I like to think that April is alive, well and running a startup in a hip, gentrified section of some city where it's always sunny. In the life I imagine for April, her colleagues and subordinates love her because she's tough, but fair and fun all the time. The April I've created also has a big white dog who accompanies her to the office every day. I never think of April as being married or having children. Minus the dog and the job, she's free as a bird.
The idea that April is 50 now, possibly still bulimic, haggard, unemployable and bitter as f*ck, never crosses my mind. I simply cannot bear to think of her in any other way than as a shining star who is doing all the things she wanted to do in the exact way that she wanted to do them. April is my imaginary "it" girl.
April was the big sister you always wanted. The kind who let you hang around even when her friends were over ... the type who told you all of her secrets ... the one who never made you feel like a pain in the neck. April was all of those things to me, because she wasn't my big sister; she was a stranger who I knew I'd probably never see again after we got released from this joint.
April, like me, seemed normal on paper. She was a fine looking, twenty-something bulimic who had spent the last decade in a puke-fest.
If one had to be bulimic though, April was the kind to be. Bulimia worked for her in a way that it never did for me. When she overate, she would stick her finger down her throat and eliminate the offending contents of her stomach. When she didn’t overeat, she left the contents of her stomach well enough alone.
Unfortunately, April was puking a lot these days, which had earned her a spot on this Eating Disorder Unit. Even though I thought that her foray into bulimia had taken her too far down the rabbit hole, I thought she was fabulous. She showed me the ropes and told me what to expect of this place, its staff and our fellow patients.
April was also smart, articulate and pretty—a trifecta everyone covets.
April had a plan: get out of here and live happily ever after. I liked her plan. She seemed just goal-oriented and driven enough to realize it. She made it clear that she was done with bulimia. Perhaps, but from my uncomfortable vantage point, I noticed that April wasn’t through with obsession by a long shot. She paced the hallways at great speed and did pushups and crunches in her room. She didn’t think anyone was paying attention, but everyone was paying attention. April was about as subtle as a jackhammer.
The thing about April's plan was that it was all hers. By that I mean this: she did things her way ... on her terms. She never said f*ck that sh*t to anybody's face, but she was thinking it all the time. I'm not sure why, but I think if April had suggested that I follow her to the ends of the earth, I would have given it some serious thought.
Back in the day, April had been a gymnast. She was tiny, spunky and talented. She flipped about as people would ooh and ahh. But little girls grow up. When April grew, she didn’t like it, so she started throwing up on purpose and never stopped.
She also lost her dad recently, which had sent her into a spiral.
I heard April talk about her dad and her guilt about his death in group. She reflected that she had taken him for granted and now he was gone forever. She said something to the effect that it was a huge mistake not to appreciate the people we love because there are no guarantees.
I thought about the people I was supposed to love ... and I lost my sh*t. For so long my entire existence had been about controlling my body and my weight. I thought I had been doing it to be skinny and worthy, but I was starting to get the sense that engaging in hyper-focused self-centeredness just freed me from dealing with the world and the people in it. Feeding my obsessions and compulsions was easier than living a real life ... until it wasn't. Until now.
One evening April got to leave the unit to go out for a meal with her mom. I anxiously awaited her return. It was the first time she would be going to a restaurant and faced with choices about what and how much to eat. On her big night out April ate a normal meal and then she had … dessert.
I was floored. She had a cookie for dessert?!? We were supposed to avoid sugar and white flour—cookies are sugar and white flour! I couldn’t imagine why she had broken the rules on her first chance to follow them?
April said that the hospital’s food rules weren’t going to work for her in real life. She wasn’t going to abstain from sugar, white flour, caffeine and alcohol over the long haul so she figured she might as well learn how to eat a cookie without barfing before she got discharged.
I just listened, but in my head I was thinking: you’re doing it wrong … you’re doing it wrong … you’re doing it wrong! Maybe you can eat one cookie this time, but what about next time when you have three?
I was having a panic attack in my head on April’s behalf. I was scared for her, but I was scared for myself, too. The hospital people said that those substances were addictive and could trigger a binge. I believed them.
Honestly who the f*ck eats one cookie? I was afraid to eat one cookie and I was afraid to eat a dozen cookies.
I was afraid. I was starting to be really scared that I wouldn’t be able to live with the hospital’s rules or without them.
April said she was completely happy and comfortable with her decision. She said it was the first time in a decade that she’d eaten a cookie and not binged on more cookies. I wanted to be happy for April, I really did; I wanted to believe it could be just that simple, but I had my doubts.
After April got discharged, she came back to the Eating Disorder Unit to attend the Aftercare Program. I made a mental note that she was significantly thinner than I had remembered.
I thought: April has found a cure for bulimia and it’s called anorexia.
“God, does anybody ever actually get better?!” I wanted to scream.