by Mauri Pollard Johnson
In the beginning God created. . . and the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
I have sat down an incalculable number of times, just as I am doing right now, to write the origin story of my eating disorder—if such a thing can exist. Each time that I am faced with this pending opportunity, I either pen out words that bear a cliché façade, or that feel painfully inauthentic or immature. Or I stare blankly at the page, unable to conjure up words that feel honest and are birthed from my own mental mouth. You see, I think the problem is that I don’t know where the beginning actually is. In the same sense that my religious congregation sings, “Do you think that you could ever. . . find out the generation where Gods began to be? Or see the grand beginning, where space did not extend?” I’m not sure this beginning even exists.
Inherently, stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In an ideal world, the creator of the story knows where it begins, where the middle resides, and where the ending happens. I’d like to tell my story in a linear way—I’ve tried to tell it in a linear way—but my story is looking more like a circle. A spiral. It is vertical rather than horizontal. When I discovered this, I felt like the ancient inhabitants when they found out the earth was round instead of flat. But I digress, and I think you get my point: the story of my eating disorder is more like a circle; it is not linear, but spherical. I don’t know where it ends, and I don’t really know where it started either.
I wonder, is this how God feels? Is this what it was like for Him to try and narrate to Moses the creation of the Earth and Existence and Matter as we know it? Impossible to relay to mankind the un-beingness that was once reality, and so, He penned a story—eloquent with words as He is—about light and dark, firmaments and seeds, and a lesser light to rule the night and every thing that creepeth upon the earth, and God saw that it was good. For the first chapter of the Bible, He crafted the chronicle of molding Adam out of dust and stealing a single rib from his cage and sculpting Eve’s clay delicately around that rib, throwing them both in the kiln that would breathe godly air into them. Told of placing them into the Garden—like dolls into a dollhouse—and giving instructions (but not interfering). And somehow, this story of creating existence in seven days (well, six, really) and of making man out of clay and of a talking snake and devilish fruit was more coherent, more understandable, more viable than honest gospel. So we are left with trying to decipher how eating fruit could bring about death and how our universe was shaped in 144 hours. And I am left to uncover how eating anything feels like death to me and how my universe of anorexic restriction and bulimic exercise and orthorexic food choices were shaped within these 144 hours—and if their existence was ever created at all.
Most of the time, I am trying to grasp when those hours began, and if they have even ended—at least as far as the creation narrative of my eating disorder is concerned. I can’t remember a time when my eating disorder was not an infection living within me, a serpent creeping up on me to offer up an apple (I wonder what kind of apple it was that Eve was tempted by. I would say probably a Honeycrisp. Or a Gala, if it was sometime during mid-October. My mother would probably say a Golden Delicious. Granny Smith, maybe, if she was planning on making an apple pie. Red Delicious is completely out of the question—the banal cheap-elementary-school-brown-paper-sack-cop-out apple). Actually, nowhere in any scripture does God ever claim that the tempting fruit was an apple. So, I wonder why the Christian world has always painted it that way. Apples are quite delicious, and have never, as far as I am concerned, caused the destruction of any species. Why should mankind be any different? (Now apple pie would be a different story, as far as the anorexic species is concerned.)
Was this disordered mindset formed within me from the beginning? Since before the beginning? And God said, let there be anxiety and fear of weight gain and perfectionism and a will so strong that intake is able to be restricted to sometimes under 800 calories a day and body dysmorphia and panic attacks and avoiding any social situation presenting food and compulsive exercise and cutting out food groups and loss of menses and possible infertility problems and hours spent meal planning and prepping and worrying, and called it the first day.
Sometimes I think this is how it was written in my own life’s Bible. Sometimes I think that I was formed and then born with this disease hiding somewhere between the atoms that make up my skin, my white and red blood cells, my lungs, my soul, just waiting for the proper age to manifest itself—the same way my cousin’s degenerative eye disease did not begin wreaking its havoc upon her fragile irises and corneas until she turned fourteen. Was it lurking? Waiting patiently behind her eye sockets? Not spontaneously contracted, but always there, counting down the months until it could make its appearance? This fate already sealed at birth?
I have stored in my mind moments from when I was younger— from my creation days (because, really, creation does not take place solely in the matching up of sperm and egg or within the womb. It continues on and who knows when it stops). These small moments, which hooked themselves to the insides of my brain, revolve entirely around food and body and weight. A conversation, a television show, something I learned in school, an overheard comment, the way my mother never wanted to be video recorded and would strategically place someone else in front of her stomach in pictures.
Day 1: My friends and I choreographed dances in my basement and one of them—whose mom was constantly on odd diets, like eating nothing but almonds and exercising for four hours every day—said we couldn’t eat more than 200 calories for the whole day, so I’d better stop eating those Cheez-Its, cause that was all I was going to be able to eat.
Day 2: My mom told me that carbs are my tempting serpent, especially cereal and toast.
Day 3: At my cousin’s house in Idaho, they forgot to fix dinner for everyone. They shrugged their shoulders and skipped the meal altogether.
Day 4: My BMI in eighth grade was a higher number than the girl sitting next to me, who had recently kissed the boy I loved.
Day 5: My uncle repeatedly told his kids, “Don’t eat that or you’ll get fat,” as if that is the worst thing that could happen to a person.
Day 6: My mom came to help with a party in my sixth-grade class when she was pregnant, and I was worried all the other kids would just think she was overweight and would mock me for it.
Day 7: God rested. And turned on the TLC channel and watched ten minutes of a reality show about a woman who had bulimia and they tried to help her eat again and she had a sip of orange juice and a bite of a muffin and she couldn’t handle it and ran outside with her toothbrush in a plastic bag that she constantly carried with her to purge.
These moments—these days of creation—to the human eye, exist on a linear scale of time. But it also feels as if there never was a moment that these moments did not exist. And there can never be a day when these days do not continue. That there never was a life possible for me where these days did not make up the creation of my existence and continue on into eternity. It feels as if I am chained tothese moments, to these happenings, to this disease—bound with chains that never end and never begin, bound with a key that was never made. In fact, there isn’t even a keyhole.
But maybe, if I am able to write about this origin story of mine, this Creation narrative, I can begin to separate it from my Self and remember who I really am. Find myself, as the cliché says. Remember myself, which, as I think about this process of remembering, the word repeated aloud in my mind comes out with a pause, a fragmentation, a separation between the first and following syllables: re-membering—as in piecing back together separate members of a whole.
I am haunted by that image: a re-membering. It will not leave me. It has saturated this writing. It has permeated my reflection on these moments. It has invaded my recalling of these memories and details. Perhaps it haunts me because it is accompanied by the image of dismembering: a separating of limbs from the body. I have become a dismembered form of myself. A painful and grueling form of torture taking place over days, weeks, months, years. Slowly I was torn apart by anorexia until I was no longer a recognizable whole, but mutilated parts that, no matter how hard I tried to piece together again, were never really me.
Writing is a form of purging (pun not intended—because that is not part of my eating disorder, although I tried a few times, unsuccessfully). I have narratives and happenings and beliefs and feelings and behaviors inside of me that fester and grow and spread as long as I keep them in—very much like a mold grows, spreads, thickens, cultivates, flourishes, thrives in the dark—so I must get them out. I must exorcise them in order to survive. I must cast themout of my Garden of Eden before they taste of the Tree of Life and live on in eternity, and what better way than with words?
I don’t know how to tell the beginning, middle, end; and so, like God did through Moses, I write. I write essays, which, in myopinion, is probably how God chooses to write as well. The ethereal truth of the essay form is that it generates discovery. It offers a trail for the writer to walk at the same time that she constructs it. It is similar to laying oneself on a coroner’s table, starting in between the breasts, sliding the razor slowly down, following the curvature of the ribs, then peeling the skin back to look in. A surge of disgust (of course, what with the rotting organs and innards seeping and dripping blood), but also intrigue, curiosity, and mystery. A lure to peer in and run tests and find clues to piece together to uncover the question everyone seems to always asks: What was the cause of death?
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Mauri Pollard Johnson is an MFA student at Brigham Young University specializing in creative nonfiction. She is lucky enough to have a wonderful husband who currently takes care of the household chores (and their one year old cat, Autumn) and who encourages her to follow her dreams.