A Quick Note About “Missing Peace”

Dear Readers, 

I have deeply appreciated your comments and encouragement as I have posted the beginning chapters of my coming memoir, Missing Peace. 

As per my agent’s suggestion, I will not be posting any additional chapters. We want to get this published! Consider it a teaser! 

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Missing Peace, Chapter 15: “Failure to Drive”

Three months at Remuda set me behind the power curve of normal teenage life. Add to the list of my insufficiencies the fact that I celebrated my 16th birthday in a hospital and now I was two months late taking my driver’s test.

Dad had instated a rule long before any of his girls turned 16: No one gets her driver’s license until she learns to drive a standard transmission vehicle.

Months before, in November, I had mastered the clutch, taken driver’s ed and passed the test with flying colors. Dad remained true to his promise and drove me to take the written and practical tests the first weekend after I got home.

“Are you ready?” he asked as we shut the door from the house to the garage.

“I hope so,” I replied. “But I’m happy to let you back out of the garage anyway.” I grinned sheepishly.

My only pre-license driving disaster occurred as I tried to back the truck out of the storage shed. The passenger mirror caught on the garage door frame, bending it backward and leaving a long scar in the paint. The kicker was that Dad had just sold the vehicle and the new owners were on their way to pick it up.

“My pleasure.”

Dad put the white Honda Civic, the truck’s replacement, in gear and released the emergency brake. He backed out, then climbed out into the sunshine to trade me seats. I settled into the driver’s seat and took a deep breath. I don’t think I exhaled, feeling the tension inside me mount like an overfilled balloon.

Our driveway was almost a quarter mile long, gravel, framed by end-to-end railroad ties.  A few years earlier, I had helped Daddy lay all those railroad ties. He was a big do-it-yourselfer. His determination and ingenuity employed my sisters and me quite a bit, and served us well.

It was another mile or so down the main dirt road before we came to the first turn onto pavement. Highway 86 was the artery of my family’s social life. It connected our small town of Perry to Stillwater where we went to church, shopped at the nearest Wal-Mart, and where I attended Trinity Christian School.

I pulled into the parking lot at the testing location. It was near the airport and my friend Amy’s house, so I felt comfortable having been there dozens of times before. I parked in front of the nondescript brick building and followed Dad, ducking under his arm as he held the door. Within seconds, I was seated at an old fashioned school desk facing the first test I had seen in months.

“That was easy!” I wiped my sweaty hands on my shorts as soon as I finished. “How long do you think we’ll have to wait to take the driving part?”

“Let’s go, young lady.”

I turned to see a hefty, brusque woman already glaring at me impatiently. She had ridiculously long, artificial nails painted dark blue. A strand of gray, messy hair was caught between her face and glasses.

I tried to be cheery, “Hi.” Wordlessly, she handed me the keys, “Thanks.”

I backed out of the parking lot, drove through Amy’s neighborhood and parallel parked on the side of the road between two trash cans. The woman never said a word, but made a few indecipherable notations on a legal pad. I focused on the road and tried not to look over at her scratchings.

Finally, she pointed in the direction of the testing facility. Relief flooded me. I was almost done. One hundred yards from the entrance, a tiny hill, really a bump, was the only thing between me and my last left turn.

As my front tires crested the bump, I saw a pickup truck coming toward us. Quick calculations ran through my head, The speed limit is only 30 mph, plenty of time. Deftly, I turned the wheel left and coasted into a parking space.

Dad wasn’t waiting outside. He’d found the most recent copy of AOPA (Associate of Private Aviators) among the sparse reading material left for bored parents in the waiting room. Nervously, I unbuckled and stepped from the car.

“Nice job.” The woman still couldn’t smile. “You maintained the correct speed limit and parallel parked beautifully.”

My hopeful smile began to stretch into a sloppy, deliriously happy grin.

“However, you should have waited for that truck to pass before you turned into the testing facility. I’m going to recommend you come back in two weeks and take the test again.”

My heart crashed through my feet and dissolved on the pavement between me and this terribly mean woman. Humiliated, I accepted the piece of paper where she had written her suggestions. Through my swelling tears of disappointment, I saw a paper on which she had scrawled a big, fat “F” across my best efforts.

I hated to go inside the building. I knew Dad would read my face before I had a chance to explain. Fortunately, he noticed us talking and came outside.

“Mr. Blades, your daughter did very well except for one mistake. As I told her, I am going to ask her to come back and test again in two weeks.” With that, she shuffled inside. I noticed the large sweat stain on the back of her shirt as she left. It disgusted me.

Daddy was kind enough to accept the keys and drive home in silence. How I hated to go home and explain to the rest of the family that I had failed.

Missing Peace, Chapter 13, Extension

Keri looked like a bleary water color painting through my tears. Long blond hair, hung like a pale sheet to her shoulders.

I never noticed how plump her cheeks are, I mused. I don’t want to look like that! How on earth am I supposed to trust a fat therapist?

I wedged my hands between my bony buns and the seat cushion. The woven material left checkered marks on my palms. My fingers felt wooden, like fine branches on a winter tree, brittle and dead. Keri’s office was always 71 degrees, but I was so cold. My dietician, Cheryl, said that I was because I had no fat for insulation, I just needed to fill out a little.

Despite the chill, my belly burned with anxiety. Heat crept up my throat and dried my tongue. I dreaded these conference calls with my parents. It was terrible trying to decipher the inflection in their voices. Dad always sounded put-out or resigned. Was Mom on the edge of tears? Perhaps they’d rather be doing anything else. I was such an imposition.

Jenny and my folks left three weeks earlier at the conclusion of our Truth in Love week. Nothing had changed. Within hours of their departure, I believed again that they didn’t want or need me.

Safely out my sight, buckled into stiff airplane seats, surely they had commiserated. “Well, I’m glad that’s over,” I had imagined my dad saying.

“She still looks too thin. I don’t know if she’ll be ready to come home in a few more weeks,” Mom replied.

I never thought this day would come; slightly more than a week away from my original discharge date. But what if I couldn’t go home?

Keri and I stared at each other across her desk. She had that aggravating, steady, therapist-gaze of a person fully zipped up internally, leaking no emotion, giving away no sentiments. Keri had the perfect poker face. I knew she cared about me, she had said so. But I was just one of her five patients, part of her job.

“Barry and Janis, are you there?” Keri spoke into the speakerphone on her desk.

My parents’ voices crackled across the miles from Oklahoma to Arizona. “We’re here,

Keri.” Dad was always brief and to-the-point during conference calls.

I took a deep breath to quell my earlier sobs and suck back my tears. The taste of an abominable lunch, chicken nuggets, canned peaches and celery, clung to my taste buds. Lard seemed to be oozing through my pores; I watched my thighs flatten wide and fat against the seat.

“One less-healthy meal every now and then won’t hurt you.” Shani had tried to assure the eight girls at her table. “I promise.” Then dug into her lunch with pleasure. Like tortured prisoners, we followed suit.

“Abby, are you there?” Mom’s voice was slightly warmer than Dad’s.

Oh how I wished she would come rescue me. I wanted to bury my chin in her shoulder and inhale her mom-scent, a mixture of Amber Romance from Victoria’s Secret and the fading fragrance of Scruples’ coconut conditioner.

“MmmHmm.”

Keri’s office smelled antiseptic, belying the homey decor. I grabbed her neon pink Kush ball and twisted my fingers through the sticky, slimy tentacles. Adult voices echoed in an alien language around me. Insurance, doctors’ notes, insignificant issues to my teenage mind. I picked the legs off of the Kush ball and wound them around my fingers watching my fingertips turn blue.

“Abby was unable to gain the suggested three pounds since our conversation just over a week ago.” Keri’s announcement of my failure brought me back to reality. “Because of her slow weight gain, her treatment team is suggesting an extension of her stay here at Remuda Ranch.”

Silence.

In my mind, Mom stepped out of the bedroom with the cordless phone so that she could see my dad tethered to the landline in the kitchen. He rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, palms up in resignation. Mom blinked on a tear, tilting her chin up to keep the waterworks dammed behind her eyelids.

“Abby?”

Bile surged in my throat. As much as I wouldn’t have minded being rid of lunch, I couldn’t throw up. Then, they would accuse me of being bulimic and I’d never leave The Ranch.

“Whatever,” I managed. “It doesn’t matter what I want. You guys are calling all the shots anyway and what I think doesn’t really matter.”

The tension of suppressed sobs pushed tiny hiccups through my lips. I couldn’t hold it back much longer.

 

Sweet Sixteen, Chapter 12

Before you begin, I beg you to remember that this is the first and roughest draft of my fledgling memoir. Please read gracefully, knowing that it has not been fully edited. And by all means feel free to offer comments and suggestions.
Lastly, I’m still in flux as to the title. I welcome any ideas!!

Sweet Sixteen

Love is:

The purpose for living

Important to express

A hug, a kiss

Forgiveness

A compliment

Caring

More than a feeling

Healing

What you want to focus on

The solution

Peace and joy

Priceless and invaluable

Free and abundant

The shining light that guides us

###

The Truth in Love is a critical component of treatment at Remuda. It’s staged at the halfway point, 30 days into an adolescent’s minimum stay of 60 days. Parents and family members who play a significant roll in a patient’s life are invited to The Ranch for one week. It’s a time for family counseling, large group therapy and a chance for the patient to practice healthy behaviors in their family environment.

My family shared a week with three other families. Each family was given one day that week to have their Truth in Love. The rest of us sat in a circle around them, offering emotional support, solidarity and praying to learn something we could apply to our own story.

Each patient’s personal therapist directed their family’s conversation. Similar to a twelve step program, we made lists of offenses and amends. Then, according to Ephesians 4:15, we tried to share our feelings truthfully, but gently and in love.

Throughout the first month of treatment, Keri and I discussed the family dynamics that had contributed to my eating disorder. Once a week, we had conference calls with my parents, and often my sister, Jennifer was included. As our week approached, Keri suggested that Jennifer join my parents when the came to Arizona.

“I think Jenny plays a big role in all of this,” Keri tread lightly. “Remember, the eating disorder isn’t anyone’s fault. But because Jenny and Abby are so close in age, I think it will be really helpful if she’s here to be a part of this.”

Keri stressed that no one was at fault, it was simply the way we perceived each other, just the way things were. But, at the time, it seemed so easy to play the victim and pin blame on someone for making me act out through anorexia. As I made my lists of offenses and amends to share with Mom, Dad and Jennifer, I faced the impossible question: What caused me to develop an eating disorder?

My Truth in Love was scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, the day after my birthday. Dad, Mom and Jennifer flew into Arizona late Sunday night. I hardly slept. What if they were put out having to come here to help me? What if they were exasperated that my brokenness cost them money, time and energy? What if they didn’t want to be here? And worst of all, what if this was wasted, and I couldn’t get this recovery thing right?

I was grateful that Monday breakfast was always a bran muffin, cottage cheese, canned peaches, peanut butter and milk. It was a relatively “safe” meal for me, and satisfied my required exchanges of three bread, two meat, two fruit, two fat and one milk. The butterflies in my stomach were able to focus solely on the arrival of my family and not worry about breakfast.

Did they remember it was my birthday, my 16th birthday? Or had my family forgotten since for a full month they hadn’t had to be aware of me. Maybe I was a non-issue in the Blades family by now.

“Abby, as soon as you’re finished, can you come to the med window, honey?” Evelyn, my favorite nurse waved at me from the edge of the dining room.

“Am I in trouble,” I mouthed. She shook her head and disappeared back around the corner.

I liked Evelyn because she had mastered the art of being everyone’s mother. She was the supreme comforter when you had to eat all of your fat exchanges in one sitting because you had declined them earlier in the day. She was the one who would rub your back in lazy circles while you cried yourself to sleep.

Evelyn was part Hispanic. Neither too heavy nor thin, she always wore light purple scrubs and smelled like lavender. Everything about her was soft, from her deep, black eyes, to her wavy, untamed hair to her large, capable hands.

Evelyn daughter named Shani who was also a nurse at Remuda. Shani was still in school and didn’t plan to make Remuda her career as her mother had. But she was as spunky as Evelyn was maternal. Her right ear had eight piercings, including the tragus, which made her all the more daring and edgy to me.

Usually, no matter who finished first, everyone at the table waited for the slowest person to suffer through their last bite. Thankfully, Shani was our table monitor that day. With a slight nod, she released me to go find out what Evelyn wanted.

“Surprise!”

The shout came from in front of and behind me. Standing in the same hall where I had first entered Remuda, before the med window where I had first seen Alicia, stood both my parents and my sister.

“Happy Birthday!”

This time the shout only echoed from behind me as I buried my face in Mom’s familiar black jacket. All the girls, still dutifully planted in front of their plates, turned and shouted again, “Happy Birthday!”

Jenny stood next to Daddy holding a heart shaped mylar balloon that proved they hadn’t forgotten my special day. Daddy reached to hug me next.

“Happy sixteenth, kiddo,” he whispered into my hair. “I love you. When you get home, we’ll get your driver’s license first thing.”

I pulled back and grinned at him. “Really?”

“Yep! But we did bring something for you today, too.”

I broke loose from Dad and threw my arms around my little sister. In those minutes, it seemed impossible that I had ever doubted their love for me. It seemed crazy that I might accuse these wonderful people of making me sick. Of course they loved me!

“Come on in here, Abby.” Evelyn beckoned me into the dining room. “Bring your family in here so we can meet them!”

“I heard them say they brought you a gift! We want to see it, too. Open it! Open it!” Alicia bounced lightly in her chair, and for once no one shushed her or accused her of trying to burn extra calories.

I took a light blue bag from Mom’s out stretched hands. No one in our family does elaborate gift wrapping, but Mom can do a great curly ribbon bow. I grabbed a butter knife from the table and sawed through the white ribbon. Beneath wads of crushed, voluminous tissue paper, I found a small jewelry box.

I laughed, “Is someone proposing?”

I lifted the box from its cocoon of paper and pried it open. A huge aquamarine, my birthstone, gleamed from the crease in the box.

“I bought that stone and a topaz just like it in the Brazil on my last business trip,” Dad said. “I had them set in identical settings, this one for you and the topaz for your mom.”

“It’s gorgeous, Daddy! Thank you, thank you!”

“Oh, and we can’t forget these,” Mom pulled a large manila envelope from her purse. “These are all the birthday cards from your church friends, school friends, grandparents and everyone else. See, you’re unforgettable.”

I heard the truth in Mom’s words. For that day, I believed her. The lie would resurface; it was one of my grievances or offenses listed for the Truth in Love tomorrow.

I feel unimportant.

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Compliant, Missing Peace Ch. 11

My first visit to Remuda overlapped with Alicia’s third. Like an old pro, she led me around the facilities.

“This is the main house.” She swept her right in an arc around her, while her left continued to steady the pole where her feeding tube kept a life-giving vigil. “We eat here in the dining room, and then through that wide entryway, is the everything else room. Every morning, we have chapel in there, but during the day, it’s more of a den with the TV in the corner, comfy couches and board games.”

I stood with my toes hanging over the small step down into the den. Three telephones lined the far well. So much for privacy when you call home. Alicia moved on. Later I would marvel at what psychiatrists call her ability to disassociate. Pieces of her story came out slowly. On the spectrum of maturing experiences, Alicia had lived ten lives compared to mine.

At twelve years old, she stood no taller than four feet. She had wide, round stars for eyes, bright, spicy and alert. They belied the trauma of her short life. As early as three years old she had been physically abused by various men in her family. By age five, she refused to eat. Each time she had been to Remuda Ranch, she had stayed until insurance quit paying, then until her parents could no longer afford it. The third time, she was there on the support of an anonymous donor.

“And if you’re lucky enough to be allowed to exercise at all, three nights a week some of the girls do line dancing in there, or a Richard Simmons aerobics video. I’m not allowed to participate, but it’s almost more fun to laugh at them.”

The main lodge served as the hub of all life for the forty women and girls at Remuda. It was an expansive, cheery place. A serving bar, like the one in my grandma’s kitchen separated the dining room from the kitchen. The cooks were the plumpest, kindest people in the world. With forty women eating three meticulously portioned  meals and snacks everyday, their job never ended.

Heather came to Remuda three weeks after I got there. Her story was similar to Alicia’s, but she was thirteen and her eating disorder had only begun three months before. Heather was not at a dangerously low weight, but excessive purging had already torn her esophagus and her heart had begun to flutter irregularly. Depression haunted her eyes, and anger. Deep gray, they still creased with a ready smile, but storms raged below the surface.

Heather was never aggressive or violent toward anyone else, but she was on suicide watch from the day she arrived at The Ranch. For some reason, she took to me. Her assumption of my courage bolstered my own recovery. Sick, frail and shipped off, I believed that my role as big sister in my family was only another place where I had failed.

One night, the nurse came to my door, tapped a few times and then shook me awake. “Abby, wake up. Honey, Susan caught Heather with a razor blade in the bathroom. She is up at the nurses’ station now, she is going to sleep on the cot up there. But she’s really upset and is asking for you.”

I knelt on the floor next to Heather’s cot for the next three hours. My bony knees dug into the wooden floor. For once, I wasn’t the broken one. I basked in the joy of being asked for, needed. I belong here, I thought. Everyone wants to live in a world where they are necessary.

###

I determined to be a “compliant” during my stay at Remuda. It seemed the only logical way to be discharged in a reasonable amount of time. Compliants were those girls who cleaned their plates at every meal, among other things.

Each girl met individually with a dietician and medical doctor to determine her dietary needs. Based on the diabetic exchange lists, every meal was tailored for each girl so that she received a precise weight of meatloaf, or exactly 1/3 of a cup of mashed potatoes, or 1/4 of a bran muffin, or five hard boiled eggs. If a girl refused even the smallest portion of her meal, she had to drink its equivalent in Ensure.

The consequences were nonnegotiable. Dani, a tall, exotic looking girl, once sat at the table for four hours between lunch and dinner because she refused to eat her chicken nuggets. At dinner time, she was still staring at an Ensure supplement, carefully supervised by a nurse.

I was there during the final weeks of the spring semester, so as a compliant, I dutifully met with the resident tutor and completed all the homework assignments forwarded to me by concerned teachers. I worried about going back to school.

Compliance also meant attending twice weekly, one-on-one meetings with my personal therapist, Keri. On a well-refined rotating schedule, all of girls at Remuda participated in didactics, classes focused on the practical aspects of learning to function and eat again in society. We also had body image sessions and art classes.

Julynn was the body image therapist. As much as I despised her workshops, Julynn was impossible to hate. Barely five feet tall, she sported a wind-swept, short blond hair style. Her eyes were slate gray and with a knack for accessories, she highlighted her high cheekbones with a variety of glasses frames. She was perfect to lead body image classes; if any girl could imagine herself normally sized, she would be thrilled to look just like pretty, petite Julynn.

“You’re going to love body image this week,” said Karen, an older woman who was on a different class rotation that I was. She sounded sarcastic. “Just wait.”

I walked into Julynn’s office under a cloud of foreboding. Alicia was right behind me, telescoping her feeding pole out of the golf cart that transported all of the girls whose health was considered to precarious to walk the grounds. I waited for her.

“Hi girls,” Julynn grinned looking up from last minute notes. “Are you ready to work?”

“Not really,” I mumbled.

“What are we doing, Julynn? I’ve heard rumors that it’s awful.” So Alicia had heard the same warning.

“Today we’re doing body tracings,” Julynn stood and pulled a giant roll of butcher paper out from under her desk.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope, as soon as Dani, Shelly and Jenn get here, we’ll get started.”

“You’re going to need double-wide butcher paper for me,” Alicia voiced what we were all believing about our own bodies.

“That’s what this exercise is about,” Julynn’s smile dropped a bit of it’s brilliance. “Most women with eating disorders, and a lot who never develop eating disorders, really struggle with body dysmorphia.”

“What’s that?” Alicia asked.

“To be precise,” Julynn picked up a massive book from her desk and read, “Body dysmorphia is a type of mental illness, wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features. The person thinks they have a defect in either one feature or several features of their body, which causes psychological distress that causes clinically significant distress or impairs occupational or social functioning. Often BDD co-occurs with emotional depression and anxiety, social withdrawal or social isolation.”

“OK, I admit it,” I sought to get out of the exercise. “I’m body dysmorphic. So can I go to the art building to scribble out some aggression instead of doing a tracing?”

“Abby, why don’t you go first.” Julynn closed the door behind the last three girls.

I stretched out on the floor on top of the butcher paper. I knew I would fit. Somewhere in my rational psyche, who wasn’t quite dead, I knew I would fit. Julynn began to trace around my body. The room faded. All I could hear was the squeak of her black marker. It tickled between my fingers.

“OK. And I didn’t get any black marker on your clothes.” Julynn stood and then helped me to my feet.

Wordless, she picked up my tracing and hung it on the wall.

“Here, take the marker. Actually, there’s the box,” she said pointing to a chair nearby. “Pick any color that suits your mood. Now, I want you to write all over this picture. What thoughts or feelings come up when you look the tracing? What do you see?”

I grabbed a green marker. The therapist voice in my head, the one I was learning to imitate after so many hours of counseling told me that green was a good sign. Instead of red, indicating anger and frustration, my choice of green might show Julynn that I was happy, optimistic.

I started at my outline. What to write? I knew how this worked. A progressing compliant would write things like: Healthy, normal, loved by God and unique.

A more honest telling would reveal: Scared, fat, strange, average, not-good-enough. So I wrote a little of both.

Finally, I placed the markers back in the box. I had used red for a couple words, just so Julynn didn’t think I was lying. She smiled at me.

“I’m going to give each of your tracings to your individual therapists for processing later this week,” she said. “Jennifer, will you go next?”

 

 

Missing Peace, Chapter 10, Admit One (Only)

Susan, a perky Remuda staff member picked us up at the airport. Dad swung both of my suitcases into the back of the van, then climbed into the back seat. Irritated, I sat in the front next to Susan. The thermometer on the dashboard said it was 65 degrees.

It’s the middle of February, I thought absently, at least it’s warmer here. I tried to eavesdrop as she and Dad made small talk on the short drive to The Ranch, but despite valiant efforts I kept dozing off. My chin dropped to my chest and my head lurched violently to the side when a bump in the road jolted me awake.

“I know she’s really excited about the horses. We had a couple at home,” Dad said.

“Well, she won’t be able to go down to the barn for at least the first week,” Susan had explained. “For the first week we restrict all exercise, including walking beyond the yard, just until we have a full medical evaluation and each patient proves compliance with all the rules.”

After we turned off the last road, the gravel drive to the main lodge seemed eternally long. No trees waved, no breeze, just a blinding sun leaning toward the western horizon. Dad unloaded my bags, but Susan took the handles of both as soon as he set them down.

“I’ll help her carry them inside,” she said. “We ask that the parents say goodbye outside instead of coming into the treatment center.”

“Why?” My hope that Dad would change his mind and take me home with him was slipping away.

“It’s easier actually,” Susan said. “When we get inside we need to start the admissions process right away, let the doctor see her, check Abby into her room and dinner is in less that two hours. It’s less emotional if you can say goodbye out here.”

Five wide, sandstone steps led toward the lodge. I took the first one and turned so that I was closer to eye level with Daddy. But I couldn’t look at him. Instead, I scanned the yard. It was mostly lava rock. I recalled Daddy saying once that he wouldn’t mind having a rock yard, less maintenance. One or two cacti looked as lonely, bleak and barren as I felt.

Fear rushed into my heart, overflowing its banks and pushing the anger aside. “Daddy, don’t leave me. Please, please don’t leave.”

My usually sympathetic father kissed my forehead, drew me into his chest, whispered, “I love you,” and walked away. I watched him fold his long frame back into the van where another staff member waited to drive him to Holiday Inn for the night before he caught a 9 a.m. flight back to Oklahoma tomorrow.

“Come on, Sweetheart.” Business taken care of, a motherly side of Susan emerged. “Chad will come get your bags, let’s take you inside and get you settled in.”

Comatose, I followed her.

An eternity passed in those twenty feet to the double wooden doors that opened into the lodge. We stepped into a long, rustically decorated hallway. Along the right wall, a full length entry table held stacks of mail, each pile with a different girl’s name on it. At the far end, the entryway T’d below a waist-high window. Black, wood-burned letters above the window designated it as the nurse’s station.

A small figure leaned into the window from the outside.

“Hey! Come on it’s time for evening meds! Dani, I didn’t get my Citrucel at lunch.”

The little one had a big voice for someone so small. Lavender sweats hung from her shoulders, pooled at her ankles. I thought perhaps she was five years old. But this was an adolescent unit. No one under 12 was admitted. With a huff, the child turned around and leaned back against the window, arms crossed.

“Oh, hi!” Her friendly tone was a full octave higher than her demanding one. Chestnut colored hair swung scraggly around her face, less than half of it remaining dutifully in her ponytail.

“I’m Alicia. Are you new here?”

She moved toward me and only then did I notice the five foot metal pole that she clutched like an oversized staff in her right hand. Dangling 10 inches above her head was a large plastic bag with a tube, like an IV. It was filled with a clear fluid. The tube snaking down the pole was taped to her cheek just below her nose, then turned sharply upward and disappeared into her right nostril. I’d been threatened about feeding tubes.

Alicia rolled the rest of the way toward me and addressed Susan.

“Where are the nurses? I want my Citrucel or I’m not eating dinner. I haven’t crapped in two days.”

“I’m sure Dani will be there soon,” Susan promised. “You’re still 30 minutes too early.”

“Whatever.” Alicia turned to me. “Hi again.” She smiled a cherub smile, like the kind my youngest sister, Rachelle, gives. They light up a room and tell you that you’re the only person that matters in the whole wide world.

I wondered how on earth she could seem so instantly genuine to me, a stranger. The new girl. For a year now, I had been given sideways glances by those who first met me. A walking skeleton, everyone gawked as if I was a piece of angular modern art. Oh God, don’t let me get a feeding tube.

 

Missing Peace, Chapter 9, “Flight”

“You will never see me again!” I screamed. I knew I was running out of time as we approached the airport. “I’ll die there! I’m never coming home.”

“Abby, stop. You’re getting yourself all worked up and we have to go inside now.” My father parked the car in the dismal parking garage. Ignoring my residual choking on tears, he got out of the car and began to pull out the suitcases, careful not to get any grease on his jeans.

Daddy always looked sharp, one more thing I hated about myself. In the last several years I had become more of a freak show than an attractive daughter he could be proud of.

“Abby, get out of the car.”

I debated for a moment, but knew that I’d never win. The wildest of my tantrums were no match for Dad’s strength, but until now, at least in the battle of wills, I had triumphed. Two days ago, my parents played their trump card.

“We’ve tried everything.” My parents had me cornered in their bedroom. Mom spoke because I listened more calmly to her. “We’ve been patient while you’ve promised over and over to try. We are really, really worried about you.”

Mom’s voice broke there. Dad turned and glared at my three little sisters eavesdropping from the bedroom doorway. Then he shut the door and stepped forward. “You promised to gain weight. Over a month ago, you agreed to the ultimatum that you would gain eight pounds. You’re nowhere near that. You need help and this is not a discussion. Remuda Ranch agreed to admit you, and we need to be there the day after tomorrow.” Daddy turned and left the room.

I slumped to my knees on the floor. “Please, please, please, Mom! Don’t send me away. I can’t be gone for two months. You might as well disown me. I’ll die there!”

Daddy and I walked silently into the airport. I had begged for Mom to take me. She was more compassionate and not fully convinced that inpatient treatment was the only option for my progressing eating disorder.

Dad carried both suitcases; he knew all my tactics: Burn extra calories by carrying extra weight. That morning I had snuck in 500 jumping jacks in the bathroom and 500 sit-ups. I knew that all exercise would be forbidden when we reached the ranch.

“Is she OK?” the flight attendant eyed me suspiciously, then turned her gaze toward my dad. We had settled into row 17. Dad always sat in the aisle seat because it accommodated his 6 foot 4 frame. Perfect way to slip in character description organically. Glancing at me, Dad waited for me to answer for myself. Crying had accentuated the perpetual bags beneath my eyes, and they glared red from both anger and the effort to dam up my tears.

“Yes, she’s fine,” Dad promised. “May I get a Dr. Pepper and she’ll have an orange juice.”

As soon as the stewardess walked away, I shot Dad a look that said, “Go to hell. I’ll never drink those 120 calories and you can’t make me.”

I could tell the stewardess wasn’t the only one peering at me from behind her thick-rimmed glasses. Everyone stared at me these days; it made me feel uglier than I already did. I snugged the flimsy red airline blanket high around my neck, hoping to hide the sharp angles of my chin and my craggy, bony shoulders.

“I’m freezing.” I whispered the first civil words to my dad. I knew he wasn’t angry with me, but I prayed my tone conveyed how furious I was at him and how much he was hurting me.

In a silent gesture of love, Daddy took off his casual bomber jacket and tucked it around my shoulders. Tears that I had finally corralled when we entered the hubbub of the airport threatened to ooze down my cheeks again.

“Do you want a section of the newspaper?” He flapped the pages lightly to spread the paper open. I only ever cared to read the comics, but I resented his effort to lighten the mood. He sat rigid next to me, like a stoic sentry, guarding his captive until he could deliver me to this place I didn’t want to go.

“Is the program really 60 days?” I meant to remind Dad of how long I would really be gone.

“Sixty days is the minimum amount of time for a minor.”

“What if I gain weight faster than that?”

“It’s not just about your weight, Abby. That’s the first important thing, you can’t survive like this much longer. But you’ll meet with counselors there who specialize in eating disorders. You can’t come home and do this all over again. Do you know what it is doing to our family? Do you have any idea how your sisters feel?”

I did have an idea, but I wished I didn’t.

“Dad, this is about me! I am the one being shipped off and abandoned!” I turned to glare out the window. In my purse were three handwritten notes from my sisters. Promises that they wouldn’t forget me, that their daily lives wouldn’t go on as usual without me.

“You need to stop saying that.”

“It’s true!”

“It is not true and you know it.”

He was making an effort to keep his voice down. I, on the other hand, already knew that everyone was staring at me, the grotesque stick-figure girl, so I didn’t care who heard.

“We love you. We are only doing this because we love you.” Dad’s eyes flooded with emotion. “Do you remember what the admissions person said on the phone? Even she said that your weight is at a critical place. Abby, don’t you see? You have to eat!”

“I’m fine,” I said and turned from his tears. It was a pointless argument, but desperation was closing in around me, pressing on my chest with each second we drew closer to our Arizona destination. “I’m fine but you don’t think so because I’m making waves in your perfect, Christian family. I’ve become the problem child and you have to get rid of me. Daddy, don’t you love me anymore?”

 

Just a short note to those of you who are following my story (soon to be book, I hope) here on Predatory Lies. The book has not gone through substantial editing yet and there may still be some typos or small corrections to be made in the chapters I am copying here. Please forgive them and feel free to point them out!

Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, Missing Peace Chapter 7

I honestly don’t remember how long I saw Kathy Hoppe. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to play her. She seemed able to read my mind, sometimes to even know how I felt before I could identify my emotion.

Kathy knew why I wouldn’t eat, she said. I was trying to control things in the family. I felt overlooked and less important, talented, special or desirable than my sisters. There was too much pressure to perform as the “mature oldest daughter” that everyone thought I was. I was lonely, living in a small town having been homeschooled for so long.

On the physical level, she prescribed a nutritionist and instructed me to write down everything I ate. “And I don’t want you to do more than 30 minutes of exercise each day.”

I simply had to be smarter to beat her at her own game. Controlling Kathy’s opinion of my recovery became a new challenge, a new high. I snuck jumping jacks in after bedtime, in the dark, in the bathroom. I walked the long way around things, always stood and bounced my knee with purpose and passion.

“I really think we’re making progress,” She would say one week, while perusing my list of 2000 calorie days, only about half of which was true.

But my body betrayed me. My weight continued to decline, albeit slowly. I had taken up jazz dance because it put a time limit on my official workouts, which placated my parents and therapist. I had to get knee pads for some of the moves because my bones dug into the hardwood floor. We had one dance that finished with us laying on our backs. I got bruises on my spine.

Pretty soon Kathy started making threats too.

“I’m suggesting that Abby try an inpatient program,” Kathy told my parents during a powwow session. “What we’re doing isn’t working. Abby, I’m afraid you’re not being totally honest with us about what you’re eating and how much you’re exercising. In an inpatient program, they can monitor all the variables constantly.”

October. A month before my most dreaded holiday of the year. Our family of six left the house under a steel colored sky and drove mostly in silence toward Laurette. Laurette is the only inpatient treatment facility in Oklahoma for eating disorders. Generally, it was a psychiatric hospital; their program targeted at anorexics and bulimics was brand new.

I was numb walking through the heavy sliding glass doors behind my parents. Dad drug my small suitcase. There must have been tons of admission paperwork, but I don’t remember anything until the supervising nurse led us to my room.

All the walls in the facility were light yellow, a dull lifeless color. Fortunately, one wall was replaced by windows looking out into well cultivated gardens, with a goldfish pond.

It felt like a surreal tour of a haunted house, as the nurse led my family, her clueless captives, toward the room that was to be my whole home for the next 30 days. Doors lined the way on every side. They locked from the outside with a reverse peephole. A three digit number marked each room’s address.

“I need to go through your suitcase,” she said.

“Why? We packed according to the directions in your literature. She only has one soft-sided bag,” my dad informed her.

“Thank you for being attentive to the rules, but I need to go through it and check for anything dangerous.”

Apparently, there are numerous life threatening items that we use everyday. I watched helplessly as the nurse broke the glass out of my cosmetic compacts. I felt my dignity crack and crumble as well. She confiscated my shoe laces. Finally, she stood.

“OK. You can put all of your things in that dresser over there. After that, you will need to say your goodbyes so the doctor can do your admissions checkup.”

My eyes blurred and my hands shook as Mom and my sister, Jennifer moved all my t-shirts and jeans to the dresser. Rachelle held my hand and watched with me in silence.

Daddy drew our family into a group hug and prayed.

I don’t know what he said. My heart was saying, “Don’t leave me. Do you hate me? Won’t you miss me? How can you abandon me here? What’s going to happen to me?”

Laurette was not for me. The eating disorders program was underdeveloped so they lumped all seven of us eating disordered patients into the group therapy sessions with schizophrenics, suicide watch patients and drug addicts. I recall one high school age boy telling about a wacky drug trip he’d taken before being admitted. Another man threatened to beat the counselor with a chair.

For 72 hours I was on phone restriction. But the moment I was released for my first phone call, I held the receiver with a death grip.

“Mom, Dad,” I choked on tears. “Please don’t leave me here. I’ll do anything. I don’t belong here.”

They must have still loved me. They came to rescue me.

Flushable Fun, Missing Peace, Chapter 6

It was more than a threat.

My daily diet of peaches, rice and Snackwell’s cookies was not good enough for my mom. Neither were my promises to, “eat better tomorrow.” At their wits’ end, and the extent of their knowledge of anorexia, my parents called a counselor who specialized in treating eating disorders.

I wasn’t quite kicking and screaming as we pulled into the sparse parking lot. Kathy Hoppe’s pracitice was one of many unrelated business housed in a dime-a-dozen office buildings in the heart of downtown Tulsa. An indoor marquee directed us straight ahead to the reception area. The common area had all the foreboding of a dentist’s office, the antiseptic smell and placating posters of puppies and little girls smiling in fields of daisies. I wondered at the young model’s chubby cheeks, sucked mine in a bit.

“Hi, can you sign in please? Who are you hear to see?” The receptionist might have been anorexic herself, or just a starving college student putting herself through school working part-time in a random office building, answering random phones with a plastic smile and voice to match.

“We’re here to see Kathy Hoppe,” my mom said. “My daughter’s name is Abby Blades.”

“Just a moment. I’ll buzz her.” The receptionist slashed my name off a list in front of her, punched a four digit extension and waited.

Mom ushered me to a couple of chairs in the corner.

“I don’t want to sit,” I told her and leaned back against the wall near her. I braced my right foot against the wall, locked my left knee and shook my right heel. Burn, burn, burn. Calories accumulate at lightening speed when I sit, I’m sure.

“Hi! Abby Blades?” An amazon women appeared in doorway across the room. “I’m Kathy Hoppe, nice to meet you. Would you like to come on back to my office?”

Kathy had chin length blond hair, unmemorable hazel eyes and a warm smile. She wasn’t overweight, but she wasn’t tiny either. Anorexics notice things like that. If she had been chubby, I would have negated everything she told me on the spot. I might anyway.

“So, can you tell me a little bit about why you’re here?” Kathy motioned Mom and me to a full-sized, tan leather couch, then sat across from us in a cheap, plush chair. She crossed her legs and took up a notebook.

“Actually, first, let me clarify a few ground rules. Mom, you’ll be here with us today, but I’d like to speak to each of you individually at the end of our session for just about five minutes. Abby, because you’re a minor, I am obligated to share with your parents any information that I believe is important for your wellbeing. However, I guard your privacy with the utmost discretion. I won’t be calling your mom after every session.The first meeting went moderately well. Kathy sketched our family dynamics on a large sheet of butcher paper, noting my role as the oldest child. “Abby, you’re typical of an oldest child. You have very high performance standards for yourself. So you set rigid rule and imagine that everyone is watching you constantly, expecting you to fail. Does that sound right?”

It sounded familiar, so over the course of several months, Kathy pushed me break a few rules, loosen up and play more. On one memorable visit, Kathy instructed me to go down the hall to the main bathroom in the office building.

“I want you to unroll all the toilet paper. Spread it everywhere, have fun! Just do something crazy!”

It felt so stupid, so contrived, but I did it. I don’t recall any huge sense of expansion or relief. I merely had to do what she said to be a good patient.