I am vomiting blood in a restaurant bathroom.
I shake from purging hard and fast and only realize it is time to stop when I see the tell-tale, bright, red swirls.
My boyfriend sits at the table, hopefully unaware of what I am up to, even though we have discussed my eating disorder at length during dinner. I have been as honest with him as I can without giving him details. So far he hasn’t asked for them. We have just enjoyed an Italian meal: bread, pasta, more bread and wine. Everything about our evening has been romantic except the disgusting amount of food I have consumed in front of him. I clean myself up, rub the teeth marks off my knuckles, smooth my hair down. I return to the table and smile at him. He raises an eyebrow at me, but he does not ask.
I am grateful that he has not got upset with me. We have only been dating a month and he has had many opportunities to fight me on my disordered behaviour, but he hasn’t. He tells me it is because I warned him not too. He says if it wasn’t for that warning he would have said something. I tell him that I am a lost cause – not to bother.
“I’m still going to try to feed you because I care for you,” he informs me. “Even if you refuse to eat.”
“I always feed the people I love! It’s how I care for them,” I reply. “It must be the Italian in me.”
“Except for yourself.” he says.
“You feed the people you love, except you won’t feed yourself.”
I nod. I am not on the list of people who I love.
We have many conversations that touch on the subject and sometimes he is very forthright.
He asks about rehab. “Why did you drop out?”
“Which time do you mean?”
“Oh you’ve done this more than once?” he shakes his head, reality dawning on him as we leave a grocery store with celery for me. I have made him take me shopping for celery at 10pm and he has obliged without a fuss.
“I just don’t care any more. It doesn’t seem to matter after 22 years. I don’t want to be recovered and gain weight. I don’t even want to be this size. I can’t stand it,” I babble with an honesty that surprises me. I have never shared so much so soon (or ever) with anyone else before. I wonder if not hiding from him will be better or worse for our fledgling relationship.
“But I like you just the way you are. Maybe it will help that I like your body and that I care about you,” he looks at me a little bit too seriously. I look away. I can’t hold his gaze. I cannot tell him that no matter how much he loves me, I will never love myself. I am embarrassed that he knows about my disorder; I am not even remotely thin enough to justify it.
We go to the gym where he coaches fighters and he wraps my hands so that I can take a boxing class. My hands shake and I cannot stop them.
“Are you shaking from hunger or because you are nervous?” he steadies them with his hands.
“Don’t ask that question. I’ve been hungry since I was 10.”
I am standing in the grocery store aisle staring at rice crackers for a painfully long time.
“What’s the dilemma? Which flavour to get?”
“Calories,” I whisper. “Calories are always the dilemma.” I feel my chest tightening. It is hard to breathe. I feel anxiety rising as though I am going to have a panic attack right there at the thought of consuming them. How do I explain to him that rice crackers have that effect on me without sounding like I am batshit crazy? I have already told him I am crazy. I even explained which special brand of crazy.
Another night we lie in bed after I get out the shower dizzy and nauseous. I haven’t been eating much unless I have been bingeing and purging. I try to control my breathing. My stomach hurts; I feel excruciatingly unwell.
He looks concerned. “Are you light-headed and dizzy again?”
“Because of the H-word?”
I don’t understand him right away.
“Because you are hungry?”
“I’m always hungry,” I confess. “The degree just varies.”
He wraps me in his arms and holds me. I want to cry. At some point I know this will come between us. How long will he date me and tolerate this disorder? At what point will he look at me and hate me for who I am, the way that I have done since forever?