I was starving.
There wasn’t any food left in the dorm. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have the physical ability to walk a mile to the nearest grocery store and back. Even if I did, I didn’t have any money. And I certainly didn’t have the social strength to hand my ID card to the lady in the dining hall so she could swipe for proof of my wasted food plan only to sit alone at a random table. I lied on the hard, carpeted floor and closed my eyes, imagining a room full of food like in A Little Princess. It was almost finals week and I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive.
I thought back to high school. Senior year. I’m sitting at a table in the middle of the school cafeteria, my best friend sitting across from me. M is staring at my tray of half-eaten food, pushing me to finish eating. The school district had a policy that stated that we had to have a certain amount of food on our trays before we checked out (unless we ordered a-la-carte), so I always had a few extra pieces of food on my tray at the end of lunch time.
“You need to eat,” M ordered, pushing my tray towards me. She added a comment about how I was too skinny. I had always been skinny, not as skinny as I had been when I was a child, but “skinny.” And it wasn’t due to my eating habits.
I pushed the tray back towards her, infuriated. I knew what she was implying, “I’m not anorexic!” Oops. I knew immediately I had responded too loudly. A few random pairs of eyes landed on us. I caught sight of S peering curiously at the scene from another table and lowered my voice, nearly growling, “I’m not built like you.” I tried to explain without sounding too mean, “My stomach can’t fit as much food as yours.” I knew it still sounded mean anyway. There was no good way to put it. My friends weren’t built like me. They weren’t fat, but they weren’t exactly… as small as me.
I guess I wasn’t making too much sense, because M grew a little angry as well, “You don’t eat enough.”
My mind returned to the dorm room. “I’m not anorexic,” I muttered to myself. I’d eaten nothing but popcorn for a week… but I wasn’t anorexic. It wasn’t like I was purposefully not eating.
This time my mind takes me to my junior high cafeteria. I’m sitting with a bunch of the other eighth grade band kids, my friends among them. I was self-conscious about people watching me eat. Every bite was small, minuscule… careful not to leave any sort of mess or make any sort of unappreciative noise. I lift my napkin to my lips for the thousandth time over the course of a minute, dabbing at nothing.
Then my brain takes me back even further… to one of my elementary school’s cafeterias. I’m being laughed at, but it doesn’t bother me too much. The school had served my favorite meal: Soft pretzels. I always ripped those into a million pieces as if that’s all I planned to do with them until I would dip the tiny portions in cheese prior to consumption. It was the only way to minimize the potential mess… or the potential sounds of loud, unflattering gulping or chewing. I did the same with bread rolls.
“I’m not anorexic,” I whispered, my brain returning to December 2014. The university dining hall had closed by then… it was past seven. I’d missed my window. I closed my eyes, listening to the far away sounds of the other girls who lived on the same hall. They were murmuring to each other, laughing, telling jokes, sharing secrets… they had all made friends. It was the end of my first semester of college… and I had made zero friends hiding out in my dorm room or at my parents’ house.
This particular university was clique-y, so it was difficult to maneuver one’s way into a crowd following the first week of school. At one point in the middle of the semester I had been invited to a chicken nugget party in the dormitory’s lobby and, although I love chicken nuggets, instead I turned out the lights, locked the door, and hid underneath my bed. I’m sure I thought about that night as I lied on the floor of my dorm nearing the end of the semester. My stomach sure could have used those chicken nuggets.
Later that week, I’m sitting in my intermediate algebra class, the final test sitting on the table in front of me. My head hurt. I was dizzy. I hadn’t eaten in at least three days. In fact, I was very worried I would make some sort of scene as I inevitably passed out. But I didn’t. I finished the test, a test I most definitely failed, and walked out of the classroom.
I moved out of the dorms that day. My dad helped me haul my stuff back to my parents’ house. Maybe then I’d eat more. Maybe then I’d feel better.