I’m going to skip ahead a bit here to late 1992. My junior year of high school. It was a disaster, remains possibly the worst year of my life (1992–1993). I won’t go into the reasons why (sorry, some things aren’t for sharing), but the end result was a desire to disappear. It’s a desire that has never completely gone away, either; though I long to be heard and to have my work recognized, I simultaneously am made hugely uncomfortable by that kind of attention.
In any case, I more or less stopped eating. I had always been average in size, maybe a little more than (got as heavy as size 12 in school, have been as heavy as size 14, though I’m happily now back to a 6/8—US sizes here). But I also was not one to dress in very revealing clothes, aside from one pair of red shorts that was a favorite with the boys (they nicknamed me “Legs,” which oddly enough had been my mother’s nickname in the Navy). I was more of a “classic” dresser, jeans and t-shirts were my staples, and if they were now a bit bigger on me, no one noticed. After all, I was the quiet student that did not attract much attention, aside from some very special teachers who took interest in me.
It wasn’t difficult to avoid eating. I worked most evenings after school and would come home and fend for myself for dinner (or not, as became the norm). It got even easier once I was away at university. Dorm food wasn’t all that appealing anyway.
My closest college friends even had a standard joke: “Oh, Methos ate an apple back in the Bronze Age, she won’t be hungry for a few more years.” (The joke is predicated on Highlander: The Series, “Methos” being a character from the show and my college nickname.)
But really, eating with friends meant taking tiny bites and then pushing food around on my plate until it looked convincingly like more of it was missing. If we were at a restaurant, I would simply get a to-go box, toss it in my fridge, then throw it all out a couple days later.
What saved me was I had the best job ever. I worked in a family-owned store that made photocopies, did graphic arts work, typed papers for students, sold school supplies . . . Our big seasons were (a) start of term, when professors would have us photocopy materials for classes, and (b) dissertation season, because we were recommended by the university as one of the places to get dissertations copied and bound.
The people I worked for and with were remarkable. The couple who owned the place all but adopted me and a couple of the other students working for them; at one point they let me have their car for a week while they were going to be on vacation. Then there was the second manager Brian and his wife, and between them and the owners, they all made it a point to be sure I ate. Regularly.
This manifested in several ways. For one, every Friday we ordered lunch from Texadelphia up the street. It was impossible for me to fake eating a huge cheesesteak . . . And I’ll admit, I didn’t really want to. The food was really good.
Then, about once a month or so we all went out after work together. Sometimes just down to Hole in the Wall, sometimes farther afield, but again, it wasn’t possible to only pretend to eat. They were watching. They knew.
Finally, Brian and his wife made it a point to invite me over for dinner semi-regularly, and take me out about once per weekend too. I’m a good Southern girl, and when people cook for you, you eat it. That’s only polite.
But I think what brought my appetite back, however slowly, was knowing people cared whether I did eat or not. My college friends hadn’t, or maybe they just never knew how bad it truly was, but the people at Longhorn Copies had.
To this day, the best job I’ve ever had. To work in a place where you don’t mind getting up and going in, knowing you’re going to spend the day with people you (mostly) like—and it was like family, there being people who would get on your nerves, and yet you couldn’t help loving them all anyway. That’s not something many people get to experience in the working world, or even in life at large.
Longhorn Copies is gone now, closed some years after I left for grad school. But I’m still in touch with many of my former co-workers. And Brian and his wife are my oldest son’s godparents.
As for not eating, well . . . I have turns. When I’m in a down cycle, I do sometimes stop eating, but then come around to forcing myself to eat. Like today, even just a roll with some butter. And soda. I have a terrible soda habit. But it’s something, and something is better than nothing.