Quick note to the reader: Throughout my own recovery process, writing has been my escape. With my pen (or rather, in this digital age, the keyboard), I have been able to travel to far-away worlds, light-years away from my struggles and obsessions. Words have become my home-like haven—a place that absorbs my most raw, unedited emotions, a place that lends me with unparalleled senses of safety and relief. This is the prologue to a novel I began working on during treatment called Underwater. The prologue takes place present day, while the rest of the book is a flashback that the main character, Sage Harris, has during her coma. The subject of the story, kept purposely vague and mysterious in the prologue, is anorexia recovery. (Hint: the water isn’t just water….)
Prologue: An Excess of Emptiness
If I have learned a single thing in this broken life of mine, it is this: In good times, we discover who we want to be; in bad times, we discover who we actually are. I have tried to forget the painful memories of the past—I am not that person anymore, nor will I ever be again. But as my wrinkles deepen and the beating of my heart gets heavier, I can’t help but find comfort in my troubling memories. And that is scary—for those memories are anything but comforting.
I hear my daughter’s laugh coming from the kitchen downstairs. I hear my son reassuring a patient on the phone. I am one of the lucky ones; I was still able to have children. I close my eyes for a second and remember what it felt like to be drowning in the ocean. This life I have now is easy—normal, almost—yet, I feel my heart yearning to be wet again. When I close my eyes, I can feel the fullness of the emptiness within my stomach. I can see the reflection of the girl in the mirror that everyone strived to be. I can taste the most bittersweet moments of my life. And strangely, only when I imagine myself in the depths of my disorder can I breathe again.
I decide to take a dip in the lake, even though I’m starting to feel the hints of autumn’s chill in the air. I need to clear my head; I need to escape from this dying body of mine. I slowly peel off my clothes and cringe at the roughness of my fingertips. I pause, trying to muster up the courage to reach for my swimsuit. It will be my first time wearing it in thirty years and four months. I feel the smoothness of the nylon and spandex fibers against my peeling skin, and I am in my youth once again.
I plunge into the darkness of the frigid water—my soul shivers, yet I feel as warm as the little girl who hid under her mom’s cashmere robe. I am taken aback by how invigorating it is to feel the strands of my moist hair caress against the dimples of my back. The thirst of my fragile bones is finally quenched, and I remember. I remember. I remember how it feels to be enchanted by the coldness. I remember how it feels to be loved by the emptiness. I remember how it feels to be alive in the absence of air. I remember clarity.
After reconnecting with the callings of my past, I finally take the unwanted and difficult walk back to the cold warmth of my cabin. I wrap my exhausted body in a towel that matches the roughness of my skin. The air gives birth to a raised texture on my skin, and the hairs on my skin that I have given up on shaving off stand up straight. The scratched heels of my feet rub against the reality of the ground. And now I remember it all. I remember how hard it was to recover, to walk again after sinking for so long. I remember the glue that connected my past to my present. I want to forget, but I don’t know how. It’s funny how the memories you want to forget are the only ones you remember.
After I change into my tattered, silk nightgown, I head up to the attic yet again. I don’t know why, but lately, I find myself spending the last days of my existence upstairs in solitude. As I sit on the hardwood floor, I am pained. The defined bones of my buttocks ache as they collide with the ground. I remember when I lived for this sensation. I remember when the presence of my bones defined my self-worth. And just like before, this aching distracts me from the reality of writing my will.
I look around the attic, which smells of mildew and dust. I stroke my hand against the panels of the wooden floor, and it creaks at the presence of my touch. It’s lucky; in its old age, it has grown thinner than the sheet of ice that will soon encrust the bitter lake. It has become the only thing I ever wanted to be. I cannot help but feel jealous of the unsteady earth under my fingertips. I remember when it used to be me. My cheeks flush with anger as I remember how I was forced to add “thicker insulation” to my own decaying body. They never seemed to realize that being steady was not for me.
I hear the footsteps of my daughter, Kai, walking up the creaky steps. Her footsteps beat in sync with my heart, and I am overcome with a sense of immense, terrifying love. Lately, my daughter has been acting like a mother to me. She makes sure I never forget to take my medication; she makes sure I never forget to eat; and she makes sure that I never slip away again, fading into unrelenting currents. A sudden burst of guilt flows through my bloodstream. She would be upset if she knew what I did today. She would be upset if she knew I had plunged into the water, a place of the past. My heart paces faster, and my head starts pounding like a thundercloud.
“Mom? Why are you up here again?” Kai asks as the creases of worry in her forehead flex. “Come down and I will make you some lavender chamomile tea, your favorite.”
Sometimes I wonder what I have done to deserve such a caring child—two caring children, actually. The lines in Kai’s palms are filled with flour, reminding me of how sad I used to get when the last of the snow melted. She was always concocting delicious creations for her bakery. It’s ironic, how your child gets half of her chromosomes from you but cannot be more different.
“Hi, Sweetie,” I say, looking down at the lines in the wood, hoping that she will not notice the undeniable guilt in my eyes. “I was just organizing the boxes. You and your brother are always so busy….the least I can do is help out with the tedious housekeeping chores.”
She doesn’t look convinced, and she shuffles uncomfortably, waiting for my averted eyes to meet her pitying gaze.
“Mom! You need to wear your heart monitor!” Kai suddenly bursts with panic in her voice. “Where is it?”
My heart suddenly starts running as fast as I used to right before prom. For a split second, I am that desperate girl again, madly trying to transform this gray reality, searching for the color I know I will not find. I frantically look around the room, but all I see are dust particles that infiltrate my lungs. My monitor clearly isn’t here, yet that doesn’t stop me from looking. Just like how my goal to attain contentment through starvation was impossible, yet for 20 years, I kept trying. I don’t remember taking my monitor off, yet the only things I seem to remember these days are those of my past.
My heart drops like my weight in the water used to when I realize that it fell off in the lake. Kai will be devastated if I tell her. After years of continually disappointing her with my unwarranted drowning, I can’t seem to stop. My already compromised eyesight slowly begins to fail on me....
….and suddenly, everything turns black.