wouldn't want me to feel that way. I don't know how he would have responded to my eating disorder if he were still alive, but I don't think he would stand back and watch without interfering like everyone else in my life did. He would have spoken up. We would have fought. He would want me to recover.
He would be proud to know I'm recovering. That I'm a healthy weight. That I eat meals that will nourish my body. That I care about my body. That I want to live. That I'm hungry, for food and for life.