We stood at the stove, the both of us standing beside one another. Mom watched over my hand as I stirred the simmering pot of chicken soup, making sure I was doing okay. Why I wouldn’t be okay to stir a pot of soup on my own at the age of twenty five, I still don’t know.
My mom often treats me like her baby cub, and mama bears are always protective of their young, so I suppose that’s why. .. still weird, though. Admittedly, I’m pretty content with it.
There was this beautiful, soft silence in the room. A stillness, if you will.
It felt nice. Simple, even.
“Do you want to taste it?”, mom asked, as she stretched her arm over the sink and reached for a smaller spoon. “Your brother said it’s better than the last time I made it!”
Fear washed over me immediately. “Nah, I’ll wait until it’s ready”, I said. “I’m not in the mood for soup right now”.
Truthfully, the soup smelt really good, and I did want to try it. But my brain was too busy flashing calories of chicken and images of handfuls of salt getting dumped into the soup, that I couldn’t muster up the strength to say yes. It’s hard to say yes to something when your head is screaming “DON’T DO IT!”
Disapointed, she turned to me and said, “But I thought you loved my homemade chicken soup?” Mom always loves to throw in the word ‘homemade’, even though I already know it is.
I smiled at her. “I do love it”, I said. “I just don’t want any right now”.
Was I being truthful? No. Honestly, I was always lying to her about what I did or did not want. Especially when it came to food. Sometimes it just felt better to lie than to hurt her with the truth. .. I was always hurting her and I just didn’t want to anymore. She’s never been someone who deserves that.
As I continued to stare down at the pot, stirring the soup clockwise, then counterclockwise, back and forth, I contemplated with myself. I didn’t understand my mind at all. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just say “Yeah! Sure Mom! Grab the biggest spoon we have!” I desperately wanted to be able to do that.
You see, I’ve been sick for awhile now. Real sick. I’m underweight, underfed and malnourished. I hide my sickness behind fake smiles and good intentions, but it’s consuming nature constantly has me gasping for air.
I have an eating disorder. I know it, Mom knows it and my family and my friends know it. Sometimes it feels as if I’ll always have this. Sometimes it feels as if I’m supposed to have this – that this is how my life is supposed to play out. Me, in and out of treatment centers my whole life. Me, in and out of recovery until the day I die. .. but I don’t want to die from this.
“I don’t want to die”.
The words spilled out like word vomit from my mouth.
Immediate regret washed over me. “Fuuuuckkk”, I thought to myself. “What did I just do. Why did I just say that? Can I take it back? No. No it’s definitely too late to take it back. Maybe she didn’t hear me? Maybe she won’t say anything”..
She was just about to take a tasting of the soup herself, but frightened and frantic, she quickly took a step back from the pot, dropping the small silver spoon into the soup as she did. She looked at me and I swear her eyes were so wide I thought they’d fall right out of her head.
“You think you’re dying, Jess?” Her voice trembled as she struggled to get the words out.
I could see how much worry consumed her face and I could sense in her voice the fear that was now racing throughout her entire body. I didn’t blame her. Her daughter was telling her that she didn’t want to die, knowing very well that what she was doing to her body, she’d end up as such.
I lowered my head, and sunk in shame. It took me a minute or so, but eventually, I let out a very hesitant and dreary “yeeaah”, in response.
I know I should have come up with something better. Anything, actually. My head was spinning in nine million different directions, and that was it. That was all I could think to say.
There was a long pause. One of those long pauses where you start to get real uncomfortable and anxious because it’s too quiet and you know it shouldn’t be.
The calm silence in the room had suddenly and abruptly shifted. Still quiet, only now there was this giant elephant in the middle of the kitchen, gracing us with its presence and gearing up to stomp its feet on the tile floor.
I think we were both trying to figure out what the right thing to say next was, if there even was a right thing to say.
I was so scared.
I knew in that moment that if I didn’t try to make things better, that no good was to come of all of this. So I mustered up all of the courage I had left inside me and I pushed some more words out of my mouth.
I raised my head a bit, my avoidant eyes finally meeting hers once again.
“I don’t want to, though”. .. hey, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but at least it was something.
And it was true. In that moment I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to never not be able to enjoy the lovely simplicity of stirring a pot of chicken soup at the stove with my mom. I didn’t ever want to not have that and I didn’t want to ever not have her. ..Maybe that’s what prompted me to spill my own beans in the first place.
In my heart I knew that it wasn’t okay. . It wasn’t okay that I was so afraid to try a spoonful of the soup my mother had just spent all day cooking. It wasn’t okay that my head was spinning off into the land of numbers, calories, body image and negative connotations with food. In my heart, and even in my head, I knew that I wasn’t okay .. and I needed my mom to know it, too. I needed my mom to save me from the anorexia that was destroying my brain.
..I needed to be saved from myself, and mama bears always do everything in their power to save their cubs.
My mom looked at me the way that all worried Jewish mothers look at their children. There was fear written all over her face, and yet, still there was an outpouring of love straight from her vessel, directly into mine. She opened her arms wide, letting me know it was okay to fall into her embrace. There really is no comfort quite like my mothers hugs.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that you don’t want to die, sweetie”. She let out a loud sigh of relief, and as she hugged me tighter, began to cry.
“Don’t cry, mama”, “I’m gonna be ok”.
More lies. .. but this time mom knew. Did she always know?
“Why don’t you just do treatment then? Right now? What are you waiting for? Go into work tomorrow and tell your boss you’re going on disability and let’s get you back into residential treatment. Why do you keep putting it off? If you don’t want to die, don’t you want to get better?”
Shit. I wasn’t prepared for this conversation when I accidentally let the truth slip out from beneath my tongue.
But here we were, having it anyway.
I didn’t have an answer for her. Not an answer she’d want to hear, anyway. The sincerity of the matter was, I didn’t want to go into treatment. I didn’t want to do treatment. Period. End of story. I couldn’t tell her that, though. I couldn’t look my mom in the face and tell her that I didn’t want to die, but didn’t want to try and live, either. .. that sorta stuff is hurtful to the people who love you. That sorta stuff can kill the people you love.
“I want to get better, I am going to get better. I just want to try and do it on my own. Just three more weeks, ma. I promise”.
“Three more weeks, Jess”, she said. “And if you’re not better, you’ll put yourself into treatment”?
“Yes, Mom”, I reassured her.
“You promise? I don’t want you to die and I won’t watch you die”.
“Three more weeks, and I promise”.
Looking back now, I’m curious if my mom knew she had made an agreement with my eating disorder. I wonder if she recognized its dirty tongue the moment the words [lies] fell from my lips.
I want to be able to end this story positively. I want to be able to tell you that the three weeks came, and I was better. But the reality of the situation, the reality and nature of my disease, is that the three weeks came and then they went. And I’m still sick. I’m still here, and I’m still alive, but I’m still sick.
It’s been nine and a half weeks since that day in the kitchen with my mom. It’s been nine and a half weeks of deceit, manipulation and misery. .. but I won’t go another three more weeks living like this. In fact, I won’t go another moment wasting my life away. I’m better than this, and I deserve better than this.
Today I began the search for residential eating disorder treatment facilities. Today I took the first step towards taking back my life.
So, here’s to more moments in the kitchen, Mom. And here’s to lots more bowls of chicken soup.
I promise I’ll taste it next time.
More importantly, I promise to keep this promise.