It was the year my grandmother died. My parents’ descent into alcoholism followed. The nightly ritual of inebriation renders my memories of school to a near infinitesimal level of significance.
My mother spiraled first, but my father soon followed suit. It astounds me how well I recall their binge drinking, and the subsequent passing out or vomiting on the bathroom’s linoleum.
I similarly took to anesthetizing myself, telling myself that it was “weak to feel.” Children have an interesting way of coping.
At home, I slept on the floor. I kept as close to the edge of my bedroom’s door as possible, my head resting on the precipice where my room met the hallway’s laminate wood. The soft-white light would slip through my cracked door and stagnate on the stained carpet next to me as I attempted to sleep.
I had a fear of dying in my sleep, and sleeping on the floor quelled my anxieties. My thoughts compelled me to sleep on the right side of my body. If I did not, I feared that my organs would crush my heart.
In school, I developed an obsession over a classmate, Rhianna. She was one of many people with whom I would become obsessed.
Whenever she left the classroom, I’d hover above my desk chair, peering out the window, in anxious anticipation for her return. When the teacher told us to line up single-file, I would wedge myself between her and the person next in line.
I would not allow her to leave me like my grandmother had.
I was overweight and not the best at making friends. A sense of narcissism — believing that I was above all others — was the veneer that kept the fragments of my identity intact. The safety in believing I was superior was borne from the belief that I was intrinsically defective. Though I didn’t have friends or family, I was intelligent and maintained good grades.
My parents’ alcoholism had become ubiquitous, settling into the background like the stains on the carpet.
At night, once my parents had passed out, I turned to Oreos, Swiss Rolls, and Pop-Tarts to attain a shrapnel of pleasure. My weight continued to increase.
An overwhelming urge for fulfillment would compel me to the kitchen. The pleasures of taste effaced the memory of being trapped under the desk by my classmates that day at school, distracted me from the fire of ire I felt as my my mother downed another case of Natural Light.
Soon I would have a new addiction.
I took up the clarinet. My talent caught the notice of my private teacher and parents. And for once, I received attention: my music was heard when my words were not.
I began to diet, on a mission to destroy my former self, the “fat self.” My confidence increased inversely with my weight. Now, I felt worthwhile in the eyes of my peers.
I basked in the newly found attention, but it did not compensate for the neglect I suffered.
I practiced clarinet for three hours a day.
That summer, I received a standing ovation for my performance of Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata. I was called a prodigy. Soon, praise became my drug, and, to an extent, it still is.
At 14, I was accepted into the “Juilliard of the West Coast.”
For a moment, it seemed my life was on an upward trajectory. My fantasy was realizing itself within the glass-paneled walls of the Colburn School.
I gained 50 pounds in a year, regaining all the weight I had lost, but it did not matter because I had the clarinet. My ambitions have always led me astray.
I began homeschooling to “focus on my music.” On stage, I was untouchable. There is the belief that if you are good enough at something, then it compensates for your negative characteristics. Being the clarinetist — the star — made me believe I had entered another echelon, beyond the realm of a normal ninth grader. My move to LA would destroy this belief.
Los Angeles was not what my mind made out to be. In Florida, I was a star, but in Los Angeles, I was just one of many talented people. Because of this, I lost my sense of identity.
My identity was so closely intertwined with my musical skill that to be around other skilled musicians ravaged my impoverished sense of self. Without a sense of personhood on which to latch, I turned to anorexia nervosa, and so began my descent.
I dropped from 160 pounds to 95 in seven months. I would fast all day, then binge and purge at night. My mother took me to a doctor, a well-known expert in eating disorders.
In his office, shivering in my sheer gown, he ordered me into a treatment center. My grandfather and mother drove me from Florida to St. Louis to Castlewood Treatment Center.
I was trapped and this led to the fruition of my greatest fear, losing all control. I took to an attitude of belligerence during my six-week stay.
At night, I would go to the payphones and call my parents. When I heard their slurred speech inching its way through the telephone wire, I would alternately yell at them or beg them to let me leave Castlewood. Soon, they began hanging up on me or refusing to answer.
I left St. Louis before finishing treatment and slipped back into my eating disorder.
My eating disorder continued.
Since I moved out at 18, I would take to going to the Dollar Tree, buying hundreds of dollars of food, only to throw it up into a garbage bag in my studio apartment. I would purge in the bathroom at restaurants.
Despite this, I graduated valedictorian of my GED class. I shook hands with the president and smiled for the camera before sinking back into the crowd.
Published by The Plentitudes. April 2021.