No-one in my family will admit that my sister has an eating disorder. It’s just how things are with us, I think. Once I had a therapist ask who I’d phone in a crisis – I like that, “crisis”, that little verbal sleight-of-hand that both covers and implies all the falling apart, bullet in glass, vomit and blood awfulness that a crisis actually involves. I said I’d phone the Samaritans.
“What about your parents?” he said.
I thought about the time a stranger shoved his hand down my pants on the tube. A shrieking, suffocating wrongness, like having my legs forced open, like having the whole carriage examine my cunt under those sweaty, headache lights. Those thick fingers, hair at the knuckles.
“No, I’d phone the Samaritans.”
What if I had no-one to phone but my parents, the therapist asked.
Well, I think I’d just hang myself, I replied.
So that’s how it is with us.
Summer holidays are the worst, all four of us sitting there in some air-conned restaurant in front of stacks of slimed and greased plates, and my sister slides out with a slick “I’m just gonna pop to the loo”. Cheerfulness at breaking point.
My mother’s always had a Stepford smile, nailed in place at the corners of her mouth. This phrase always twists the pegs just an inch tighter.
You can practically hear her creak.
She never leaves any evidence, that’s what gets me. I mean, I had a good few years as a crazy person, and whenever that was the way things went, I left “evidence”, you know? But whenever my sister returns, her eyes are always clear, her cheeks pale, not a hint of puffiness.
I slip into the bathroom five minutes later and inhale. Nothing but disinfectant.
Maybe I’m projecting, my therapist once suggested.
No, I told him, no no no no, I’ve never had an eating disorder. That was a different thing entirely.
Sometimes when it gets really bad, I do it just to spite her. Not just her, but my mother, too, for her creaking wooden pier of a smile, and my dad, for his lack of awareness, for his bumbling idiocy.
Unlike my sister, I am not silent, and as I crumple over the toilet bowl, white-knuckled, every retch is a choking, drawn-out curse.
Sometimes I creep around our house at night, imagining snow piled thick on the carpets, fallen so deeply that I move through it without a sound. I imagine my sister walking ahead of me, and I trail her through the silence, as if we are in a vacuum, as if we are at the bottom of a moonlit sea.
She never leaves any footprints, and no matter how quick I am, I can never quite catch up.