When I was seventeen, someone commented on my weight and laughed. It was true enough; I had gained weight that year, although I was still healthy and athletic and strong. But those bitter words cut through my fragile teenage soul, and I began my diet from that moment on.
As it turned out, I was good at dieting: good at depriving myself and feeling virtuous, good at losing weight, and good at lapping up praise over my shrinking frame. As time went on I became good at other things. I became good at lying and telling people I’d already eaten, or I was going to later, or I couldn’t because I felt a bit sick. I became good at making excuses and not showing up to restaurant dinners with my friends. I was good at promising myself I could eat something in an hour, and then stretching that out for hours upon hours. I was good at hiding my hungry body under thick layers of clothes – I needed those clothes anyway, as I was always so cold. And for years, I was good at withstanding the torment of starvation, the desperation and despair of being around food but being unable to eat it.
I was good, very good, at whittling myself down to the bone.
My anorexia was severe and the recovery was slow and painful, but those days are over. Now, my bones are hidden again, the sharp edges and stretched skin exchanged for the soft curves of my flesh. I may not love this body, but it is familiar and mine and it is home. I take care of it well enough.
I tell you these things so you will understand why I recognise the blue girl immediately, the first time I see her.
It is Sunday morning and I’m in the kitchen, standing next to the toaster, waiting for my toast to pop. Amid the noisy hustle of getting our children ready to go out, the blue girl stands silently in the living room and watches. She is young, maybe seventeen or eighteen, and has long dark hair hanging straight on both sides of her face. Her eyes are wide and timid, and together with her long gaunt limbs she looks like somebody’s neglected fawn. She wears a forget-me-not blue dress with tiny yellow flowers on it, and over that a grey wool cardigan pulled down over her hands. Still, her fingers curl over the edges of the cardigan sleeves; thin knobbly fingers that are blue with the cold. It isn’t cold in this room, at least not to me. Morning sun streams through the windows, casting warm rectangles of light down upon the floor. But without body fat to insulate you, you will always be frozen.
I have seen the blue girl now, and taken in her presence. The toaster pops, and I feel a strange pang of guilt as I butter my toast in front of her. Standing in the living room, she leans forward to look. She is hungry and anxious, torn between jealousy and disgust. I hesitate, suddenly unsure, and then take a bite.
“You will eat it, then?” she whispers, her voice hoarse for someone so young. I am startled – often my hallucinations don’t talk to me, they just watch or gesture. The voices I hear usually do the talking instead.
In any case, I don’t answer. It’s very difficult not to answer a direct question, but I am aware that the blue girl isn’t real. I squeeze my eyes shut, take another bite and chew. But I can’t enjoy eating being watched like this, and she’s still there when I open my eyes.
“I can’t believe you’re eating it,” she whispers again, pulling her cardigan down further and watching miserably. Then she tilts her head to one side and looks at me directly, a glimmer of mirth suddenly upon her lips. “Aren’t you fat enough?” she asks.
Ah, I think, so that is why you have come. I like to think of myself as fully recovered, but there will always be things I find hard. Parts of my body that are too soft and bones buried too far below for my liking. And now my psychosis brain has discovered this vulnerability and is mining the dark jewels of insecurity within. Stubbornly, I finish my toast and refuse to answer. The food sits uncomfortably in my stomach.
“She didn’t need to eat that, did she?” says a voice out of nowhere. The blue girl looks around, less surprised than you’d expect for someone listening to a voice without a body to accompany it. Then she shakes her head in agreement. “No, she’s fat enough. Don’t you think she’s fat enough already?”
“Yes!” The voice crows. It loves an audience; no matter that the girl is as unreal than the voice itself. “She used to be tiny. So much more self control back then. Now look – all lost.”
The blue girl gives a weak smile. She’s pleased to have her suspicions confirmed.
“I knew it,” she says softly to me. “You’re like me. You were like me. You can come back – you can be like me again.” Her kindness is disarming. For a brief second, I imagine what it would be like to have psychosis and anorexia collude. What it would feel like to welcome the blue girl’s presence as my skeletal mentor; to always have someone to say put that down, you’ve eaten enough. I have no desire to return to the agony of an eating disorder, but the idea of weight loss holds a dangerous allure. Equally, I just know: I can’t. She would kill me in the end.
The blue girl takes in my reluctance with a sigh of disappointment.
“So disappointing,” the voice concurs, “such weakness of character.” It tuts.
I’ve left the kitchen now. I’m pulling clothes over my son’s head, putting underwear the right way round, tying shoelaces on little shoes with a grim determination to stay grounded. My son’s body is pink and warm and full of life, a study in contrasts. The blue girl shivers and wraps her arms around herself. She looks as though the slightest breeze would topple her.
“If you want some help…” she tries again. I try to walk through her and she steps back awkwardly, out of the way.
No. I don’t want help. Fuck, did I say that out loud? I’m not sure. Either way, the girl heard. Her wide fawn eyes blink.
“Don’t give up on me that easily,” she says. There is a hint of steel in her voice that makes me realise she is stronger than she looks. Then her face softens again and she offers me a gentle promise.
“I won’t give up on you.”