“Who has to pee?”
All hands went up, including mine. We were like cattle, the herd all moving toward the front of the room. I was starting to get used to the rules here and took my place in the back of the line. This was not the worst thing about being here, I thought, absently chewing on a strand of errant hair. I didn’t mind this rule, meant to prevent anyone from puking up the meals we were forced to eat. I was not an oral ‘purger’; but knew a great deal about it, having gone to an all-girl college my freshman year. Half my dorm floor had been bulimic, their purging responsible for perpetually clogging the plumbing and halting the ability to shower regularly. My ED (i.e. Eating disorder) behavior alternated between restricting/anorexia and purging via laxatives, of which I had not partaken since being deposited here yesterday morning by my exhausted and beaten ex-husband. At this point, my 31-year-old body was still purging from the last dose that I took (15 pills around 4am), so I had yet to experience the staggering anxiety and self-hatred that comes with having food in my body, but it would come, of course. Soon, my broken digestive system would quit spitting whatever shreds of waste were left in my colon. As soon as my suffering body tried to start recovering, I’d begin punishing myself as best I could without my precious laxatives. The poisonous thoughts, the constant gripping my flesh, leaving fingerprint bruises – all of this was good. It was my ritual and I nurtured it…I loved it… and hated it. The upside (really?) of this duality was that either way, I got to hate my body, which was the whole point, after all. I was anxious to see how the other women survived… how they managed their ED in this place, where everyone was watching. All of us together, almost all day, every day. My ED thrived on secrecy and privacy…it was a deeply intimate relationship. This environment exposed all of us, and I was scared. I shuffled to the bathroom in my dirty socks, with the rest of the pack.
Paula Goldberg had introduced me to the group yesterday when I arrived, just before dinner. She was the director of the program and had been my point of contact from the beginning. I had been given an ultimatum by my ex-husband three days ago -So… I called my shrink and we tracked down this lovely facility in Baltimore, and, consequently, Paula Goldberg. She handled my admission and was a nice enough lady, in a baggy orange sweatshirt that said “Dance!” and jeans that strained against the size of her thighs.
“Everyone, this is Honor. Can we go around the room and introduce ourselves please?”, she said, sounding tired and definitely less than enthused. I resisted the urge to make a face – stick out my tongue, or something – and took a seat at an empty table and observed my surroundings. I was in a large, horribly bright meeting room, on the ground floor of St. Vincent’s Hospital. The pale green walls were covered in various posters meant to be relevant and inspirational, I’m sure, but to me they were snicker-worthy at best. “Your body needs nutrition…”, “Love yourself!”, etc. It was white noise in my malnourished brain, and I barely heard it. At this point, my only concern was how to manipulate myself out of dinner…or how to dispose of the food that was about to be on my plate in 15 minutes.
The room had six rectangular metal tables, with a bunch of blue cafeteria- style chairs spread throughout. I could tell, almost FEEL that there were already cliques among the group. I counted 11 girls, including myself. Of the 10, four sat together at a table, chattering quietly. They were the youngest, judging from their size and clothing. They will be referred to as the “juniors.” After watching them talk for thirty seconds, I could tell who was the “leader.” Her name was Toby, and she was all legs and blonde hair the color of milkweed. It was the middle of December, but she was in shorts (it was dreadfully hot in here to keep us all from freezing, and I wondered why she wasn’t cold) and to me, her legs were beautiful – long, tan and fat-less. The other 3 held court around her. I was instantly jealous and labeled her a competitor and an enemy (ridiculous, I know. I’m 31, for God’s sake!). To her left sat a ridiculously small, mousey thing with a scraggle of jet black hair twisted into a knot on top of her head, and an incredibly long, pale neck growing out of a huge black sweatshirt. She sat staring at Toby, apparently captivated. I didn’t remember her name, but it was something short, like “Kim”, or “Jen.” Next to her, another junior (possibly a lesbian? her half-shaven head and heavy, black DocMartens were stereotypical clues) called Ricki. She was slumped in her chair with one leg crossed over the other, looking really bored. Couldn’t tell how thin she was, as she was wearing the apparent “uniform” – extra-large sweatshirt and over-sized sweatpants. I noticed her hands, however… very long, white boney fingers, short fingernails. On her left hand, she wore rings – index and ring fingers – both silver. I couldn’t see the details on the rings (I was sitting too far away). Ricki didn’t appear to be paying attention to anything Toby was saying. She sat stolidly with her head bent forward, inspecting her fingernails. I surmised she was a junior by proxy and didn’t care one way or the other. The fourth junior was dazzling! A long-haired brunette with huge dark eyes and a mega-watt smile that glowed f luorescent in this incandescent room. Her teeth were perfect, and I imagined she had applied Vaseline to them to make them shine even brighter like the pageant girls do before they go out on stage. The teeth being gorgeous told me she didn’t purge orally, or if she DID, she hadn’t been doing it long enough to rot away the enamel. Her name was Alexis (the PERFECT pageant name!) and she seemed to be trying to come out of her own skin, like a snake. Unable to be still, she was rocking in her chair, one foot jumping nervously up and down. She was wearing a red hoodie, arms folded against her chest with pointy elbows poking sharply against the fabric. Couldn’t tell much about her legs. I couldn’t make up my mind about her…. hmmmmm…to love her because she was beautiful? or hate her because she’s beautiful? I wanted her elbows, that much was for sure.
At another table, a girl about 23/24 with a navy blue knit hat pulled way down over her ears sat with her head down on the table, resting on her folded arms. Eyes were shut, but I didn’t think she was asleep. The room was alive with junior jabbering. I could barely hear her voice when she gave her name yesterday, so I didn’t know it. Next to her, a woman that could be close to my age. Her hair was a sunny blonde, with an inch or so of dark roots. She had a fake orange tan and wore tortoise shell glasses with thick lenses. Thin as a rail, she had on black leggings with an extra-long, black low-cut V-neck sweater that exposed a bumpy collarbone and concave chest. Very tan. A few gold necklaces of various lengths rippled and glistened with the humming fluorescents. She fiddled with them nervously, with long, manicured pink nails. I was willing to bet she would gravitate toward me, since I was close to her age. I remembered her name – Carol – and that she had smiled broadly at me during my introduction to the group. Yuck. This disturbed me, and I didn’t smile back on purpose. Mental note: Carol is trying too hard. I was not sure if I wanted to align with anyone…it was too early to tell. Four more – the misfits (non- cliquers, loners) …first, a teen named Maria (hmmm…why isn’t she sitting with the juniors? short and waif-like, she seemed ethereal, pale as a ghost). Looked to be about a size 0, if my calculations were correct. I knew my sizes. She had horribly bad teeth, the front ones big and brownish. I guessed she was around 16, and bulimic for at least 4/5 years. Her left hand’s middle finger had the tell- tale scab from scraping teeth when she purged. Next to her, Julie…also around 15/16. Julie was different, and I liked her immediately. Upon my introduction, when it came time for her to say her name, she quickly snapped “Fuck, I’m Julie, goddammit OK?” Her face was gaunt, and she had a long, pointy nose. Cheekbones jutted prominently, and she wore heavy black eyeliner. Her clothes were immaculate…creased jeans (she ironed her JEANS?), and a taupe linen blouse, long-sleeved (was she hiding anything? I was intrigued). Next, Wendy…around 20? Another brunette, short and cropped, wearing a white long-sleeved T-shirt that floated around her tiny frame and stretched to about mid-thigh. Her face had been in a book before I met her, and it was there now. I liked that too and thought I may be able to deal with her. She was average height and sipped from an extra-large yellow plastic travel cup of something. Last, but not least, Meg. She had strawberry blonde hair, very pretty, and freckles stretched across her cheeks and sprinkled her nose. She wore a pink flowered blouse, with gray sweatpants and had on pink furry slippers. The slippers said she’d been here a while, and was pretty comfortable, with her feet crossed and up on a chair. She was perky and chirped her name, like a bird. Meg! Bright and sweet and completely off my list of potential accomplices.
So that’s the whole gang…11 girl-women, all mixed together in this shiny plastic room, like a salad with horrible, odd ingredients.
Honor Wise is a self-proclaimed liar, thief and addict. She is the victim of childhood molestation, bulimic, a cutter, and diagnosed bipolar. We come to know Honor through current events and flashbacks. She fiercely wants to heal herself by chronicling her story. In and out of many different treatment centers, she gains a few true friends. She is divorced, and life becomes unmanageable, as her untreated illness begins to gain control. Eventually, she has a breakdown of sorts while struggling to hold herself and her career together. Over medicated and fully depressed, she is hospitalized. Through this ordeal, she begins working with a psychiatrist who is a brilliant diagnostician and prescribes a series of medications that begin to help. She is in recovery at the end, and lives her life being grateful and cautiously optimistic.
Excerpt from The Truth About Honor, by Michelle Glass Caha, published July 2018