by Shannon Pardoe
How did I get here – trapped in such a lonely place so far from the light? Was it you with the cold stares and harsh words, or maybe it was the loveless childhood? But does any of that really matter? No. Its too late. I’m too far gone.
Look at me.
What do you see, a happy girl with hope for the future or a sad broken child with cold, dead eyes?
Grey clouds loom overhead causing raindrops the size of bullets down around us. I like the rain, its unpredictable. A cold wind tears through my body so I pull up my hood in a vain attempt to keep out the chill but it’s worth the pain. I need this, but after all this time I still don’t know why. There’s something about wandering through a forest of food that fills me with excitement and fear, it’s a heady drug-like combination. Maybe this is what it feels like to get high? The supermarket rises up before me in the distance, so much to choose from yet so little time. All I think of is how it will feel to slide my hands over shiny foil packets and feel their contents give beneath my firm grasp.
Someone coughs beside me and I suddenly remember, Mia, my best friend is with me. As we walk the frugal conversation shifts from the weather to our upcoming exams. Our first year exams have sped by so fast there’s barely been time to catch our breath but it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one worried about failing. Not that I care right now, there’s only one thing on my mind. Food. It’s making me anxious and I need something to take the edge off. Weeks of university catered meals have given me little pleasure and just the prospect of a decent meal evokes a raw need deep within me. I need change, something so exciting, so pleasurable that a mere memory will make me squirm. The thought makes me salivate.
When we finally climbed the hill, a welcoming sight greeted us. We had made it to the shop and nothing, not even the English weather, was going to get in our way. So what if I was living in my overdraft and caught in the clutches of unemployment – shopping on a budget was a challenge I willingly accepted. My heart began to flutter as we reached the doors, they were slippery from the rain and as we pushed ourselves inside we were dazed by the sudden humidity and sweet smell of sweat. Fighting through the Saturday morning shoppers proved no small feat but after pushing and pulling, we made it. I bent over and grasped a basket with my left hand, struggling to reach my fingers around its thick plastic handle. I was ready.
My friend and I agreed to wait for each other by the checkout; she knew the way I felt about food and would rather dive into her own shopping than watch me obsess over mine. No one likes to share anyway. Not wanting to waste precious time, I made a beeline for the nearest aisle only to find myself dumbstruck by the most perfect pair of tomatoes I had ever seen. Their rounded shape rested on a bed of paper, offering themselves to me. Their colour was of a red so deep you could almost fall into it; I took the first one in my hand, then the other, gently kneading the silky flesh between my fingers, amazed at the way each one filled the palm of my hand. Both were firm to the touch as my fingertips explored every dip and fold. Not wanting to get too carried away I quickly dropped them into a clear plastic bag. Tying it so tightly so that the two fruits would have little choice but to rub against each other, unable to free themselves. By the time I reached the end of the aisle a wide range of fruit and vegetables with different shapes and sized had found their way into my basket. I couldn’t remember picking them up but the thought of sweet tangy juice flowing freely into my mouth was enough to make me tingle. Ahead was the biggest challenge I had yet to face, dozens of golden pastries climbing on top of each other behind a thick layer of glass. They didn’t care who was watching and they knew the affect they had on the passers-by who’s eyes fixated upon the buttery heaven – unable to tear themselves away.
Behind the counter stood a man whose chiselled and welcoming smile hinted that in his younger days he would’ve been quite a catch. Now his hair was white, his skin saggy, wrinkles lurked at the corners of his eyes, and yet he still seemed content. Tentatively I looked on as he armed himself with metal tongs. For a brief moment, I felt powerful; as if I was the Roman emperor gazing into the blood-stained arena to select my champion. I hung on tender-hooks as he leaned toward my chosen hero and began untangling it from its gooey brothers. The old man’s eyes gleamed as I took the box with shaky hands. I know just what he wants. He wishes it was him licking the length of éclair, peeling back the layer of thick chocolate to reveal a dangerously crispy shell. He wants to watch as I bite through the outer layer and slowly reach my tongue inside its cream filled centre. But I won’t let him, its mine now and only when I’m alone will I dive into the greasy box. I’ll take my time with the sticky éclair, savouring every sweet mouthful.
How many can I fit in my mouth at once? Somehow I find myself in the raw meat section, my feet must have carried me while my brain was deep in a food fantasy. It wasn’t my intention to wander in here it just sort of happened, a forbidden forest taken from a carnivore’s daydream. I had already filled my basket with an assortment of meat before I saw it and by the time it was in my hands there was no stopping me. The thick cut steak looked at me and I looked back at it. A rumble echoed deep inside me as I imagined the juicy meat spread across the worktop letting out a soft squelching sound each time I hammered it with my shiny meat tenderiser. I would then tease it with a blue flame before tearing it into pieces so tender they melted in the mouth.
Minutes passed as I plundered the remaining aisles, sweeping up whatever treats and sweets took my fancy. I spotted my friend waiting at the till, rushing over to stand behind her and spread my heavy load across the conveyor belt.
With raging hunger I glanced out at the mountain of chocolate bars lounging on display beside the cashier, then I saw it. Purple foil twinkled in the overhead lights; yellow letters caressed its gentle curves, begging me to come closer and take a bite. I mulled it over in my head. I had to have it. We locked eyes, drawn together by a desire so deep it threatened to drown us. Tears filled my eyes as I reached out to take the bar, moaning as I pulled it toward my chest. “Stay with me.” The words rolled off my tongue as I tenderly unwrapped the packet and exposed rich folds of chocolate heaven. With pressure building inside me, I took the entire length in my mouth as pleasure exploded inside me, the creamy chocolate residue sliding down my throat. This is it I thought, pure release, a Cadbury’s Twirl. With a tingling sensation spreading down through my body and into my fingers, I tossed the used wrapper onto the black conveyor belt. It would only be a few seconds until shame and regret snuck up on me, but by then it would be the checkout woman’s problem.
I don’t remember anything about the walk home, only the growing desire and drone of my friends voice above the traffic. What I do remember however was the rhythmic shovelling of food into my open mouth. How it felt to feel myself filled with all the things I know I shouldn’t have and was it down by chugging a strawberry milkshake. I writhed on the floor as euphoria washed over my body, arching my back and curling my toes I let it take me. My fingers were sticky and I could feel a mass of fat burrowing deep into my body, what had I done? I cringed as my body began to swell. The pleasure coming to a sudden end as dark thoughts swam around my brain, shattering into a thousand tiny pieces that fell back down into the hole so deep no amount of food could fill. Feeling myself spiralling out of control, I gave into the twisted voices.
Shame and guilt flooded my senses as my body began to move on its own. In reality, I’m not there and I move as if in a trance. I know what’s happening yet I don’t feel it. How did I get this way? I caught sight of myself in the mirror, clothes two sizes to small desperately trying to hold back thick rolls of fat that wobble with every step. What have I done?
Somehow my body is able to squeeze into the tiny pod that is my bathroom, no going back now you stupid pig. You don’t deserve to eat you fat bitch, no wonder the room goes silent when you walk in. Everyone hates you, you disgust them. The words aren’t mine yet they speak with my mouth, I feel possessed but in my mind these words are the truth. I’ve seen my so-called friends stare when they think I’m not looking and talk about behind my back, they too find me repulsive.
My giant arms struggle to heft my shirt over my head and my hair weighs a hundred pounds as I rake it back into a tight ponytail. I don’t even have to try any more yet I grab the toothbrush anyway, it makes me feel powerful and comforts me. At this point I don’t know whether to feel proud or horrified; I throw back the toilet seat and flex my stomach muscles in a way I know will work.
Tears sting my eyes as the all the shame guilt and loneliness surges back up my throat. Half-digested food dives into the bowl, splashing my face with sick and toilet water. I should’ve put some paper in first. I wipe my face with one hand while the other punches my stomach but as my hand brushes the dry skin, I notice chunks of sick glued in my hair. It doesn’t bother me; I’m too busy trying to get it all out, every last crumb. Making myself sick till the room spins gives me this crazy high I know is wrong but I just can’t seem to help. I’m addicted to food yet scared of it at the same time, this is all I know.
With the cold emptiness restored, I slumped onto the cream floor. Disgusted, not by my actions but by the food and the sheer quantity I was able to consume. My dirty little secret is well hidden from the liars and cheats who say I’m too thin or that I need to eat more, but they don’t know the battle that goes on behind locked doors.
Even the blood splattered among the sick can’t stop me. I don’t want this, I never wanted this but this is my life. This is my control. My release.
nb. Shannon has drawn from her own experience of mental health issues for this piece, and is currently in treatment. You can catch up with her writing again on Tuesday 5th November.