Excerpt from the five-day writing retreat I’ve just returned from. Day two…
Salty tears stream down my face, landing on the corners of my lips before dripping off my chin. The deep magenta flush glowing on my cheeks, a stark contrast to the enormous grey circles appearing beneath my reddened eyes.
My housemates sit around the dining table, laughing with our dinner guests. The remains of our meal spread across the table and scattered empty wine bottles witnessing the ever-increasing volume of voices as tales of wit, wisdom and woe from the day are shared with great gusto and exaggeration.
We’d spent the afternoon preparing heaped platters of spaghetti and a Greek salad with enormous chunks of salty feta and a generous portion of olives, which I carefully avoid. Fresh breads from the local bakery complete the meal, spread across the old pine desk with it three small drawers, that serves as our dining table.
The room is awash with friendship and a sense of sharing that goes far beyond the helpings of spaghetti. We’re an eclectic group of university students – musician, sculptor, writer, fashion designer – brought together by an economic need to share living costs but staying together because we fell in love with each other’s company.
Two glasses of wine go straight to my head before moving south to my bladder, with it’s irrepressible need to evacuate contents constantly and urgently. Topics of conversation from that evening have long since passed from easy recall, but gut-piercing laughter and a sense of oneness with humanity is etched deep into my heart.
“You look like an afghan dog!” he guffaws, as my own uncontrollable laughter at an unexpected moment leaves me dribbling wine down my chin, my waist length, strawberry blonde hair wild and loose, hiding my face.
Merriment continues from everyone, as the little knot of despair starts knocking on the pit of shame nestled in my belly.
I make my way to the toilet and decide, This is it. I’ve thought about it a lot, but never before tried it. This time is different.
I lift the toilet seat, freshly cleaned that day for our dinner party, and stare at the shiny white porcelain. I tuck my hair into the back of my shirt, bend over, and with my right hand, push my fingers to the back of my throat in search of the automatic gag reflex, regretting the long fingernails I’ve valiantly tried to grow for so long. My stomach heaves but nothing happens. I remove my fingers and take a deep breath, feeling the warm air fill my belly. I bend over and try again. It takes several attempts, but finally long strands of barely chewed and undigested spaghetti start to come up. I’ve crossed a line and there’s no turning back.
This is who I am now.
Time slows and stops. My thick frizzy hair struggles to be contained, but my hand is becoming expert at forcing the recently devoured meal back out, spaghetti stretching the length of my oesophagus as I pull individual strands all the way out. Soon the porcelain bowl is filled with the meal lovingly prepared only a few hours previously. The two fingers that laboured to retrieve the contents, now indented with teeth marks. I stand. Stretch. Hold my shoulders back. Soggy toilet paper sticks to my fingers in little clumps like the patches on Gary McDonald’s shaving nicks, as I endeavour to wipe the digestive slime away.
I straighten my dress, rub my eyes, clean my hand again, then flush the toilet – ensuring no evidence remains once the water has settled. The old 1960s bathroom is adjacent to the toilet, with its ancient porcelain sink and lemon-yellow bath. I close the door, wash my hands thoroughly, rinse my mouth, and inspect my face in the mirror.
I stare into my watery eyes to see if anything’s changed. I look just the same. But everything’s different now. The exhaustion of vomiting is spreading through my body, while the exhilaration of an empty stomach is giving me a rush of endorphins. Finally – I’ve found a way to have my cake and eat it too. Finally, I know how to control my weight.
The table of congeniality barely notice as I slip back into my pine dining chair. I pick up my glass, swirl the smooth red wine around in my mouth, and wash away the last remnants of the purged meal. Everything is the same as before. Everything has changed.