Epilogue – Bulimia

By Lindsay Tang

“Even though I’m finished with bulimia, it isn’t finished with me. I quit my bulimic habits over a year ago, but the health and social problems that came with my eating disorder still haunt me today”.

Being supervised by my thirteen-year old sister is weird because I’m one and a half times her age. It’s weirder that she’s supervising me going to the bathroom. Well, ok, she’s actually just waiting outside the stall. But I knew she would follow me, I knew she would wash her hands, and I knew she would linger. So I use the bathroom, open the door, and she’s just standing there casually. “What are you doing?” I ask, even though I know.

“Just waiting for you.”

“Oh. Ok.” And I’m not supposed to be mad at all, even though the situation is awkward and I can’t get any privacy when I’m just using the bathroom. It irritates me that this doesn’t happen when I go before lunch.

Rewind to late May when I’m so near death, I can brush it with my eyelashes. Jon and I are competing to lose weight and I can’t shake off his “It’s ok if you don’t lose as much weight as me, Lindsay; after all, I’m a guy” statement. I don’t like losing anything except for weight, twenty pounds of which disappears in a month and a half. But ten pounds in, it’s not about beating Jon’s ass and winning the $200 bet anymore. I stop wanting to look thinner. I start needing to look thinner.

I could look so amazing if I keep this up. I’m convinced, though, that it isn’t enough to just keep exercising and scraping by on water, hard-boiled egg whites, and salad (which is actually just lettuce and tomatoes…no dressing, croutons, or even corn because there are too many carbs in that). If I want to be tinier with every glance in the mirror, I’ll need a better strategy. So I become a double-barreled bulimic; I’m the purging type and the non-purging type. Purging is just a pleasant way of saying “self-induced vomiting.” It isn’t pleasant at all but people are convinced that I eat. Non-purging, also called exercise bulimia, is when I sweat off what little I’ve eaten and more. One website calls it “secretly vomiting,” but I think of it as added insurance.

I recommend bulimia for anyone self-deluded enough to ignore feeling like shit all the time. This bottle of aspirin must be full of placebos because my headaches won’t go away. The doctor is insane; I’m not overrunning and my knee and hip pains can’t be early signs of arthritis. My esophagus isn’t corroded. My voice isn’t raspy. I can keep getting away with this. It’ll be worth it. I feel fine. I’m not bulimic. And now I’m wailing my confession to Jon about having two types of bulimia and how much work it is to hide it and how I’m scared about not getting my period this month and I hate myself for developing bulimia in the first place and I need to stop it and I know I cheated and I’m sorry but I need to back out. And he says that’s fine. We’ll fix it together. Plus, he misses pizza.

For the next month, I only eat with Jon so he can be sure I relearn to eat healthfully. At first, I feel criminal for only exercising once a day and eating food that I can taste, but my complaints are short-lived.

It’s the end of July and I’m driving with Kelli. Kelli knows I helped stuff Jesse McCreery’s mailbox with defective donuts from the Krispy Kreme dumpster. I’m the only person she told when she backed into another car’s side door. Secrets are only fun if you have a best friend to share them with.

There’s a lull in the conversation before she says, “You never told me who won that thing between you and Jon.”
The saltiness of my fingertips floods my tongue and tickles my throat. “I called it off.”

“Really? Why?”

Shit. Lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, don’t lie, why would you lie to your best friend, lie, lie, don’t lie, lie. “Because I became bulimic.”

“Oh Lindsay.” She turns her head from the road and looks right at me.

I’ve never heard Kelli say my name in a disappointed tone before. “But I’m ok now. Really! Jon and I worked through it and I’m fine.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. I believe you.”

Good. “Good.”

There are times when you should be honest. That wasn’t one of them.

Kelli calls the next afternoon and asks me to come outside because she’s parked on my driveway. She starts sobbing when she sees me. Crap. She says that she cried all day yesterday while researching bulimia and calling eating disorder hotlines. She doesn’t understand why I have a negative body image. She insists that I don’t need to lose weight. She is scared for me.

I am beyond pissed. Didn’t I tell her that I was fine? Why didn’t she believe me?

“Lindsay, you have to tell your parents.”

WHAT? “What? Why! It isn’t even a problem anymore. I don’t want them to worry over something that’s in the past.”

“I know, but they need to know.”

“No. No they don’t, actually.”

“Lindsay, if you don’t tell them, I’m telling them.” Shit. “If something happens to you and they find out I knew, I won’t be able to live with that. ” Since when was this about you, Kelli? “I’ll give you time to tell them. If you don’t do it within that timeframe, I’ll tell them. But don’t worry, I’ll warn you before I do it.”

You’ll warn me? Are you trying to strike a deal with me? I knew I should have lied.

“Fine.”

“I’m doing this for your own good, Lindsay. You’re my best friend and I care about you.” I don’t feel myself hug her back. Fuck you. If you really cared, you’d let it go.

Kelli never brings the subject up again. I forget about the incident and figure she has too. The “your-time-is-up-so-I’m-telling-on-you” ultimatum disintegrates into an empty threat. See, Lindsay, you can trust your friends.
I go back to school in September and don’t come home until October ends. I lost a few pounds by eating healthier and my family is happy for me. On the way to the airport that Sunday afternoon, my dad says, “You look great, honey, really, you do.”

That was random. “Thanks.”

“Uh, ok. This probably isn’t the best time to bring it up, but I need to ask. You didn’t lose weight by being bulimic, did you?”

Oh my God. “She TOLD you?”

“Lindsay, don’t be mad at her. She was really scared to tell me and your mom.”

I’m not mad at her. I’m furious at her. “When was this?”

“Right before you guys left for school.”

“And?”

“Well, she called and said she had something important to tell us. Your mom and I went to her house that night; I think you were out somewhere. Anyway, we went there and she was sitting in the living room with her parents. Kelli was crying because she wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing. She didn’t want to lose your friendship. It took her ten minutes to finally tell us.”

I’m crying too now, but not out of sympathy for Kelli. “What did you guys do?”

My dad’s tone of voice is still calm. “I didn’t want to believe it. Your mom didn’t say anything.”
I’m thankful when they let me walk through security with sunglasses on. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving anymore.

My parents have stayed together for me and my sister, but they still act like they’re divorced. They won’t stand next to each other in the few pictures they both agree to be in. Conversations between them inevitably become arguments. The word “your” is always bitterly emphasized when they say “your mom” or “your dad.” I don’t remember the last time they kissed, hugged, or smiled at each other. I didn’t want my parents to find out about my eating disorder and blame each other for it; they fight enough already.

“It’s your fault that Lindsay turned bulimic! You always pushed her too hard!”

“I did NOT push her too hard! I just wanted my daughter to grow up strong!”

“It didn’t matter if she was valedictorian or tennis team captain or a concert pianist or whatever! She was just never good enough for you.”

“At least I wasn’t babying her all the time like you were! It was your coddling that made her cave like that!”

Although I’ve accepted their chronically loveless marriage, it still hurts to hear my name involved in it. I doubt Kelli meant to give my parents another thing to argue about, but it’s easy to blame her anyway.

Even though I’m finished with bulimia, it isn’t finished with me. A common side effect that I suffer from is gastroesophageal reflux disease, where my gag-reflex fires involuntarily and my stomach contents come back up. This looks incredibly suspicious to people who know I have a history with bulimia.

I’m window-shopping with my mom after dinner one night when my stomach muscles tighten. Oh shit, not now. I squeeze my lips together right as liquefied pork loin and asparagus spill into my mouth. As she’s pointing out some copper cookware, I snatch the two-second opportunity to spit while she’s still distractedly eyeing that kettle. My mom is staring at me when I turn back around. “What was that?”

Damn. “Nothing.” She’s suddenly finished talking.

I’m looking at Christmas ornaments with my dad and sister a few days later. I can’t decide if this one is a gingerbread man or a really tan starfish when my stomach tightens again. This time is worse, though, because my stomach is empty of anything except acid. I imagine this is what it would be like to iron the inside of my throat with a pair of flaming soccer cleats.

I’m bent over like I’m trying to cough my throat out onto the floor (which I wouldn’t have minded) as the scorching gets worse and I’m pretty sure everyone in the store is staring by now so I’m scrambling outside because I saw a water fountain on the way in. Of course, the fountain doesn’t work. Fuck. I’m trying to calm down by taking deep breaths but the frozen air ironically makes the burning worse so I attempt to casually stroll into a nearby Johnny Rockets to ask in a horrifyingly raw voice for a glass of water. The girl smiles because she thinks I’m a chain smoker but fills a cup anyway and I thank her while trying to control myself because I’d gladly drink all 32 ounces in one gulp but I don’t want to look like a nut so I take a sip and step outside before downing the whole thing. My throat cools but it’s still itchy. My dad and sister are asking what happened and I say I coughed up acid, so we get ice cream to neutralize it. I claw maniacally at a frozen cylinder of Phish Food with a flimsy plastic spork the whole way home, where I finally microwave the block into submission. I’m halfway done when my stomach protests the unexpected influx of food by sending the ice cream back up (at least it doesn’t burn) and I’m running again, except this time to the nearest toilet.

Winter break then becomes a laborious game of avoiding anything that could make me look like I’m still bulimic. I don’t eat too much because I’ll vomit. I don’t eat too little because I’ll seem anorexic. I’m afraid of soda because burping can trigger refluxes. I snack on Tums between meals. Nothing sharp comes near my hands because cuts can be misinterpreted as bite marks. My workouts are light so I won’t lose weight. You may think that even if my parents didn’t know I used to be bulimic, they would still notice my reflux disorder. This is true but having unexplained gastroesophageal reflux disease is less worrisome than having it because of bulimia.

Kelli and I exchange Christmas gifts one night. I haven’t told her that I know she snitched on me, but she probably figured because I’ve barely spoken to her over the past two months. As she turns to leave, she asks, “Are we ok?”

No. “Yeah.”

“Oh. Ok.” She emails me the next day asking again and even though I know I should call, I just email her back. I insist it was unfair that she didn’t warn me and, in spite of her good intentions, my parents deserved to hear it from me or at least with my consent. I tell her I’ve lost my parents’ trust. I tell her she’s lost mine. I tell her not to respond because I will never believe anything she says again.

Kelli’s letter arrives at the end of January. The envelope reads “You don’t have to read this right now. You can open it tomorrow, next year, or in ten years. Just please don’t rip it up.” The letter lives under a stack of notebooks for a month.

Jon is watching me tear it open because I don’t want to be alone if I get upset. I don’t need to read the letter to know what it says. She’s sorry for lying from the start because she was never going to warn me. Her mom said I would understand if she told my parents. She’s sorry her mom was wrong about that. She hopes I can get over my body image problems and live a healthy life. She wishes me the best.

I’m still mad when I finish reading. Jon asks if it’s a good idea for me to end our friendship when she was just trying to help. I’m irked further and insist that I’m not going to talk to her for a while. Jon turns back to his laptop.

Brian makes the consensus official later that night. As my best guy friend, my boyfriend minus the romance, I call with the expectation that he’ll side with me like always. But he doesn’t respond when I finish. I’m afraid that I’ve created another Kelli situation. It’s useless, but I tell him not to worry anyway.

“I can’t help but worry, Lindsay.”

Not again. “I know, but you have to trust me on this. Kelli didn’t trust me and look how that turned out.”

“Are you sure you’re being fair? She was just trying to help.”

How do I always end up being the bad guy? I have no comeback and I’m tempted to hang up. “I know, ok?! I know!! But I’m fine; I wouldn’t be telling you this if I wasn’t, right?”

“I guess.” He’s silent. I decide to be silent from now on too.

The fear of alienating more people keeps me quiet. I can’t talk about it without getting mad because everyone thinks I’m being irrational for resenting Kelli. No one ever fails to mention that she was “just doing the right thing.” Yes, I already know that so CAN YOU JUST LET ME BE MAD NOW?? I’m mad that everyone is defending her. I’m madder that I’m not allowed to be mad.

I’m more frustrated than grateful that everyone is too concerned to trust me. I’m supposed to accept my regression to infancy. Babies wear diapers and require constant supervision because it’s not Lindsay’s fault that she can’t control her bulimia. I ask my dad why no one believes me when I say I’m not bulimic. He says they do believe me; they’re just making sure I’m ok. So no one believes me.

I despise the pity. I doubt that Kelli told anyone, but I flip through a mental yearbook anyway to vote for “Most Likely to Ask Me About It” at our high school reunion. I can already feel them placing their condescending hand on my shoulder as they whisper, “So I heard about your thing with bulimia,” to me like I’ve already died. I hate that I only hear the word “weight” when it is spelled w-a-i-t because people think I’ll relapse if the subject comes up. I’m even more insulted when I’m told that I “look fine” and that I’m “already beautiful just the way [I am].” When did I say I was fat? Bulimia didn’t blind me from reality. I’m not delusional and I can make accurate judgments. No one understands that “bulimic” is not a synonym for “mentally unsound.”

I’m reading the millionth “How I Overcame My Eating Disorder” story that I’ve read this year. Just like the others, it goes like this:

1. I was the fat kid and everyone made fun of me
2. I developed a negative body image
3. I became anorexic/bulimic/both
4. I was hospitalized after letting it go too far
5. I love my body now and I don’t own a scale and I eat whatever I want and life is normal again

It pisses me off that they all sound like that. It pisses me off that they all end like that. I hurl the magazine at the ground.

Writer Lindsay Tang is currently studying sociology and journalism at the University of
California, Los Angeles.

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