It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. I’m standing in the parking lot of the Eastleigh Medical Centre. The obstetrician who delivered my two children has an office in this very building. From time to time, I run into him in the hall.
“Hi, Dr. Dornan. Remember me?” I ask.
He looks down, at my crotch I think, and then a hint of recognition crosses his face.
“Oh yes. Of course I remember,” he says and makes a mad dash for the elevator.
I almost killed Dr. Dornan. Would’ve I’m sure, if my ex-husband hadn’t pulled the suture out of my hand. My first child was delivered au natural, as au natural as you can get. I wasn’t happy. After sixteen hours of sheer un-medicated agony, Dr. Dornan arrived on the scene, just back he said, “From a round of golf.” I’ve got a low threshold for pain. It matches my low threshold for incompetence and my inability to control myself. Actually, control is why I’m here. I have an eating disorder.
I’m here to see my therapist, Lawrence. Lawrence Something. Lawrence won’t give me his last name because he thinks I’ll track down his private number and call him at all hours of the day and night. Lawrence is right, and for this, I pay him eighty dollars an hour once a week.
Lawrence is fat, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. I’m a rake and think about food all the time. I’ve been binging and purging for most of my life. I remember the first time I did it. We had meatloaf for dinner.
I stamp out my cigarette and go into the building.
Lawrence has a buzzer on his door that lets him know when a patient has arrived. He also has cameras and a small black and white TV in his office that records all the comings and goings. I didn’t find this out until he confronted me about rummaging through his receptionist’s desk, looking for a trace of his existence. Maybe he’s not real I think when I push the button for his floor. Maybe nothing is real.
I go into his waiting room and make funny faces at the camera. Sometimes I dance. I’m not in a dancing mood today.
“Hey. Hey,” Lawrence says when he comes out to greet me. He’s always excited to see me. We joke that I’m his best patient. I paid for his new hot tub.
I sit down on the love seat opposite him. Lawrence sits in a leather armchair that’s seen better days. The window faces me and I position myself so I can catch a glimpse of my reflection past Lawrence’s bulk. I need lipstick.
“So,” he says, “what’s new?” This is his standard opening line. He mixes it up with, “How are things?” and “What’s been happening?”
“My shoes,” I answer.
He looks down at my feet. I model them like they’re ruby slippers.
“Very nice. How much?”
“They were on sale.”
“Good. How much?”
“I can’t remember.”
“You’re lucky you’ve got a good job.”
I smile. Lucky for you too Lawrence.
I have a habit of buying things like shoes and clothes, mostly clothes. I bought a car once. Lawrence negotiated with the car dealership so I could return it. I like spending money I don’t have, the feeling of my pulse throbbing through my head at not knowing whether my credit card will be approved or snatched from my hand. The shoes cost one hundred and fifty dollars. I bought two pairs.
“How’s it going at work?” Lawrence asks, always the questions.
“Have you been keeping your diary?”
My diary is part of my treatment. I have to keep track of what I eat, when I eat, how much I eat, and how it makes me feel. Other than a muffin and an apple, I haven’t had anything since yesterday morning. I feel okay. It’s like being on speed I think—running on adrenaline. If I keep it up, tomorrow I’ll have an overwhelming feeling of euphoria that I kid myself will last. One more day and I’ll crash and get depressed and tired. I’ve only gone past that point once.
“You have to write in it,” he says and leans forward in his chair.
I can see my entire face in the window. I look the other way.
“I know,” I say.
“How are the kids?”
“I don’t want to talk about them right now.”
“Because I just don’t. Okay? Can we talk about something else? How are your kids? Do you have kids?”
“Yes, you know I do. What’s going on?”
“My mom’s coming to visit this weekend.”
Lawrence sits back in his chair. My reflection disappears.
“How are you going to handle it?”
“I was thinking of eating a slab of lasagna and puking right in front of her, but she probably wouldn’t notice, or it’d be the wrong color or something like that. I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”
Lawrence is starting to sweat. He runs his hand across his forehead and through his hair.
“You know what to do.”
“You should phone and tell her not to come.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
“Patti,” he says. “Why do you let her do this to you?”
“It’s all I know,” I say.
My mom was a single parent. My father left when I was in third grade. It was hard for her on her own, as I know too well. Other than the fact that I’ve got two children instead of one, our lives have mirrored each other like my face in the window. I check to make sure I’m still there.
I was eight when she took me to the Indian reserve for the first time. It was a few months after dad’s departure to hell, (which I believed to be true and told anyone that bothered to ask where he was, “He’s rotting in hell,” I’d say and mom would laugh) I accidentally got magic marker on the couch; purple magic marker. I switched the cushions around and tried to hide it, wiped it with a dishrag—that only made it worse—and, in an innocent act, put a pillow over it thinking no one would be the wiser.
We lived in a small town in the Kootenays of British Columbia. Mom worked in a bank. I went to school and was an original latch key kid. I got good grades, had good manners, and tried to please my mom. Her mood swings were like the swings I played on in the park, the ones with leather seats suspended from long chains. I’d sit and twist the chains around each other until they were tight, then I’d lift my feet, and spin out of control.
When mom came home from work that day, the moved pillow was the first thing she noticed. The purple stain was the second. I made the mistake of lying that I hadn’t done it.
“Get in the car,” she said. “We’re going for a drive.”
I sat next to her in the front seat while she berated me for everything wrong in her life. My heart pounded and I knew if I spoke, I’d burst into tears. We drove through town, past the bank and the grocery store, to the outskirts, where the shanties were. Native kids ran around in bare-feet, old cars littered yards and men who frightened me stared. Mom pulled over. She stretched her arm across my legs and opened the door.
“Get out,” she said.
“Mom . . . ”
“I . . .”
She opened her door and walked around to the passenger side. She yanked on my arm and pulled me out. A little girl was playing. She ran to the door of a shack and called in to someone. A woman looked out. The girl pointed at me.
“Do you think I work as hard as I do so you can ruin everything? You have no appreciation. It’s time you got a taste of what your life could be like.”
She let go of my arm, got back into the car, and drove away.
“I’ll be good! I’ll be good!” I shouted and ran after her.
The woman took the little girl into the shack and closed the door.
I don’t know how long I stood there, in the gravel, crying. I started to walk home but was afraid of getting lost.
“I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” she said, when she came back to get me.
I was already lost.
There were other accidents and other mistakes, other trips in the car. I tried to figure out who she wanted me to be, but just when I thought I’d got it right, she’d change her mind. Then one night, after a meatloaf dinner I didn’t like, I started controlling the only thing I could.
After supper, which I made sure to finish and compliment, I excused from the table, went to the bathroom, and stuck my finger down my throat. When I made myself throw up, all the bad things she said, all the bad things I was starting to believe, came out of me and I was perfect again, ready to do the dishes. She never knew.
I moved out of the house at a young age and was fine for a while. I had to remember to eat and if I got upset about something; a breakup with a boyfriend, a bad day at work, I’d slip back into my old patterns. When my husband left me two years ago, mom came to help out with the kids for a few weeks. When she left, I had to be hospitalized and placed on an IV feeding tube. That’s when I met Lawrence. Lawrence Something.
Lawrence and I spend the rest of the hour devising a plan for the weekend. He gives me a list of affirmations I have to say to myself everyday, “I am a good person. I am a good person.” I hate doing it. I’m to eat small portions of food at least four times a day, and, he reminds me, “Keep your diary.” I promise I will. When I get up to leave, he writes something down on a slip of paper.
“It’s my cell number,” he says, handing it to me. “I’ll check for messages.”
I take the paper and purse my lips.
“Thanks,” I manage to say and touch his arm.
“Don’t overuse it. I’ll have to up my fees to cover the costs.”
We laugh and I leave. I blow a kiss at the camera on my way out. I walk past Dr. Dornan’s door and remember when my daughter was born and mom coming into the delivery room.
“Patti, you’re going to have to keep it down. I can hear you at the other end of the hall.”
It would be funny, if it weren’t.
I clench the paper in my fist and go down the elevator. I put it in my pocket when I open the car door, check to make sure it’s still there when I get in, and smile. I pull out of the parking lot and wait at the light. There’s a girl standing on the median. She’s wearing torn jeans and a jacket that’s too big. Her hair is dirty and straggly. Her eyes stare at the pavement as if she’s thinking about stepping off. She’s carrying a cardboard sign. ‘Will work for food,’ it says. She looks at me when I drive by. Her expression is sad, lost. I fish my cell phone from my purse.
“Mom,” I say in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own, “about this weekend,” I continue and start to cry. “It doesn’t work for me.”
I look in the rear view mirror. I’m still there.