I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I never asked for anything. I attended thousands of softball games, sweating on the sidelines, playing Tricky-Fingers in the car or re-reading novels during the long drives to traveling tournaments. So when my parents offered to let me attend Trinity Christian School in Stillwater, half an hour from our home, I didn’t even contemplate the inconvenience it would pose for my family.
Years later, I asked my sister, Jennifer, about her mental snapshots of that time in our lives. How had she experienced my eating disorder?
“One of the most aggravating things to me was how much Mom and Dad catered to you. They were grasping at anything to make you happy, anything to bribe to you eat. They were so worried about you. Specifically, the two daily round trips to Stillwater to drop you off and pick you up at school. I couldn’t understand why suddenly all of their efforts to teach us at home weren’t good enough for you.”
Even after a handful of doctor’s visits and the threat of being forced to see a therapist, my weight continued to decline. The number on the scale wasn’t so much of a big deal to me, but the daily numbers of fewer calories and more minutes moving were the gauge of my success.
I was gaining fast in my personal, anorexic challenge of disciplining myself, courting my parents’ concern and drawing the attention of others. But home was such a small playing field. I needed to be among my peers, I needed to see if I was impressive enough, pretty enough, smart enough to compete with them.
Trinity Christian School was a puny school, housed in Hillcrest Baptist Church. I started there my sophomore year. My class was a grand total of 8 students, 5 girls and three boys. Surely among such a small crowd I could make my mark, establish myself as someone worth knowing.
Every church building that I remember from my youth was a labyrinth. Long hallways with dozens of doors on each side made for great hide-and-seek, when my heart was carefree enough to play such games. Anymore, I only engaged in such activities because they burned more calories than sitting in on adult conversations.
Trinity Christian held high school classes in every room on the bottom floor of the south wing of the church. I think younger grades held classes upstairs in the same wing. We dined in the church cafeteria and used the sanctuary for drama classes.
One year, I played Jo when our class chose to perform Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I have no idea how I memorized my lines. Perhaps memorizing the caloric value of every food exercised my memory.
Only a handful of moments wedged themselves into my memory of that time. I recall lunch time. How I loathed cafeteria food. Given that our meals were prepared by plump, cheery church ladies, they probably trumped public high school lunches. By that time, I would have rather died than eat a sloppy joe, spaghetti or grilled cheese. So I packed my lunch of half a sandwich and carrot sticks. I always sat on the end of the bench.
One morning I ran out of time to pack my lunch.
“Abby, we’ve got to go. You can eat in the cafeteria just this once.”
“No, Mom. I can’t. Please, please, just let me take an apple and some Snackwell cookies.”
“That’s not lunch, Abby. Either I’m going to start packing your lunches, or you’re going to have to eat there. I’m pretty sure you haven’t been eating enough.”
I sealed my lips and marched to the garage. The drive to school was wet and seasonably cold for January. I hated these long winter days. Fatless, my muscles clenched against the cold all day long.
I fretted through Oklahoma history, Algebra and Spanish. Lunch was coming. What was on the menu? What was I going to do?
Ms. Wilson, the lunch lady, looked at me with surprise as I pushed my yellow tray down the line.
“So you decided to try my cooking? I’m glad, Honey. Tell you what, you look like you could use some meat on your bones. How about an extra spoon of tots?”
I chomped my tongue to keep from screaming at her, “I don’t eat tots! I don’t want to try your food and you can’t make me eat!” Defiant, I kept the rage inside, smiled hollowly and drifted to my usual table.
Suddenly an idea presented itself between my anxious thoughts.
“Hey Anna, don’t we have a biology quiz next period?”
“I completely forgot until just now. I’m going to head on to class and try to study just a bit.”
“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” Anna was small all the way around. At least three inches shorter than me, she had shiny, light brown hair and dimples. She kept Brandon, the cutest of the three boys in our class, dangling by a thread, pining for her. Anna’s breasts always pushed the buttons of her regulations blouse. Trinity’s dress code seemed ridiculously strict. I had lost every curve and cushion that had begun to blossom in my adolescent body a mere three years before.
“I’m not hungry really. I forgot to pack my lunch too, and I’m not a fan of tater-tots.”
“Pass it this way,” Brandon suggested.
“Sure.” That was less obvious than throwing it all away.