I can’t work out whether I should be going forwards or backwards.
It is as though I stepped into a strange No Man’s land when I started getting ill, and closed the door on one life without pausing to look behind me. Before is strangely barren. Afterwards is a slideshow, spiked through with memories that scream.
I thought that I had frozen when time stopped, but separation is not that clean.
These come next.
A single bed, turned horizontally through the middle of the room after another Anastasia Krupnik inspired rearrangement. One side for ‘work’, the other for ‘play’, and a night time of raging raging hunger. Screwed shut eyes and breath held imagination and the taste of lasagne. One bite at a time. First the meat; then the pasta; and then the cheese. Who needs food when you can create it in your head?
Navy blue leotards and dusty gym mats in the hall. Whispering and staring eyes, and staying at the end because I was, they said, getting very very thin.
A changing room after swimming and being late for French because they’d called me aside, when I was shivering with cold, and said that they’d be writing home. A letter, they said, because we’re getting a bit worried, and we need to say we’re concerned.
And once I’d started crying, when everyone else had got dressed and gone on, unknowingly; then it was impossible to stop, because I’d done something wrong – without really meaning to – and I didn’t understand what was going on.
Later. Going back to the memory later – after the fear had gone – because it meant I was special, and if I could just recreate the moment and hold onto it, like some warped acknowledgement. Stop. Stop. Stop. Because what kind of a person am I?
Music camp. Just before Easter. Bunk beds that felt like islands. A pot of natural yoghurt and a bag of food that my violin teacher had brought me because I “didn’t look well”. Red hot embarrassment and a feeling of failure, mingled with the loneliness of not quite fitting it. The first few lies, as it rotted at the back of the wardrobe, and an introduction to deceit that finished, a few years later, when I could no longer look her in the eye.
Backwards. Jumbo cookies in the tuck shop. Thick shortbread with a chocolate drop on top, and the feeling that I never had the discipline to say no.
Forwards. 8 O’clock in the morning. Strawberry yoghurt before school. Standing behind the toilet door waiting for the footsteps to disappear. Gagging on two fingers, because it wasn’t natural then; and the sudden relief – after the heart-racing panic – that I could make it all disappear.
Lunch time. School dinner pizzas and the careful scraping off of any cheese.
A little book of recipes, written out immaculately in a spiral bound notebook, with the fat content noted in red.
Backwards. No control, and never do what you say. Never do what you say. Never go through with it, Melissa. All talk and no action. Words, words, words.
Forwards. A radiator. Thick railings and the heat pressed up against my legs because I can not get warm. Nothing will get me warm. Ink stained school desks and thick bobbly tights, and not quite finding the energy to speak because there’s nothing to say, anymore, so please don’t try and make me –
Backwards. A physics lesson. From kilograms to newtons and the first time I’d been weighed. A passing comment – “but I can’t weigh more than you” – that loaded the gun.
Forwards. From radiator to radiator because it is impossible to get warm.
Backwards. Because they’re all thin and you’re just normal.
Forwards. Can’t get warm.
Backwards. Normal. Ordinary. Plain.
Circling – and circling – and circling -