29 April 2010

Anorexia and a Southern goodbye

Nothing is simple when you have anorexia nervosa. Not even saying good-bye to a loved one.

Today we buried my grandpa. He lived a long, well-loved life filled with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He loved to tease people and he enjoyed the home-cooked meals of his wife, Dean. He was a Southern boy who fought in World War II and Korea and worked on the railroad as a conductor. He tried his best to let those around know he loved them, and he accepted our love in turn.

Memories flood me of summer days visiting him in Kentucky; summer nights filled with thick air and fireflies and sitting on the porch swing. Breakfasts of biscuits and sausage gravy; dinners of thick cornbread and bean soup. Why is the food the strongest memories?

The feel is different here. It takes me back to my childhood. The yearly treks to visit Mamaw in Ohio and Grandpa in Somerset; the time spent with my father's family in the hills of Pineville. It was a world of cognitive dissonance, one I have not processed to this day. A loving grandpa and step-grandmother. Another grandmother, Mamaw; one of the most beautiful women in the world who didn't care for but one of her six grandchildren. The strangeness of my paternal grandfather and step-grandmother, alcoholism all around and church on Sunday complete with snake handling and speaking in tongues and a mantle filled with pictures of the dead in their coffins.

Several people took pictures of Grandpa today before the funeral started. Why? To add to their collection of soulless bodies. I wanted to scream, "He's not here, damn it! Can't you see Elbert Mounce has left us?" I knew he was gone when I kissed his icy forehead and touched his stiff hand as I placed a small pocket rosary in the pocket of his jeans.

I wanted to say his soul is gone, as the soul of each one of us will fly upward when the cord is cut, when God decides that is it for us, when the Grim Reaper comes to carry us home.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound ..." As soon as the first words floated through the funeral home, the wall I had built around myself with Ativan and Xanax broke down and my heart twisted and I again was a child, playing on the green, green lawns of Kentucky, dancing with the fireflies as my Grandpa, Dean and my mother softly spoke to each other on the long, wide porch. I was again a child; a confused little girl who felt both loved and lonely, a child who dreamed of a life far in the future where I would spend each night with someone who loved me and have a life filled with books and learning.

Afterward I was surround by food. so much food it frightened me. I know the family here has noticed my weight. It has not gone unmentioned, and last night I was given a strident lecture by my sister about how I needed to eat because my mother can't bear me having anorexia anymore. As if I can bear it? My head hung down like a whipped dog, and I wanted nothing more than to become the smallest dust particle, the most miniscule piece of matter in the universe.

I wanted to disappear.

Today I tried to. I have been drinking my coffee black to avoid the plethora of sweet creams filling the house. I ate very little this morning, panicked because I can't keep total track of my calories nor weigh myself. I had a very small lunch, avoiding the rich soups and creamy dishes, the apple and cherry pies, the thick brownies that I allowed myself to have one tiny bite. This complete rigid control has made me feel safe in a place where I feel simultaneously like an adult and a child, with no control over who I am or what is said about me.

Tell me you think the way I wear my hair is ugly, and I will say nothing. Constantly harangue about how little I eat, and I just shrink into myself. Tell me I won't eat and I will just tell myself having anorexia is all my fault and that I have caused everyone nothing but trouble.

I tried to eat more at dinner, as I was feeling weak. Some chicken with the skin left on, some cheesy pasta salad. It was the small pieces of desserts, a bite of spice cake and one of almond bread, that broke me.

I tried to make myself throw up all that food inside me, feeling dirty, needing so badly to purge and be clean. The fingers wouldn't do it, but I found something else to gag up some bile and some of the pasta salad. Then my husband walked in.

Failure again. I needed it so bad. But I also know that this behavior must stop before it becomes out of control.

The end of the funeral came with a 21-gun salute and thanks for my grandpa's service to his country. Taps played from afar, and then we gathered some of the flowers and walked to our cars. As I held two roses, one white and one red, I was both a child and an adult. I wanted .... I wanted things to have turned out different.

I glanced back, one of the last people at the cemetery as they prepared to lower my grandpa's body into the ground. I wanted to scream at them to stop, and then I remembered he wasn't there anymore.

What I really want to say is, "Goodbye, Grandpa and that I've always loved you." Maybe in spite of myself, I will see you again someday. There was another song, one about a dance. Maybe we will dance in heaven, and you will be with your beloved Dean and I will feel whole and not fragmented anymore.


Heidi said...

This is a beautiful post, Angela.

lisalisa said...

I am sorry for your loss. And I am sorry that the eating disorder is hitting you so hard right now and making everything so difficult. Dont give up! Oh, I wish you could go to Renfrew like, tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you're struggling right now. There is something beautiful about the south. It seems to be a place that is better able, when all else has moved on, to hold onto the ways of the past. Know that you and your family are in my prayers!

Kelly J. said...

You've been in my thoughts and prayers, Angela. A time of peace has to be on the horizon for you.

Marge of Lake LaBerge said...

This is a very beautiful piece.