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Perhaps the most beloved memory of all is the feeling of the sand in Old Orchard Beach early in the morning once they have just brushed it through. The sand is so fluffy that it slides through your hands without friction of any kind.
My childhood could be considered a fairytale to most. I can't sit here and complain about parents who were alcoholics who fought all night long or being stricken by poverty and unable to get out of the living hell that it creates. My life was nothing like that. In fact, I grew up happy until I ran into the devil on earth.
I felt that way for almost a year after I was raped. I starved myself so thin that I could no longer feel the flesh that he beat with his fists. I starved myself so thin that I couldn't recognize my body anymore, and my God, what sweet relief that was. I didn't want to put anything into this body of mine. I just wanted it to be fucking gone.
I went on with my outside life as well as I could: I kept going to my classes, and I kept smiling for all the family when I came home. But let me tell you, inside I was fucking living a nightmare. When my roommates and I went out on the weekends, I was terrified of men, but for reasons that I cannot understand, I was drawn to them. I searched every party for a guy that I could mack on and maybe find someone who could replace the memories of a man touching me. I was convinced that I could find a way out of this hell through meaningless hookups and sexual encounters. I could erase it. Between not eating, using drugs, and having sex, I could erase what he had done to me. Each weekend that passed I drank more and more and wasted away into nothing by the time April came around. I started slitting my wrists then-because nothing was fucking working. I couldn't get this feeling out of me, the feeling of wanting to erase myself and start over. The blood that ran down my forearms felt so good-the warm, bright red pain was releasing me for a time, and I could breathe again. It wasn't just one cut-it was four or five at a time. I needed to see mass release; I needed to get this fucking memory out of me. I sat alone in my room day after day, night after night, crying, pleading to God to let me please feel better. I stopped going to classes-I was so exhausted from the throwing up and the lack of food that I simply could not get out of my bunk bed in that crowded little dorm room.
It is almost exactly a year later, and I feel the same way now that I felt then: I just want an out. But let me start at the beginning of all of this. That is the only way this will all make sense to you.
Every morning Lyndsay would ask me what type of doughnut I had for breakfast on the way there, and to my astonishment, she would guess correctly every time. I was amazed by her ability to predict (not realizing that at six years old, I had sprinkles stuck in the corners of my mouth), and I found Lyndsay to be so mysterious and wonderful. I also remember very clearly her sons Chuck and Scott, who were teenagers during the years I spent with Lyndsay. They were constantly in and out of the house, going here and going there, and I can remember making up elaborate stories in my head about where Scott and Chuck were actually going. I imagined Scott was a secret agent who worked for all of the good guys in the world, ridding this awful place of all the bad guys that I knew of. I looked up to those boys with awe and wonder as I watched them mature and succeed during the years I spent with them. They were charismatic and hilarious, always picking me up by my tiny, delicate hands and swinging me around as I watched the world spin around me. The days of the week I spent at that house were my favorite days of all. Most of my fondest childhood memories involve that house.
As I reached school age, I entered another new world. School was supposed to be this fun and exciting catapult into independence and creativity. My personal vision of school was a place where kids went in on an assembly line, received lessons drilled into their heads, and then returned home to their real lives and real worlds. Obviously, when I started kindergarten, I learned something quite different. I was a well-behaved girl at school and excelled academically in my young years. I had quite a few friends at my elementary school and quickly became close to a girl named Samantha. For a short time, Samantha lived just a few houses down from my own, until she moved into a nearby neighborhood. Nevertheless, we remained best friends through her move to the new neighborhood and a new school. Sam and I were inseparable for many endless summers and remained that way until almost the sixth grade. Actually, when I go through pictures of my childhood, I can rest assured that in every other picture Sam and I will be playing together and sharing bouts of stomach-wrenching laughter. I adored Sam and the friendship we had. In fact, I can actually say that she was one of the few people in my life whom I had a genuine love for. My memories of our childhood are close to my heart, filled with playing basketball and playing with dolls, followed by evenings of bike riding and sleepovers in the late summer heat. My heart remembers all of the laughter we shared riding the streets of her neighborhood on our bikes, feeling so free and enthusiastic. I remember riding with each other up to the biggest hill of the neighborhood and flying down with no hands on the handlebars, hair plastered back in the wind, and smiling all the way down. It has been ages since I have felt so carefree and daring. Memories of feeling such strong, positive emotions provoke a smile and a giggle as I write about this. Our relationship was a central focus of my young life, and I valued our friendship immensely, but just as seasons change, so do friendships.
Sam was always a petite girl: small and beautiful with her cloudy blue eyes and her silky brown hair. I, on the other hand, was not petite as a child. I was always the taller girl, the one with the thicker arms and the rounder face. I was actually quite chubby as a kid. I never cared much about my body until I began to notice that others noticed the physical difference between Sam and me. Sam had a younger sister, Sydney, who was mentally challenged. I loved Syd-I thought she was blast to be around-but I kept that hidden in my own little head. Naturally, being older and "wiser," Sam and I excluded Sydney from most of our playtime. It was really a cruel thing. I remember an interaction with Sydney on one particular day; it was the day that shaped many of my years to come.
I was dropped off at Sam's house for the afternoon, and Sydney was playing in the front yard, rolling her hands through the mud. She then decided to make my brand-new white shirt her personal canvas and smeared handprints all over the front of it. Obviously, I needed a new shirt to wear, and Sam brought me upstairs to offer me one of her own. I tried to find a shirt, one goddamn shirt that would fit me, but none of them did, as my body was slightly rounder and thicker than Sam's. Okay, not slightly-it was significantly larger. The next thing I knew, Sam said to me, "Well, maybe you just need to eat healthy and lose some weight." That was it. There it was- the start of a long chain of self-destructive events that led me to the place that I am today. Now granted, Sam had no idea what she said would ultimately affect me so negatively, but that sentence was the foundation of a long and disastrous illness. From that very moment I knew there was something wrong with my body. The rest of my childhood was a snowball of negative emotions and thoughts flying in and out of my head at rapid speed. I began to heavily compare myself to Sam and to all the other children in my life and decided in my young mind that I was not even on a comparable level to them. Now I knew why my mother would only make the macaroni and cheese with half the cheese, and I found out why my dietary needs were watched so closely. I was fat. Oh my God, I was fat! My life became consumed with comparison, and I tried to pretend for every second of every day that I was someone else. I began to try to act like Sam for the day, thinking of what she would wear and what she would say. I thought if I became enough like her, I wouldn't hate myself so fucking much. Nothing seemed to work, as I grew and Sam stayed about the same size. With every passing year, I became less hopeful that I would ever be like everyone else. I woke up every morning with the hope that I would like myself that day, or at least be somewhat satisfied with my performance for a decent amount of time. I lost touch with my individuality as a young girl, and it wouldn't be until ten years later that I would try to begin to find it again.
I was never tiny. Even at five foot four inches and ninety-five pounds, I was not tiny. Thin enough to lose my period? Yes. Thin enough for a weakened heartbeat, hardly palpable vital signs, papery thin bruising skin, and that bone-chilling cold? Yes. But it was never thin enough. I was never good enough.
I wasn't a functioning human being at this point. Between Prozac for my depressed and deserted moods and antipsychotics to keep me grounded in this strange realm of reality, I was constantly tumbling through my own mind, trying to discern what was real and what was true. Middle school and high school were hell, but I lived up to the part everyone wanted me to. I was so put together on the outside and so fucking bruised internally.
I believed beauty would come from thin. If only I looked as frail as I was, as broken as I felt inside, then maybe somehow the pain would be released. I achieved those delicate collarbones, structured by prominent bony shoulders. I lost the color in my cheeks, and my eyes faded to gray. I was finally as sick externally as I felt internally, but I screamed and I cried when I looked in the mirror, and I realized I was just as miserable as I was when I had begun.
How can such a sullen girl become anything of any substance? I wondered. I was trapped in my mind; I couldn't escape. I was alone, and I wanted to be left that way, forever.
Downward spirals were my specialty. Work too much, sleep too little, and eat nothing.
Oops, the floor is against my face. The parents are all watching from the side of the pool. Straighten up, Amanda, smile sweetly. It's nothing really. I must drink too many of those energy things. They don't work anymore; I'm too crazy, and I'm still tumbling.
I was so at odds with myself that I hardly noticed the pounds falling off like clothing on my thighs. I was so cold, so bone-numbing cold, despite the fact that it was July.
Then I experienced a relinquishing of control, an odd buzzing peace. My face grew fuller, my breasts softer. Was this health? This strange white noise when I shoveled food into my mouth?
I came out of that hospital, and I was a blank slate, something whole and new. Re-created and original. But returning home was only returning to the girl I had no desire to be. It would be the death of me.
In a sad attempt to regain control, I lost ten pounds. I was colder than ever, anemic teeth chattering. But still, I could not hold my desire for perfection at bay. When home becomes a prison, we must reinvent a safe haven. A nervous, skinny little thing, I feared emotion; I could not handle any relationships. Maybe that was what I was running away from.
Anxiety came back. Disgusting little girl. Are you not embarrassed to be seen like this? Another day, another breakdown. Another semester failed, this time before Johntmas. Drowning my sorrows in edible delights, I almost forgot how disgusting I was. My heart sat silent in my newly bulimic stomach, sleeping for now.
Health, oh how I wanted to know you. I even began going to the gym, trying to strengthen this now soft, delicate frame. But how evasive health can be. Perhaps it is easier to stumble upon than to actively pursue.
I never thought I would end up needing medical attention for something of my own doing. I would have happily dealt myself death, everlasting peace. But what can you do when you aren't the dealer? My heart was barely beating anymore; I couldn't even feel it when I reached for a pulse. Maybe I was dead, maybe I was dreaming. How did I go from being an angelic girl to something so raw and dissected that was too painful to even look at? My soul left me, and I was a corpse looking for life again. So much for everlasting peace. My life had fallen from under me, and the shattered glass of my remains had pierced my soul for eternity. It was just a waiting game now.
Somehow, in those short few years of my young life, I lost my identity, and I feared that I would never be able to grasp it once again.
My illness went with me wherever I went. When I was younger, I imagined that it would be released from me if I prayed hard enough: if I were a good girl, it would all be fine. When I got older, I got emotional. When I got emotional, I shut down, and my eating disorder turned on. I ran from it for years and years. I didn't want any part of it. I wanted to be normal-whatever normal is depicted as. Eventually it caught up with me, dismantled me, and turned me into a girl with distressing, aching green eyes but the most alluring smile you can imagine. It fooled everyone else, but it never fooled me, not once. I hated myself. I hated everything about myself. I spent my childhood years wishing day in and day out that I could be like someone else. From the age of eight, eight years old, a time when you are supposed to be obsessed with Barbie and playing house, I remember obsessing over everything I did wrong. I played Barbie wrong, I dressed wrong, and I was too fat, too ugly. I was too this, I was too that. In my mind I was one step behind everyone and everything else in my life. Nothing was ever just how I wanted it; I was never satisfied with myself. There are glimpses of happiness throughout my childhood, moments in time where I found myself suspended in happiness. But those moments play through my memory like the shattered glass of a mirror. They are whole and perfect and beautiful for some time, but when broken, it is impossible to regain every piece and replace it exactly as it was. I cannot retain memories like most people. I remember nothing about how I felt, but I always, always remember slight and vivid details. Details such as how a hotel room smelled, how many times you had to turn the lock on the outside of the door, or the way the sun would shine through the curtains in the morning. Nothing ever evoked feeling, but my detached and translucent memories are my only treasure.
Excerpted from A Tribute to Madness and Smiles by AMANDA SZUMOWSKI Copyright © 2010 by Amanda Szumowski. Excerpted by permission.
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