The Anonymous Diner

I watched a woman break it apart.
The crisp crust crackled, the soft dough murmured, and it’s woven folds were torn to pieces. Crumbs were cast across the room, landing thunderously onto the tabletop, the floor, in her lap. Silver steam rose from the loaf’s open pores.
She held a fragment between two fingers, and suspended it above a dish of gleaming oil.
Then she lowered it in, and the bread yellowed. Bubbles of balsamic vinegar crept into it’s sodden fibres: black fireworks punctured the frayed shred.
She made the bread an accessory. It was a tool in her conversation, a prop in the performance of social eating.
She began to dunk and swirl it in the thick dressing; round and round, up and down, one two three. When she lifted it out, a golden thread dropped delicately from it’s pillowy edges.
She was in complete control of that food, and I was morbidly enthralled.
Suddenly, she devoured it. I had to turn away.

Anonymous can smell fear.
She transforms rich aromas of spice and substance into a stench of indulgence, and haunts me with it.
Food became a torturous confrontation: the sight was grotesque; the sound threatening; the touch painful and the taste denied. The smell was what concerned Anonymous the most: it was a temptation she needed to control.
If I can smell food, she tells me I am too close to it. Surely, the calories will melt into my skin, and fat diffuse through my nostrils.
The closer I am to food, the more real the threat to my nose and face and body.
The closer it gets, the more it becomes less of an object, and more of an experience.

For other people, food enriches but doesn’t define.
I have been numb to the crushing envy I feel when I watch people eat. I watch them explore the sensory festival laid out for them on a plate, and I ache.

My previous job as a waitress made me a slave to Anonymous.
“You’re stronger than them, you can resist.”
“Don’t let it touch you: it will ruin all we have worked for.”
“Hold your breath NOW”
“… those fumes are toxic …”
“… back away from the plate …”
“… now breathe.”

Tell me I look cute in my new uniform.
I have changed employer in body and soul.
Anonymous may be supervising, but I am trying to answer to Ellie. Ellie is fascinated by the ritual of food consumption.
Yes, the presence of food makes me nervous. The nerves are not wracked with fear this time, but with alarm at the sensory awakening I am allowing myself to be exposed to.

I felt barren of purpose following my withdrawal from university, but choosing to go back to waitressing was fuelled by more than a desire to fill time.
I need to dilute my relationship with food.
The reality is much less scary than the dream.

In this instance, I have been blessed by fate with a wonderfully fulfilling job, and the most kind and understanding work friends and managers.
I didn’t hide Anorexia during my interview: I needed them to know they were hiring three new members of staff: myself, Ellie and Anonymous.
I come out of work exhausted, but beaming.

I love my job, but it scares me.
I snuggle up to Ellie the elephant at night (remember her?), and shudder. Anonymous scares me with flashbacks to the plates piled high with nourishment. Ellie scares me when I feel her shock at the realisation at how physically weak I am. Aching arms, legs, back; aching mouth and head and gut.
I had a hunger high at work this week: I will never recall if table 11 received their main course.

I am allowed to bring my own lunch to work!
The staff are on Ellie’s side, and I now have two families to answer to: I have two families who are willing me to get better.
I refuse to let Anorexia make me a disappointment.
I am allowed breaks when I need it (I must just swallow my pride and say so); I can talk about my fears and struggles if I’m not coping; I am not expected to try any of the food I serve (which is usually required during training); I feel understood and accepted. Above all, I trust them.

The table is set for me to continue to recover.
For starters, may I offer you some good news? My heart rate has risen to 60bpm: well and truly out of the danger zone! It feels delicious.
My weight remains unpredictable and my greatest fear.
Now we must progress onto the next course.
I am waiting to take an order: but I already know Ellie wants to eat Anorexia for breakfast.

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