Doubled over and leaning against the table at the front of the art room, my best friend has a frown on his face, his arms crossed over his chest. I remember what Mrs. Dell had taught my kindergarten class the day before about trying to talk to our friend’s when they look like they’re upset, and my friend looks like he’s upset about something.
I abandon my assigned spot at the purple table to be a good friend, “what’s wrong?” I ask. I don’t get a real response, just a small hmm, and a bigger frown on my friends face. But that’s ok, Mrs. Dell had said that sometimes our friends don’t want to talk when they’re upset, so I give the appropriate Well I’m Here If You Want To Talk and walk back to the purple table, in the farthest corner of the art room.
I pick up the stamp I had been working on in class, a small fish I drawn on it, and start to turn to the sink to clean the ink off of it. The three other kids in my class assigned to the purple table with me are cleaning up their fish stamps at the gray metal sinks. They left their sheets with the pictures of fish on the newsprint paper that the art teacher spread out on each wooden art table.
Its clean up time and I’m feeling good from trying to reach out to my friend, so I decide to keep up with the good deeds for the rest of the afternoon. Mommy will be really proud of me when I tell her about today. I reach out and grab their image sheets. The papers in my hand are crisp and white and clean, crinkling at the corner where my hands hold them. I look over the small fish that all look the same to me, but Mr. Karmen said they aren’t.
First, I will walk to the front of the room and deposit the fish pictures on the pile, then to the sink and wash the ink off my stamp. This time, I turn around for real, and so does my friend at the front of the room.
He whips around with such speed, his arms go flying out to side, he bends, and a light brown surge of vomit emits from him, the brown coloring sprinkled with darker browns, oranges, reds. It lands in a large pile at his feet.
My knees start to shake, the room gets longer and bigger, the yellowish greenish color of new leaves budding on the trees outside the windows haunt me, the purple arrow above the table I’m at seems to whip around in fast circles. My hand with the fish pictures slams down on the table, orange, blue, white tiles on the floor beneath me each shake and shiver to their own tempo.
I Can’t Hear Anything. There’s a fuzzy distant ringing sound in my ears, and the sound of my breathing picks up hot and heavy. Theres a large lump in my throat and Oh No Oh Gosh I can’t breathe. My chest puffs out and a shaking, fast, breathing pattern is all I can choke out past the obstacle that has chosen my throat as its home. My knees are shaking and bumping into each other. I want to cry.
I want my mom.
I want to go home.
I hate art class.
I hate art.
I hate fish.
I want my mommy.
I want to go home.
My hearing comes back, and the chorus of screams and Ew and Gross and Oh My Gosh harmonize around me, and something, some other force turns me around to the table. Both my hands slam down on the table to try and steady myself. Hot burning tears fill my eyes and my breathing won’t go back to normal. My eyes search around the room staring at all the pictures of paintings hanging on the walls.
I hate art class.
I hate art.
I hate art.
I hate art.
My right fist holds a mess of crumpled papers of fish pictures, fingers clenching tighter and tighter. My left hand holds on to an awkward shaped square that doesn’t want to shape to the form of my fist, and leaves long red lines in my flesh. Each of my knuckles are clenched to white.
I hate art class.
I hate art.
I hate fish.
I’m following a long line of kids in white art smocks to the door and out the hall. I don’t remember getting from the table to here. I give one look back to my friend. He looks like hes crying over the space where he puked, the assistant teacher is rushing around, cleaning up the puke, cleaning him up, ushering us out of the class.
And I don’t remember how I got back down in the classroom, my white art smock that has EMILY written in long big capital letters with a black marker and the dried crusty paint splatters of mostly purples, hung up on the coat hook. My backpack straps slung over my shoulders, eyes trained on the worn green carpeting of the classroom.
I walked around for the rest of the day in a hazy, shaky, terrified trance. My chest stayed puffed out and my breathing short and sharp. Still light out, fading golden sunshine slipping through the new leaves on the trees, I stood in line with my mom while she waited for our food order that we called in earlier. My knees felt weak from shaking and banging into each other. The familiar bright blue walls seemed foreign and dangerous, the cartoons of fish, crabs, and lobsters smiling at me from the chalkboard looked like they wanted to hurt me more than anything else in the world.
I hate fish.
I don’t remember how I got home. It’s dark now, light blue sky replaced by deep blue, I layed in the fetal position on the couch with the light from the television illuminating the garbage bag that layed on the floor. All of the shaky breathing was coming out rapidly as I cried, curled up on the dull green couch, in a dimly lit living room. My mom prompted me to show my dad the things I had in the garbage bag, the things I had made at daycare that morning before school.
Inside the bag were a couple paper crowns, paper necklaces that I colored to look like they were made of roses and other flowers. I shook on the couch, crying, refusing to get up and show him the items I was so proud of that morning.
My mom prompted me to eat some of the fish-something that we had just gotten. I didn’t touch my dinner. A silver fork balancing the fish-something hovered before my face. She sighs, setting the fork down, a face of worry turned into a face of defeat. She wiped a fresh tear rolling down my plump cheek, but her attempt was more to make her feel like she was helping.
I hate fish.
I choked on the air racing to get out of me, and racing to come back in. I swore to never ever eat fish ever again, the last thing I had looked at before I watched my best friend throw up.
Sixteen and blonde, I stand crying on the bike path, my mom yards ahead of me. She looks back like shes pissed off. She is pissed off, I can tell. She just wants to get me home because she is done with this. Done with this whole situation. Believe me, I am too.
I’m looking up at the gray clouds slowly ambling across the August sky. I breathe heavy and laboured. Its been, how many days since I last actually ate? Jesus, I don’t know, all I know is that it’s hard. Harder than It’s been since second or third grade.
She’s calling to me now, looking with her pissed off eyes at the sky, the green trees waving at us, the old man steadily walking towards us.
I’m telling her that I can’t, I can’t do this, make it, eat, walk, stop it. There’s a heavy pain in my chest, a heart racing, it drops down into my stomach, and catapults itself off my diaphragm and into my brain where there’s a constant pounding of hurting and sadness.
Grudgingly I resume my slow pace forward. I’m crying from the Fear that travels through my blood. I can’t make it stop and I don’t know what will.
I want to kill myself. Over and over again. My only prayer. I say it every step I take. My mom ignores me, doesn’t know what to say, what to do. Her only threat is a psych ward. Doesn’t sound too bad if…
Every morning when I went to daycare, my dad would come pick me up after lunch and drive me to kindergarten. Today’s no different than the rest, he picked me up, and we listened to Ben Fold’s Rockin the Suburbs.
I sat in my booster seat playing with the small plastic cat that lived in the car, singing along and meowing over the swear words. I make Hello Kitty float on the clouds, jump over cars, do back flips. We grew closer and closer to the school my stomach began to bounce and flip. “Daddy? I don’t feel good,” my voice weak.
I felt sweaty and shaky. My chest started to puff out just slightly, and every breath I took had a slight hint of a rough, shakiness to it.
The sky is bright blue. Fluffy, lovable clouds drift through the sky, collide, and cuddle with each other. I’m at home, sitting under the hexagon fish tank, knees tucked hastily under my chin. My mom and dad are standing in front of the window, talking in the voice all parents and teachers have, quiet like a whisper, but still maintaining a regular talking voice that’s not distorted by breathy letters.
I’m crying. I’m crying and I don’t know why. I think I’m scared, but I don’t know why. I think I’m scared, but I don’t know what’s scaring me. My tummy is gurgly and flippy and floppy and I don’t know why. I think that’s scaring me. There’s a sudden flashback to art class yesterday and my best friend, ex-best friend, is puking all over again.
I’m crying. I’m crying harder and I don’t know why. I’m terrified. I’m crying harder. I’m crying and crying and crying and now I’m hysterical.
I’m screaming. I’m screaming and crying and choking. It’s like a cycle. I cry, gulp, choke, cry, scream, cry, gulp, choke, cry and repeat.
Minutes pass of this and my parents don’t even bother with the Quiet Parent/Teacher Voice. Mommy is holding me, I’m straddling her left hip, my head rests on her shoulder and since mommy is holding me, everything should be ok, but I’m still scared, still on the crying, gulping, choking, crying, screaming cycle. There’s a lot of Fred! and I Don’t Know What To Do! and The Kid Is Crying And Screaming And Kicking! and That Is Not Going To Help! and Should We Call The Emergency Room!? and Should We Get Her Into The Doctors!?
I can barely hear them over the chaos inside myself. My brain feels like its numb. I’ve probably screamed out something about puking because now I’m screaming and crying and choking over the toilet, mom still holding me, her back bent at a strange angle to position me over the toilet. I claw my clammy hands tighter around her neck and try to pull away from the toilet screaming and crying
I don’t want to puke.
I don’t want to puke.
Leaning over the toilet means puking.
Back in the kitchen, my parents saying the same loud things around me, and suddenly I can’t feel anything in my body, and everything feels like its going out of focus. It feels like I can’t see anything. My fingers tingle, they feel like they’re full of the little beads inside of a Beanie Baby. My toes feel like that too. I think each white tooth has been pulled out, making my gums swell, and then replaced by a lighter, tingling, plastic version of the tooth it’s subbing for. My vision is getting hazy and my mom’s soothing instructions fade away.
I’m standing in the bright kitchen. Bare feet on the yellow flooring that I think looks like pebbles. I’m standing in front of the doorway, green carpeting abruptly becoming the living room on my left, the circle shaped kitchen table with matching circle stools at my right. The sun is pouring into the kitchen from the windows behind the kitchen table.
Everything is quiet. Quiet and slow. Quiet, slow, bright.
I look up at my mom. Her backside is facing me. She’s still holding me. I watch my mom holding me. There’s two of me. The one of me she’s holding is red and watery. Tears drip down cheeks, leaking out of deep blue eyes. Eyes that look raw, like they’ve been soaking in water for weeks. A tired vacant look haunts those large blue eyes. Large and blue like an ocean, focused on everything and nothing. Everything inside nothing outside, all at once. My chins resting on her right shoulder, skin pushed up closer to puffy pink lips, and my arms looped around her neck. Face completely puffed up and swollen, like its been soaking in water for weeks, drowned. Tired.
I’m holding an orange round and flat thing. I watch myself hold it between my thumb and pointer finger. I watch myself bring it to my lips. Me and Me think that it looks like a Smarty.
Things get even slower. I either ate the orange Smarty or we went backwards in time, because I’m watching my mom holding me and I’m resting my chin on her shoulder still, arms looped around her neck, and orange Smarty-less. There’s a faint song of birds creeping through the windows. The lights swell, and everything gets brighter, fading to white.
I hear my mom saying next to me that shes taking me to the doctor. She sounds tired. Scared. I’m back in her arms, chin on shoulder. The word Doctor makes the Fear inside my stomach start kicking and stirring at the walls of my stomach, kicking at the walls of my lungs. Kicking, kicking.
I’m being sat back in my booster seat, back in the car. My mom carried me out and buckled me in. A towel being laid hastily over my lap in response to my whimper of But What If I Puke. Its a white, with thick blue stripes flanked by a slim pink stripe on either side of the blue stripe. I stared at it the whole time thinking that if I were to puke, I wouldn’t want to puke on a towel in my lap. The car was turning anywhere between wide and fast and sharp; the way my dad drives when he’s angry. Everyone was quiet I looked around the back of the car wondering where to go if I had to puke.
Dizzy and tired. I don’t remember the doctors office.
Where we spent our days in the summer, air conditioned, people watching, sitting on the dark blue fabric of the benches at the mall. We’re there now. He came and got me, just to take me out of the house and see if that helped. Yeah, right.
Stop one was a park where we napped some lazy days. He was angry, said if I ever did he would leave. Bye bye. I said It never would happen, you know me, I wouldn’t ever do it. I talk a lot of talk.
Whole Foods. Bought me five dollars worth of apples I struggled to eat and cried over in the car. Burping little acidic burps each pothole and crack and bump and turn and stop.
Crying on that bench in the mall with a touch screen soda machine to our rights screaming ads at us. Elderly power walking. 1, 2, 1, 2.
I say a little something like I’m thinking about checking in. A psych ward. Just to get away and fix it all. He says a little something like yeah, that might be good.
There was a bomb threat in the apartment building near my house later that day. Good.
Day seven was art day on our schedule. I sat at the table where we learned how to read books, flipping through the story book that doubled as a coloring book. I looked up, across the room to where my ex-best friend stood at the crafts table and my chest puffed out and the shaky breathing started up, the sweat that began to coat my palms made the paper on the crayons I held damp and frail, ripping and folding around the edges.
“It’s really, um, it’s really fun, to, uh, it’s really fun to, um, scribble really fast,” I panted out, between shaky racing breaths, trying to explain that it was actually a really fun coloring technique, and not just my sudden fear of art class.
I swiped my forearm across my forehead, banishing the salty beads of sweat, stealing glances at the One Who Puked. Forget my love of coloring in the lines, I rapidly dragged multiple crayons across the pages, their perfect crayola papers caving in on themselves from my sweaty paws.
I plead with the clock I can’t even read. Please let time slow down. I silently plead with my teachers, please forget we have art today, please let us do something else, please let there suddenly be a fire drill, please take Him out of my class, please.
I sit as far away from him as I can get. We’re spread out sitting cross legged at the front of the art room. I sit as far away from the middle of the front of the room, pushing myself further and further away from the center. I study the tiles where He Who Puked had puked. I think I can tell that they’re stained a darker white, a darker orange, a darker blue. My arms and legs are shakier and weaker than normal. The Fear inside my stomach starts kicking around again and I don’t know why.
There are papers are being passed around. Everyone needs to grab one. Its for a field trip to the Art Museum that’s downtown.
I see my mom standing against the wall where it meets another wall, birthing a corner. Shes got her arms crossed and one leg is extended out in front of her, and she’s chewing gum like always, making it pop every now and then. This is where she waits to pick me up everyday after school. The bell rings and I dart out of the classroom, and shove the permission slip at her.
Days go by. I’m sitting in the classroom on the green carpet, worn and sleepy looking from years of classes and kindergarteners trampling it. My teacher is making sure that we are all here. She picks a clipboard up and her eyes scan over it, blonde hair framing a square face. She reads out pairs of names, assigning us partners and chaperones for todays event. Me and some girls cling to one anothers wrists, hoping we get assigned to each other, and then to the same group.
Teacher calls my name. The grip from two different girls tightens on each of my arms. She calls my partners name. The girls loosen their grip on my wrists, sighing. Gasping, my grasp tightens on theirs.
No. Oh no.
I’m paired with the Puking One.
We go through the drill. I’m starting to know it well. The Fear starts kicking at the walls of my insides, chest puffs out, shaky, sharp breathing in and out.
You have to sit with your partner on the bus. There goes my partner, darting down the aisle to the back of the back of the bus, hes yelling that the back of the bus is the best because it bounces up and down. Fear kicks inside my stomach, shaking and sweating, I follow far behind. I sit a seat in front of the Pukey One. I’m scared that the bouncing of the bus will make him puke, and being as close as I am to him right now, he would puke on me.
The back of the bus really is the bounciest part. I cling to the top of the seat in front of me, trying to steady myself and keep from springing out of my seat. My chest puffed out and my breathing is hard and short the whole ride.
I spend the whole field trip clinging to the very tips of his fingers. Rule number one: stay with your buddy, hold your buddy’s hand the entire time. My arm is stretched out as far as it will go, trembling from the contact with my buddy. My teeth chatter as he runs across the orange wood floor, pulling me with him like a dog would pull its walker chasing after a rodent.
Theres a large white pillar in our way. I veer to the left of it, he to the right. Our connection breaks. I gasp a huge sigh of relief as I see him continue to run. I’m free! My hand is free! I wipe my damp right hand on the top of my thigh, wipe the Fear that seeped out of my pores in the form of sweat on my pants.
Just like a dog, my buddy comes trotting back, like a dog that took of on an adventure only to get confused and return to its human. He reaches out and grabs my hand, taking my index finger prisoner in his puke infested palm. The sweaty Fear butters up my finger quickly, and with a small tug comes shooting free.
"Come on," he says, taking hold of my whole hand. "We have to hold our buddy’s hand the whole time." His blue eyes discover a hurt look from behind his too long light blonde bangs, his eyebrows crinkle in a confused look, and his mouth hangs open, just slightly, in a questioning way.
I spent the afternoon on the verge of tears and shaking staring at art pieces on the wall, angry at the world for putting me in this position. Scared with everything and not having anywhere to run and hide, anyone to run to, anyone that will help. Fear fueling my hate for art, like adding small sticks to a fire, subtly keeping the flames going.
I hate art.
I hate Him.
I don’t want to hold his hand.
I don’t want to sit near him on the bus ride back.
I hate being in the bouncey house that is the back of the bus.
I will never talk to him ever again. I swear to avoid him forever, at all costs.
The last day of school comes and goes and I finish my first school year with minimal contact of The Puker and I’m going to daycare all day long. My daycare provider’s my mom’s friend from high school, Bridgette, and her daycare is run out of her house so we just call it Bridgette’s House.
I love going to Bridgette’s house. I love Bridgette, she feels like family. She is family, we’re all a family. I’m friends with everyone there and we all love to play Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64. This summer is going to be no different than the other’s and the years before, and the times before I started my first year of school.
I sit down at the small table set up in the kitchen and look at the plate of lunch she’s laid out for me and the other kids. A plain white paper plate with ridges on the outer circle holds a hot dog with a perfect squiggle of ketchup placed precisely in a beautiful hot dog bun. Big, oval, purple grapes sitting on the side of that, and a cup of orange juice in a glass pokemon cup that used to be a jelly jar.
I eat my hot dog with no problem. I curl my hand around the pokemon cup, and bring the orange goodness to my lips. I take a big sip, and my eyes widen. There are lumpies and stringies in the orange juice. I swallow it with a grimace and put the cup down, away from my plate. “There’s stuff in my orange juice!” I exclaim with fear, eyes wide open, corners of my mouth pulled down, nose wrinkled up into itself.
“It’s just pulp, it’s always in orange juice,” Bridgette explains to me from the stove where she’s wiping the surface clean.
“I don’t like it, “ I pout, pushing my cup across the plastic table top. “Can I have water instead?” I look over and ask.
“You don’t like it? You used to always drink orange juice”, Bridgette remarks, crossing the white tiled floor to my cup. She picks it up with fingertips, dumps the orange pulpy drink down the drain. She runs tap water into the cup, dumps, fills, dumps, and fills up the cup before returning it to my table.
This was the first issue with lunch, the first and definitely not the final. It seemed to get worse and worse over the summer, at Bridgette’s house and at home. Foods began to not be as safe as they were. They wanted to infect my stomach, and make illness kick at the lining until I puked. I definitely did not want to that.
I sit at the little white table in the kitchen, one knee tucked under my chin. I ate everything but a pile of purple oval grapes. A chewed up and spat out one lays next to the pile. I put it in my mouth to eat it, and when I started to chew I started to gag and I couldn’t eat it. I coughed it out onto the plate and Bridgette yelled at me. I refused to drink the glass of milk sitting in the same place the orange juice had been sitting.
It was a treat day. Treat days are if you eat all the food on your plate you get a treat. Everyone else finished their lunch and got their treat. I sat in my chair crying because Bridgette wanted me to eat the foods I was physically incapable of eating. She yelled at me for crying over my food. I told her I was crying because my cat died.
Today we had gotten bread from the bread store. It was really dry and I was having a hard time eating it. Each bite would go and absorb all the spit in my mouth and leave me unable to make more. I tried to hide a piece in my fist as I got up from the table to go the bathroom. In my mind the bathroom was quiet, and clean, and safe. If I could be in a safe and clean environment I think I could eat this last bit of bread.
“Uh uh!” Bridgette yelled, waving her finger at me. “We do not eat food outside of the kitchen especially in the bathroom!”
I sat back down and cried and nibbled at the bread.
I hate Bridgette’s House.
I sat in the bathroom, loitering on the toilet after I had done my business, buying some time until 3:00 when My mom would come to pick me up. Everything would be ok then. Mommy would pick me up, we would ride the bus home, and make a snack and watch Dragon Tales in the living room.
I hate art.
I hate art class.
I hate fish.
I hate big oval purple grapes.
I hate pulpy orange juice.
I hate dry bread.
I hate Him.
I hate going to Bridgette’s House.
When I exit the bathroom, my mom and Bridgette are waiting for me. Momma has a worried look on her face, Bridgette too, but her’s is cloudy like she wants to hide it.
They explain that Bridgette is concerned that I’m throwing up my lunch. She says she thinks she can hear me puking every time I go into the bathroom after I eat. Perplexed, I explain that the toilet seat is loose and when you move, it squeaks. They tell me that they’re just concerned. Now I’m confused. Why would anyone ever want to puke?
On the bus ride back my Mom asks if I don’t want to go to Bridgette’s because she was hurting me. I say no, she isn’t, and in my mind I almost wish she would, just so finally they can let me stay at home.
Knock knock. I leave the safety of my position on the couch. I wrap my arm around my stomach, shooting stars of pain flying through my abdomen. I open the door for him and start crying.
We’re sitting on the couch and I’m trying to just let it happen, cry and get over it, but it won’t happen. I’m scared and I’m yelling about it. It feels like that time in late August. A burp brings up a new fit of terror, shouting something like I felt shit come up! I felt shit creep up my throat!
Bang! A shooting star, and I’m screaming and I think I’m going to puke!
He stands and I shove him, slamming a toe nail into a wooden table leg. Shit!
Doubled over the toilet I gag, assuming its just an Anxiety Gag. I do that a lot.
I gag and stuff comes out. I stare at it with wide eyes of terror. I whip up and around to him screaming with fear I puked!
He yelled with pride that I puked!
I’m slamming my hand on the wall of the sage colored bathroom. No this is not okay! No, I want to kill myself! Kill-my-self, with each pound on the wall and, uh oh.
Doubled over the toilet, a meteor shower explodes from my mouth and doesn’t stop. Dark brown and I can feel pieces of popcorn snagging on my insides on the exit. Shit.
First day, First Grade. I’m sitting at the end of the blue bench in the Cafeteria. There are three rows of tables in the lunchroom, five to six tables per each row. One row when you first walk in is where the first graders sit in the first lunch period, and where the fourth graders sit in the second lunch period. The middle row is for second and fifth graders, last row third and sixth grades. In front of the first section of tables is a stage, with sweet honey colored wooden trim and flooring. A red velvet curtain hangs down, covering a quarter of the stage opening. There’s midnight black velvet curtains hanging on the sides and at the back of the stage. The Cafeteria doubles as an Auditorium for plays and assemblies. Cafetorium.
I’m eating alone. I don’t have any friends in my class yet. But I’m okay, this is okay. I’m content with eating my lunch out of my L.L.Bean lunch box, big kid in the Cafetorium. There’s probably seven other girls sitting at the same table as me. There are two large semicircle sponges on each end of the table. Pale yellow, they sit on their flat side. I don’t know what they’re used for, maybe if you spill your food? The whole room is loud and crowded, the girls at my table raise their voices just to be heard across the deep blue sea of the lunch room table where the sponges turn into boats.
I clamp my peanut and butter jelly sandwich between my hands, elbows resting on the table to prop the sandwich just in front of my face. My tummy gurgles and bubbles a little, a piece of crust falls in my lap. My hand goes down to usher it off my thigh when the whole room suddenly explodes with motion.
Frozen hand on my lap, chunk of bread and peanut butter and jelly nesting in my cheek like a hamster does with its seeds, I turn my head, watching the room and the kids getting up and swarming the six garbage cans in the room. Three cans building a border between the first and second graders, the second and third graders. There’s yelling, sponges flying, lunch boxs bouncing off the wall farthest from where I sit, where you first walk into the Cafetorium.
I’m completely alone now. No one is at my table and there’s only a few people left in the room, and they’re running across the large room and darting through a doorway behind me. I hold my tummy and set my sandwich down. What do I do? Where did everyone go! I have to go to the bathroom, I don’t know how to leave the room, everyone seemed to be following a ritual that I was totally left out of.
I see a supervisor roaming along the precisely placed tables. Cautiously I abandon the blue table and my Big Kid Lunchbox and rush over to her, like a baby deer running across an open meadow to the other side where it’s safe. I’m crying because I’m scared and not sure what to do. She looks down at me with a look of concern, bending in to get closer to me. “Can you please help me, I have to poop and I don’t know what to do!” I cry at her. The look of concern turns to confusion. She walks me back to my spot in the lunchroom.
“Okay, here why don’t you throw your trash away in the garbage first?” I nod and sniff, tucking all my garbage in my lunch box, just like Mommy told me so she can know what I ate and what I didn’t.
“Okay, now grab the sponge and wipe up your spot to keep it clean.” So that’s what the sponge is for! I grab it, starting to feel less scared, sure of myself, and wipe my spot down. I plop the paled sponge down and look at her for the next step.
“Alright, grab your lunch box and follow me. Who’s your teacher?”
“Mr Hodgson,” I say, zipping up my lunch box, holding it by its cushioned handle and following her to the rows of bins that line the wall of the Cafetorium where you first walk in.
“Okay, this is your classroom’s lunch bin. When you’re done with your lunch, put your box in here,” she points at my bin, “and whoever is signed up to get the bin that day will bring it back to the room so you can get it when you’re packing up.”
I gingerly set my Big Kid Status in the brownish grayish bin. I look up at her with gratitude.
“Um, you said you have to go to the bathroom?”
“Do you know where the bathroom is?”
I shook my head. She leads me up a small set of stairs, six to be exact, that exit out of the Cafetorium and out to the hallway, around the corner and to the bathroom.
“This is the girl’s bathroom. When you’re done you go to recess. Go back down towards the lunchroom, but go straight, then turn and go down the long hallway. There will be a doorway and a set of stairs going outside. Go through there and then line up with the other kids when they call for recess to end. Okay? You got it?”
“Yes, thanks,” I say, and skip into the bathroom.
Its been two days since I puked. Its been two days since I ate. Laying hazy, waking up every five minutes to find an hour had passed. Rolling over wanting just to drink water and hold it down. Small sip. Sip sip, careful not to throw it all back up.
I laid in my bed tired, hard to breathe, unable to eat. My stomach twisted too tight from empty and fear. Empty fear. Long twisted knot in a diagonal across my stomach.
I have to go to school tomorrow, but I don’t know if I can. Getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom brings on another fit of panic that would knot my stomach more, twist it tighter, making it harder to stomach food.
The warmth from my laptop overheating on my stomach makes me feel better. Watching Australian kids shows on netflix hurts my head. Accents too different for me to handle, the colors and movement and noise hurting my head, making me feel scared. My rib cage puffs out as my breathing shifts from being comfortable in my stomach to anxious in my lungs.
I have to go to school tomorrow. My parents are going to make me. I have to get better, I have to eat.
Breathing hard and anxious. Get over it.
First table, first row, corner closest to the exit. There’s a small table set up in a little space between the wall guarding the stairs, and the wall that forms the edge of the stage. This is where the kids with food allergies sit, in the dark corner next to the elevator.
I’ve positioned myself on the corner of the table closest to them, it’s the cleanest air in the whole Cafetorium. I steal glances at them. Three girls, and there are four chairs. I could probably make up some rumor that I have a peanut allergy just to sit in the safe house of their table.
In front of my nose is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve mouthed.
Peanut allergy won’t work.
The air in here is toxic. Thick and full of the smell of different hot lunch foods, garbage cans, milk, fridge. Sound carries on the polluted Cafetorium air, making it thicker. Ovens, stoves, body heat make the room warm. So warm that I’m sweating.
I hastily pack my sandwich with one bite in the baggy it came in, zip my lunch box and spin counter clockwise off the bench.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, little stairs, in the hall, around the corner, another corner, past the bathroom I found on the first day of school, down a long wide hall towards my classroom, and turning right when I reach the front doors, and face another long hallway.
When you first walk into the Elementary school, you see a long hallway called the MAC hallway. MAC kids are in a special class room where first and second graders are together in MAC I, third and fourth in MAC II, fifth six in MAC III.
On the left of the mouth of the MAC hallway is the office where the secretaries sit and the principal lives. Across from that is the nurse’s office. My destination.
I walk through the open door and smile weakly at the nurse. It’s my third lunch in here. I sit on the maroon cushioned bench on the left of the door. I plop my butt down and rest my lunchbox on my knees.
“I don’t feel good,” I tell the nurse. Her short black bob bounces as she nods, writing my name down. She asks if I just want to eat in here again. I nod.
It’s a lot easier to eat in here. A whole lot easier. The white walls and smell of sanitizing chemicals give the air a safe clean feeling. The fluorescent lights illuminate the white walls, white tiled floor. My breathing is good and normal, the air seems to slip in and out of my like smooth, soft feathers floating through the clean air.
I finish my peanut and butter sandwich, realizing how empty and hungry my stomach actually was. I finish everything in my lunch box. Drink my juice. Tuck it all away in my lunchbox like I was told to.
Lunch ends and I leave the nurse to her sterile room. I go back the way I came depositing my lunchbox in its designated bin, and go out to recess to play with my friends.
A whole week passes of me doing this. The Cafetorium air is heavy and thick and makes me feel weird. The nurses office makes me feel safe. I don’t feel safe in Cafetorium. I sit on the ground under the chalkboard crying because I’m scared and don’t want to go eat in the lunchroom today. Or ever. Mr Hodgson comes over, holding a large tin of jelly beans he gives us when we do an awesome job in our reading groups. He’s crouched next to me, I’m crying for my mommy. He pushes the tin out closing the gap between us and offers me a jelly bean to make me feel better. I take a lime green one and put it in my mouth, crying around the sugary goodness of it. He smiles, closing the tin and walks off, satisfied that I’ve calmed down. I stopped crying, sadness and fear replaced by anger and feeling unsatisfied. How can anyone be satisfied with eating just one jelly bean?
Someone got worried and called my mom, and now I’m sitting at the jelly bean shaped desk in my first grade classroom. I think Mr. Hodgson really liked jelly beans. My mom is sitting next to me and my teacher is sitting on the other side, where the jelly bean curves in, making the bottom part of a U. The table is a creamy white, speckled with deeper creamier whites. This is where we practice reading in our reading groups. Behind me and to my left is a blue bookcase filled with books we can read during free time, books we can take home and practice reading.
My mom’s got that look of concern again. She stares at me with it while listening to what my teacher has to say, while saying what she has to say. Why is she staring at me? I’ll ask what, and she’ll just shake her head in short quick movements, making her hair wiggle. Her big brown eyes are wide and unmoving, brown eyes the color of root beer. Her mouth is opened a little, exposing her off white teeth through pink lips with corners that are dragging downward. Her eyebrows above her root beer eyes push down on the inside closest to her nose, wrinkling her olivey forehead.
Now it’s my time to be apart of this meeting. My teacher shifts his body towards me and leans on his forearms that rest on the creamy jelly bean. He smiles, a wide toothy grin partially hidden by a wiry, grayed mustache the color of finely ground pepper with a sprinkle of salt.
“Everything is gonna be okay! There’s nothing to be worried or scared about! You’re safe here, and hey, why don’t you come eat your lunch in here instead of the nurses office if you need? Okay? Everything is going to be just fine!”
Safe. I’m safe here. I have an escape route, just in case. Nothing to be worried or scared about.
I eat in the Cafetorium the next day, and the day after that, and everyday until the end of the year.
Haunting the art room, a sad tired ghost. Ghost with puffy eyes from last night.
Every night for two weeks was another panic attack, the plaster used to keep me together as a child deteriorated over the years, crumbling off in pieces like a house with paint chipping.
One panic, two panic, three four five panic. I screamed and I cried, swat her hand away. Don’t touch me, don’t touch me, hugging my own stomach.
Shuffling through the art room, holding on to my water bottle as tight as an alligator’s jaws on its prey. fake permanent fake curls fake straightened. My hair is matted and dry, clumped together in dry split knots.
Leaving soon. You’re leaving soon. Over and over. My only prayer.
They picked me up in a minivan. We don’t own a minivan. Something about our new car getting checked up, and borrowing a friends car to drive me out to Mequon.
Therapy. We all decided this would be the best idea.
Sitting on a leather couch in her office, red pillows with silky ribbon tabs sticking off. I talk to her first with my parents, explaining Last Night’s Episode. Mom’s looking at me with that worried face she’s got. She stares at me the whole time, while she’s talking, while I’m talking, while anyone is talking.
Nothing. She looks away for a minute.
I’m kicked out, so she can talk to my parents. I’m sitting in a small corner located just down the hall, with two couches. I’m sitting on the one where I can see the hallway and the door if I lean to my left a little. I’m facing a coat rack, hats and jackets and umbrellas. There’s a window behind me, and I twist my whole body around to look outside and I’m greeted by a waving tree branch and an empty parking lot.
Emetophobia. Extreme irrational fear of throwing up. It’s relatively normal in the World of Anxieties.
I’m running through the kitchen getting ready for school. It the end of my second grade school year. I sit on a dulled wooden stool, pulling a pink sock onto my right foot. I prepare the next sock, a purple one, when I stop.
“I don’t feel good,” I look up, looking around the kitchen. The whole room has a yellow glow to it. It’s foggy and gray outside, the light on in the kitchen emits a light amber color, making the yellow pebbled floor radiating yellow green. The cream colored fridge, walls, counters, and stove add to the effect.
Now things rush. My dad is standing in the doorway demanding to know if I need to stay home. My mom is demanding for him to be quiet, and shoving an old thermometer under my tongue.
Butterfly effect. Staying Home Butterflies create Anxiety Butterflies in my stomach, their little caterpillar babies crawl through my veins and infect my whole body.
Mornings I don’t want to leave. Throwing fits just to stay home, swearing I’m sick.
Summer mornings I don’t want to leave. I lay in my parent’s bed, right in the middle, tucked under their deep purple comforter. The curtains still closed from the night, blocking out the morning sunshine. I grab handfuls of blanket, pulling it up over my torso, throwing fits and fighting to not go to Bridgette’s house, swearing I’m sick. They tell me that if I really was sick I wouldn’t have any energy to throw this size of a fit.
One morning I’m extra sure that I can’t leave the house. I complain of being tired and scared that I’m going to throw up. In my mind, if I leave the house, where can I go and escape if I become ill. Momma gets me out of her bed, slowly pulling her comforter that I’ve commandeered as my barrier between Myself and the Disease Ridden World around me, and dresses me in a white dress with red flowers on it from Gymboree. Dad helps me pick out a movie to take to daycare and watch. I pick Bambi.
I clamber into the back of the car, tears still drooling down my face as I hold onto a Bambi dvd like my life depends on it.
Mom ushers me into Bridgette’s House, explaining that I’m not feeling very good today, and that I brought a movie to watch today.
Bridgette had other plans than just watching Bambi today. She packs the younger kids into a stroller, and has me and two other girl thats younger than me, but older than stroller riding age, and another girl older than me walk along side the stroller.
We stroll to the mall, and the gas station on our way back. It’s hotter than an oven cooking a cheese pizza for lunch outside. We’re all excited to get into the gas station, the midway point between the mall and Bridgette’s.
She opens the clean glass door, one of us holding it open for her to push the stroller inside, and the rest of us follow. She gets in line at the counter and I bend over, hands on my knees.
If I thought it was hot outside, It is so much hotter in here! I’m panting with my tongue sticking out a little like a dog, my whole body puffing up and down with each inhale and exhale. I take a hand off one of my knees periodically to wipe sweat off my brow.
We leave. It’s cooler outside. I feel a little better, still tired and groggy feeling. We walk a few block, I start to straggle behind, holding onto the edge of the stroller. I turn my head to the right and gag.
“Bridgette? I don’t feel good,” we’re standing on the corner, almost back to her house.
“Yeah? What’s wrong?”
Before I can even answer here, I bend at the waist and puke out a smelly, burning, acidic substance. Bridgette grabs the girls hand I’m holding onto and moves her to the other side of the stroller, away from me. The signal turns to a walk sign, and Bridgette runs us across so we can cross in time. I start saying something about puking, she says something about hurry across the street.
I lean up against a tree, my hand pressing against a tree holding me up as I stand in lush, green summer grass, puking my insides out.
I sit in the kitchen drinking water out of a glass jar bigger than my face. Bridgette calls my dad and tells him to come pick me up, and lays me on her black leather couch. We watch the first couple minutes of Bambi, and my dad shows up, collecting me and my movie.
I saw my first therapist the summer going into third grade. She had long straight dark hair, pale face, I think she looks like a witch. She watched me play with toys. She didn’t help. My parents hated her.
We went to the Wisconsin Dells that summer. My mom bought a thermometer, to show me that I didn’t have a fever, that I wasn’t sick.
Every morning is a repeat of every summer morning. Laying in my parents bed, protesting leaving the house.
I cry and I scream, my best friend Thermometer hanging out of my mouth. Every three to five minutes I check my temperature to make sure I’m not sick. I’m still not fully convinced that I’m not sick. Better start checking every thirty seconds, better start burning my mouth with scalding water before school so the thermometer will say I have a fever.
Friends? What are friends? People come knocking on our thick wooden door looking for me. I cry and run away, hiding in the furthest teal corner of my bedroom, standing on my sisters bed, mattress on the floor.
I’m not fully convinced I’m safe from puking. Cutting off connection with people who may be potentially carrying germs isn’t enough. Better stop eating.
In my mind, food will make you sick, food will make you puke. I ate garlic bread one night and puked. This clearly means that food is not safe and will make me sick. This means I am most definitely allergic to garlic. I should probably never touch garlic ever again.
I try my best to stay away from blatantly garlicky food.
I spend a lot of time going to the Doctors, poked and prodded sent on my way with everything seeming fine.
I spend a lot of time laying on the long green couch in our large open living room with green carpeting. I spend a lot of time taking my temperature, watching movies, crying, cowering from kids knocking on our door, hiding from foods.
I spend a lot of time complaining about my stomach hurting, about my back hurting, crying and scared that I’m sick or going to get sick.
I go to the doctors one day, my mom saying I’m complaining about my stomach hurting and my back hurting. They have me pee in a cup, sitting on the toilet, my mom holding a cup, I think it’s the funniest thing in the world. Laughter became more rare so this was refreshing, if it wasn’t in such strange circumstances.
I sit in the room with my mom waiting for the test to come back.
“Oh my God! Who ran this test! I’m running it again.” Mom looks at me worried.
“Oh my God! Oh God!” Thud thump thump thump, my Doctor comes exploding into the room. She’s wearing a costume complete with a mask of false calm, her eyes are wide, and the only thing she can’t hide.
Children’s Hospital day is the next day. Something was wrong with the proteins in my urine. I think that’s a funny word, urine. Everyone is treating me really special and sweet as we prepare for our day. I’m gonna get an ultrasound, like when moms have babies, and get my blood drawn. From what I know of hospitals and how everyone’s acting and what’s gonna happen, I should be scared.
So I’m scared. We listen to a Hilary Duff cd that my dad bought for me from Bestbuy. She’s my favorite. My favorite song is Come Clean, the first song. My chest is puffed out all ride long, and I confess to crying here and there.
The hospital is clean and white and crisp. I’m scared to touch any of the toys in the waiting rooms, knowing that when you touch the toys at the Doctors office you often get the germs sick kids left and you will get sick. Being in a hospital means you’re dying or really sick. The waiting room in the hospital has some of the coolest toys I’ve ever seen in a doctors office.
I watched a girl in a hospital gown come out of a set of doors that had frosty glass covering the whole door, frosty glass windows acting as walls next to it. She moved to the racing game immediately, sitting in the chair and grabbing the wheel, fiercely mashing buttons on the plastic dashboard.
They emptied a bottle of cold, thick, clear gooey gel on my stomach. The woman with the stick pressed it against my stomach and stared at a computer screen. She was looking at my insides. I wanted to see but the screen wasn’t rotated enough for me to see and she owuld yell at me if I moved.
Then we were stationed in another waiting room. This one didn’t have toys and it wasn’t crowded like the last one where we had to wait forever. We sat in the plastic cushy chairs, my parents going over white sheets with faded black ink boxes on it, attached to a brown clipboard.
Once they finished, we were guided to a room in the back. It has cheesecake colored walls, a doctor-table-bed on one side, and a chair on the other. I started to tremble.
I was sat down in the chair, we were told what to expect, the nurse turned to me. She held up a needle and explained what she was going to do with it. I extended my right arm on the armrest for her. She grabbed my arm, her thumb pressing hard against the soft part of where my elbow bends. I looked away as I felt a mosquito bite be and leave its sharp straw in my arm.
She told me that we were almost done. The area that had been pricked was feeling light and tingly, my left hand feeling heavy, my feet feeling heavy, my everything but my right arm feeling heavy. I wanted to see what made that arm feel lighter that the others.
I was met with a twisty straw running into a thick large tube full of a deep crimson liquid that by just staring at it looked sticky and warm. My eye’s widened and stared at it, the Fear kicking up and not letting me look away.
Boom, we’re done, my arm is wiped up and I’m being told to exit the room. Wow, I feel….twisty. Twisty is the only word I can use to describe this. I bump into the white wall outside the doorway, pushing off of it to get me going in the right direction. My toes drag on the carpet when it’s that legs turn to be in front.
“Stop it,” my mom tells me. My feet drag more and more, and I start to sway back and forth like a baby tree in the wind. My mouth hangs open and I start choking, little black dots start to form on the outside edge of my vision and, now that I think about it, I can’t feel my body. My mom is holding my arms, making them stretch out like wings on a bird, black dots swimming and jumping, quickly seizing my vision. I gag more, thinking that if I’m gonna puke anywhere, a hospital would be the best place.
Darkness. Em? Em? Shake shake, dark.
It’s so dark in here. This must be what it’s like to be dead, dark and unable to let in any light. Its quiet in here, calm.
The darkness peels back slightly, and I’m staring at a white ceiling. I turn, my cheek rubbing against coarse blue carpeting. From here I can see that there are flecks of greens and magentas and black dabbled in and, wait, I’m on the floor.
How did I get on the floor?
The nurse that took my blood a second ago scoops me up in her arms telling me to not close my eyes.
Don’t close my eyes? Okay I can do that.
Darkness again, I closed them, and when I open them I’m back in that room.
“What’s your name?” The nurse asks me.
“When is your birthday?”
“What school do you go to?”
“So she didn’t hit her head and forget anything,” I see her say to my parents, my dad’s faced closed off and quiet, my mom has her worried face I know so well.
“Well, no, I was holding onto her, and she just started to fall backwards, and I set her on the ground and that’s when we got you,” my mom chokes out a laugh.
Back in the car, we’re leaving, I’m being asked if I’m ok if I want Burger King.
Shortly after that I started seeing another therapist in a different sect of Children’s. We were lucky to get in as soon as we did, because lots of families want their kid to see her. I got picked up early one evening from Swim Club to go meet with her.
She had yellowy white paled hair cut in a wiry bob, a little past her cheeks, not yet at her chin.
We colored, we played games, I organized her dollhouse, I sang her songs about horses, we talked. I can’t even remember what she told me, but something she said helped me, and helped my parents. We were able to handle it.
I started eating again.
A plate of spaghetti, followed by another and another.
It was over.
I gained back all the weight I lost, my ribs, kneecaps, wrists, bones, sternum all covered by a healthy layer of children chub.
There were time I swore I could see the outline of my intestines.
The crying the protesting stopped, not completely, but manageable. I was going outside and playing with friends, eating at lunch, going to school.
Things were still hard, fourth grade was the first year I was able to go to school and not miss a single day, fifth grade was fine too.
Nervous tendencies, but no more meltdowns.
I got the flu in sixth grade, and those were a hard two weeks, but we all go over it. I puked twice in the sixth grade without it being a huge ordeal.
There was more sadness than anxiety in the seventh and eighth grades, lost and lonely in ninth, and panic in tenth.
Sophomore year was when I started going to a new therapist stationed in Mequon. She helped me a lot with my panic, soon I was going weeks without a panic attack. One night I stayed up crying with my mom when I suddenly stopped, staring at my foot that was a dark silhouette, backlit by the night light at the end of the stairs when I realised I could just puke and I would be okay.
Then months without a panic attack, and I was seeing her less and less, more just checking in with her and keeping myself on track than anything.
Then there was an episode in the summer. Late August, when I hadn’t had a panic attack in four months. I wasn’t eating, I was crying and threatening to kill myself for two and a half days.
I finally ate spaghetti, again, saving me from starving myself with anxiety.
Then I finally puked, and I didn’t eat for days. It was hard going to school. I felt tired, weak, and exposed. My mom called the school and we created an alternate schedule for the week to acclimate me into school, and eating, and living.
Having anxiety as a child is the hardest childhood anyone could have. It’s left me with so many nervous tendencies, certain things triggering a panic attack, making it hard to try different foods.
I feel bad for my parents, raising one child without anything unusual happening, and then having to deal with all the baggage I came with. I know that there was a lot of crying going on during those times, not just me, but my parents.
I feel even worse for my sister, who was my age during the time of all that. I feel guilty that she probably never got the attention she needed being a teenager because everyone was so consumed with making sure I wouldn’t fall apart.
Teachers in elementary school never pressured me to turn my homework and I think that might be why I have such poor study habits and never push myself to do better in school.
It was hard, and it still is hard. I’m so in tuned to everything that happening in my body that when something feels a little bit off, It sends me spiraling, scared that I’m going to puke.
It is hard, so hard, to not want to end everything when I’m going down. But it always passes, sometimes it takes longer than other times but I’ve gained enough knowledge and skill to know i will be able to handle it, to know I will be okay.
My mom tells me every time I’m spiraling that this will pass, and it’s so hard to believe that in the moment, but it does, it always passes.
Its hard, but I have to remember, each time, each day, each night, that this too, shall pass.