Let’s call him Brandon.
He was young and handsome, with a devilish glint in his eye. He was charming and charismatic, like most of the men in my class at acting school. We sat in his car outside my Pasadena apartment talking late into the night, in the way that only 20 somethings can, still enjoying the new found freedom of apartment living and bar hopping. Leaning our heads back on the headrests and alternately staring into one another’s eyes, both of us summing up whether or not we were either tipsy enough or attracted to each other enough to kiss. I was fresh off a heartbreak that really wasn’t a heartbreak. You know, when you’re more upset and sad about the way it went down that the actual loss of the person. My pride was hurt, but my actual heart wasn’t. It was a very confusing time to be me. Mix in some heavy duty insecurity and a hard core eating disorder and I was ripe for the picking.
Somehow we ended up on the subject of my ex and how it all happened. There was another girl, you see, as there frequently are. She was gorgeous. She was talented. She was mean as a snake. Worse than all of that put together, she was better at being eating disordered than I was.
It was only when I was hospitalized the first time for my eating disorder, at 24 and after my second heart “incident” ,that I realized there is competition among us, the eating disordered. I sat in group therapy at a treatment facility without an ED specialized unit and listened to people of all walks of life tell horrific stories, the details of which are still fresh in my mind all these years later. There was only one other girl besides myself who was eating disordered. Her hair was cropped short, for the electric shock therapy she received twice weekly, and she folded perfectly in half on her metal folding chair in the cold therapy room. Her knees up by her face and her feet on the seat. her hands pulled inside her sweatshirt sleeves as she spoke. But all I could see was the space. There were probably 4 or 5 inches from the tips of her toes to the end of the seat. So much space. She was so thin. I was so jealous. Even know typing this I feel myself flush, my heart speed up a visceral reaction to the remembrance.
Later that night in my room, alone. I tried it. No metal chairs of course.Our rooms were an attempt to provide a home-like atmosphere while ensuring there were no sharp edges where we could injure ourselves, either on purpose if we were suicidal or accidentally from passing out. I had bulimia. Girl had anorexia. A much more desirable eating disorder. In the hierarchy of eating disorders it’s the tops. Every night since I was 17 I had prayed that God would take my bulimia and leave anorexia in it’s place. An unanswered prayer as it were. So it was that I tried to approximate the size of the folding chair and measure myself against her. I was barely 90 pounds at that time, a skeleton, but my feet left no space at the end of the chair. I didn’t measure up.
“Just once I want to be one of the beautiful people.” I said tipsily to Brandon. The girl whom my ex had become fascinated with, as everyone was, definitely qualified as “beautiful people.”
“No, you don’t Stephanie.” He said staring into my eyes and moving the tiniest bit closer. “It’s better to be plain. Like you.”
Then he tried to kiss me. I laughed, though I wanted to burst into tears from being told out right that I would indeed, never measure up, never be beautiful, never be the thinnest, the most talented, the desired one. But somehow, I laughed. Then, finding some self esteem somewhere I opened the car door and got out.