I chose Cambridge based on a vision.
A job offer was to be a mere threshold from which I could step out of myself, and into this new person. For a few weeks, it would all be new. A confident skin glowing with enthusiasm, one so honest and true it could mask anorexia for a few weeks.
A summer job would take me away. A breakout so violent it would shake Ellie awake for good, and make her turn time forward in her direction. The weeks away would blemish days with new things. Like acne, I’d stay awake to watch nights rupture into mornings. I’d do fun things and new things, cool things and social stuff. Escaping anorexia would redefine “things”.
It was a beautiful sight to behold.
Nights glittered with the dew of clubhouse sweat, mornings studded by efficiency and days brimming with life, friends, fun – things. Socials would wade into weekends and let the energy ripple right into Monday morning. Perhaps a love interest would bob along, perhaps a spark would jump from my mouth to a career path’s ear. Who knew? Who knew what “things” I’d encounter and claim as my own? Who knew what new “things” about myself I’d have to keep forever.
Who knew that what I had seen – what that vision had been, all those months ago – was a dream of recovery. I was dreaming of living in a recovered future.
Of course, these things are but a dream. A little pocket of calm amongst an anorexic nightmare. Still, Anonymous couldn’t quite deny Ellie the right to dream. It’s her favourite pastime.
Even in the days leading up to leaving, I hadn’t woken up. I was still indulging so much on a fantasy that my bags were bloated with glittery tops and high heels. My tennis racket waited in my suitcase for the day it would be used on a hot summer’s day. There was room in that bag to take the memory of a tennis partner home in, and the energy I’d surely have to do so. Even as I distributed Anonymous all over the flat, and let her loose to scope out where her routine would lie, I still didn’t wake up.
Only when the first staff social stomped nearby, did Ellie stir.
The details caused a disturbance in the air: punting in the afternoon followed by Pimms and strawberries on the lawn. Supper somewhere with a youthful (ie, greasy) name and then on to a pub until alcohol outstripped blood supply. My comfort zone stops long before this line of weakness. At the very invitation to such an exciting event, Ellie started to pick up and give out worrying vibes. Sticky carpets paved the way through crowds of people and clouds of calories looming in the smoky nightlife air. A whole chunk of Anonymous’ time would be handed over to another person and spread thickly, horizontal, on a punt. There, we’d be trapped. Incarcerated and subjected to an anxious few hours stuck seated, with nowhere to run but the shallow depths of the river.
Ellie still dreamt, she could still hear the utopian calls beckoning her to err on that side of the decision. The night advertised recovery in it’s fullest form. There were so many promises of interaction it would no doubt keep, in return for an Anonymous concession. Which she simply cannot give.
I couldn’t do it. Ellie woke up, and was frightened.
The staff social calendar haunts me. The happiest few weeks for a while have been stalked by the expectation that looms above me. It’s a shadow cast over the contentment I hold with solitude. I’m careful to skirt around it, and not tread on it’s toes with my big anorexic feet.
There have been meals, picnics, pub trips, punts. The events orbit food, and draw boozy blots over the summer. Things sit too close to food, and for too long in the company of inactivity. These things are too far out of my reach.
Ellie’s stomach twists with longing every time she says no. We walk together in the opposite direction, and let Anonymous be. She gets very worried if we wake her, better to let the beast lie. I always knew I’d have to choose my battles here, that I wouldn’t be able to do everything, not yet. There just hadn’t been any warning of this fact in my dream.
I’ve been starved of social interaction with anyone my own age for quite some time. Living in a quiet rural village and working with 4 year olds has it’s golden moments, but I am often foraging for them alone. When every other 22 year is out there doing things and getting things, there aren’t many people left with whom I can share what I find. So coming here has already given me ample amounts of exposure to people like me. And I’m relieved to say I really like it. I do like most people.
I’ve been so hungry for company. Only now I’ve tasted it do I realise how much so. Yet it has come, and much of the time I still don’t know quite what to do with it. How to digest something so rich, so nourishing? And how to be, how to hold myself in my generation. To recognise the bones that prop us up out of demography: that rapper, that film, that classic hit. What pray, does “reem” mean?
Aside from the obvious problems a recovering anorexic might have with socialising with people at events, there are nice gaping holes in my memory of actual human interaction. It’s not bad, but enough to make me wary.
And now, I’m hungry.
On the other side of town, all my colleagues are tucking into brunch. A staff trip to celebrate a great session and greater team. I shall allow you a little more than the excuse I scraped together for them as to why I wouldn’t be there. But please don’t expect the full picture: there are too many things in the nightmare for me to conjure into words.
Oh the hazards. Brunch trips over two meals and lands in a calorific puddle of sweaty uncertainty. The trickery that would do to my metabolism rivals the thought of what I’d be exposed to. Had I simply gone and sipped black coffee, I’d still have been there. I’d have been there in the presence of lumbering servers serving slowly. Wafts of bacon or eggs or caramelised fruit would gather in my throat and drip calories into my system. The endless chatter, however pleasant, would eat into my seat. The heavy weight of time would sit next to me and glare as an hour, possibly two, passed by with me being able to stand, or move, or exercise. There are some times in the day when this is ok. But not in the clear run of hours between breakfast and lunch. Not landed lazily between two well established mealtimes, not on top of so many other things. Not at brunch.
I won’t put myself through it. It would hurt too much. And that, I recognise, is selfish.
I should have gone, shown my face. I should have chosen other people’s desire to see me over my own to stay away. For I am Anonymous, and it makes sense to put everyone else first. Expectation is a crafty thing. It has so many mirrors.
Ellie is recovering her summer dream so convincingly one would have thought this is the best it could get. Even with Anonymous putting things all over it, my time here looks to be every bit as good as that vision.
And really, that is more than Reality had expected.