Photo by Adriano Agulló
By Michael Somers

The easy part is sticking my fingers down my throat. Forefinger and middle finger go in together like a flattened peace sign, the forefinger blocking off the trachea and the middle finger tickling the esophagus until the gag reflex kicks in. The poison bubbles and erupts from the stomach, whether it’s carrots or ice cream or Hamburger Helper, and grraps into the toilet. Bile coats my mouth. My eyes water, my nose burns. And my fingers keep going back until there’s nothing left. Wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. Flush the toilet. Stand up.

     Mission accomplished.

     The hard part is getting to that point, the point where panic takes over and I prostrate myself in front of a toilet to puke my guts out. If you were to ask me when I first bent over a toilet bowl to intentionally throw up, I couldn’t tell you. The particulars escape me, and it’s just as well. If you were to ask me why, I would tell you fear. Fear of getting fat only tells part of the story; the rest of story is what the fear of getting fat represents, and that is a twisted plotline.

     All I know is the experience penetrated me, and I wasn't the same.

                                                                      * * *

     After a certain point, there is no hiding an eating disorder. All the layers fall away, all pretense fades away. It's slow. It’s gradual. But it's unmistakable after awhile. Loved ones will wonder why they didn't see it before. You will wonder how you could have hidden it better. Either way, their denial ends and yours gets stronger.

     And there is no arena more fitting for the clash of Clarity versus Denial than the dinner table.

                                                                      * * *

     Meals are tense. Everyone–Mom, Dad, Amy, and sometimes Brian–watch every bite I put into my mouth. With every bite I force into my mouth, gamely and willingly on the surface, they see hope. Hope that my weight will stop its downward spiral. Hope that my cheeks will fill out and my skin will turn from yellow to pinkish. Hope that clothes will fit me again, won’t hang off me, won’t consume me. Hope that I will just gain weight and go back to being "Mike" again.

     Each bite is agonizing for me. Each bite is a defeat. Each bite finds the parasite that's taken me over screaming at me. "What are you, stupid? What are you doing? You'll get fat! You’ll never be clean if you keep doing that!"

     My hand is detached from my body, swooping down to the plate then raising the forkful of Hamburger Helper or green beans to my lips, to the mouth that desperately wants to eat all the food on the table. My hunger is a jungle cat caged; my control is the thick steel holding the cat in. Fork down, pick at the noodles, stab one, bring the fork to my mouth, chew until there is nothing but mush, and swallow. All eyes sneaking glances at me, agonizing, hopeful eyes that would only know disappointment.

     Eventually my plate is clean. Then I ask to excuse myself from the table.

     "Are you sure you don’t want more?" Mom asks.

     "No, Mom, I’m full."

     "You’re sure?"

     "Yes," I say. "I just need to go to the bathroom."

      "Okay," she says.

     She looks at me like she doesn’t want to believe me. She doesn’t want to trust me.

     She has every reason not to.

                                                                      * * *

     The bathroom. That's where it all happened. That's where I went from being an average anorexic teenage male to being an above-average, over-achieving eating disordered freak. I would close the door, quickly and silently, and walk on the balls of my feet, softly, noiselessly, to the toilet. On my way, I would turn on the bathroom radio and tune it just loud enough where I couldn't hear my family and I knew they couldn't hear me. Then I'd raise the toilet seat, get down on my knees, bend over, put my fingers down my throat, and puke until I dry heaved. Sometimes I'd have to wipe the wall and the sides of the toilet, but that was only if I'd drunk too much water before leaving the table.

                                                                      * * *

     At first, throwing up was fun. I could finally allow myself to eat. I could fool everyone, including myself. So I ate about as much as before I started seriously starving myself.

     But I didn't keep that food down. I was not going to let those calories get absorbed through my intestines, sending fat to all areas of my body. No, no, no. That was not going to happen, not on my watch. So I threw up, happily. It was a badge of pride that I figured out a way to fool everyone, to fool the system, to fool the parasite inside me that said, "Why are you eating that? Do you want to get fat?" Well, take that. I could have my cake, I could eat it, and I could get rid of it.

     Just like I could get rid of the parasite. Or so I thought.

     Remember that caged jungle cat? The parasite had me caged up nice and secure, too.

                                                                      * * *

     Mom walked in on me one night as I hunched over the toilet, puking up pork chops, carrots, mashed potatoes, and Kool-Aid.

     "What are you—?" Her words faded as what she saw became clearer.

     Oh, God. I hadn’t expected this. "I don’t feel good, Mom!"

     She started to cry. "Why are you doing this? I thought you were getting better."

     "I’m fine, Mom." I wiped my mouth with my hand, feeling the indentations from my teeth. Little victories. "I just wasn’t feeling good, is all."

     She started storming out of the bathroom, then stopped. "If you’re going to do this, you’re going to leave the door open."

     "I told you, I’m sick!"

     "I know you are!" She walked out and left the door open. She went into her and Dad’s bedroom. The TV was on in the living room, Tom Brokaw reporting from some foreign location. Dad and Amy were probably still at the table. The radio in the bathroom played Paula Abdul.

     I leaned back over the toilet, stuck my fingers down my throat, and puked up the rest of the pork chops.

                                                                      * * *

     After I flushed the poison away and stood at the sink brushing my teeth, Amy stood just inside the bathroom doorway, staring at me. Her eyes seethed. Her hands were balled into fists. Her body trembled.

     "Why?" she asked through gritted teeth.

     I looked at her, still brushing my teeth. Then I spit the paste out, rinsed and wiped my mouth. I brushed past her as I left the bathroom.

     "I've got dishes to do," I said, heading to the kitchen.

     Dad had gone outside. Mom was in the bedroom, crying. Amy slammed the door as she went outside. I gathered the dishes, ready to clean away the filth that no longer polluted my body. First silverware, then glasses, then bowls, then plates, then pots and pans. From least to greatest. Washed clean, as clean as I wished I were.

     There could be no more denial.

Michael Somers teaches English at Delta College. He is also a member of the Saginaw Bay Writing Project Advisory Board, and served as co-facilitator of the Saginaw Bay Writing Project Summer Institute 2010.

© Michael Somers, 2010