Reflect by the Window
Content warning: eating disorders
I remember sitting by the window, that impenetrable pane of glass, dreaming of my freedom, of my health, of my return to adolescence.
I’m pulled from my daydream. Dr K is at the entrance to the six-bedder, he’s got a slip of baby blue paper tucked under his arm and behind him I can see my mother poking her head over his broad shoulders. He shuffles in, a tired smile plastered to his face with cheap glue, my mom hanging right behind. How exhausted she looks: worry lines pronounced on her face, like ancient script etched into her forehead, the ink bleeding into the crevices and dips of her nose and cheeks. She smiles at me, and stands by my side at the window massaging my shoulder between her cold hands.
That afternoon Dr K tells us that I’ve lost 4kg, despite constant supervision, a heavy calorie diet, and not leaving my room for the last two months. I stare at the fluorescent lights, blinding myself temporarily, trying to do anything to distract from his words. As I look to the light little waves of colours float into the edges my vision, and then black spots pollute the moment of magic and I’m forced to look away.
This means bedrest- he doesn’t have to say it, I already know. I’ll be wheeled around in a chair by a hostile nurse. For them I am only a burden, a teenage girl desperate for attention and straining the public health system in order to get it.
The doctor says, “Arielle, if I could have your attention for just a moment,” His tone is condescendingly polite, as if I have an option, “we want you out of here as much as you want to get out, so just pull it together and let’s fix this so you can go home. You shouldn’t be afraid of growing up, that’s what a lot of this is about, don’t be scared.”
I look at my mom, roll my eyes, and turn back to the doctor. “I’d love to grow up, at least then I’d have some autonomy,” I respond in a flat tone. His pager beeps, he stands up abruptly, smiles at us both, and goes on his way.
I dismiss this. Besides, I tell myself, I’ve always wanted to grow up, to have my independence, to be intrepid and experience the world in all its glory, and for all its horrors.
It wasn’t until I began to grow older that I thought about that afternoon again and reflected on any ounce of truth in what Dr K had said. I didn’t see direct correlation; my refusal to eat was not a conscious effort to regress, I didn’t want to be thin in order to be small or young or frail, I just wanted to be liked, by others, but mostly by myself.
It is only now that I’m really growing up and crossing the rickety bridge between adolescence and adulthood, dreams and progress, that I understand what he was saying. My expectations for myself have always been high, in hospital I carried around a copy of War and Peace trying three times a day to read it, only to find myself without the mental or physical energy to comprehend such a mammoth of a book. When asked what I wanted to do when I finished school my answers were always ambitious and impressive. “I’d like to help people,” I’d start by saying, “but also to be a leader in my own right, maybe in politics, maybe international relations.” It was well crafted.
“What big dreams you have,” some would respond. Having dreams is easy.
Once I graduated from school I was hit with the reality that no longer were my dreams enough, no longer could they simply live in the future, these unattainable someday when school’s over and I’m grown up dreams. Now the pressure was on to fulfil them, and that was fucking scary. How many opportunities I had, how lucky I was- I knew all these things. But the question lingered in my mind: what if despite all this, I still amounted to nothing? Still fell behind, failed to fulfil not only others expectations, but worse, the ones I had crafted for myself.
Next week I’m turning 20, and instead of the excitement I once thought I’d feel (the joys of autonomy) I’m really scared. I wish I could go back to that hospital room, that prison where everything was decided for me and nobody expected anything until later, crawl back to my cot where simply smiling was impressive. When perfection is something you can’t bear to live without, the future is a scary place to go, especially when you’ve built it up for yourself so much.