You and Sophie performed a ballet routine for 6th class. Afterwards, Mrs Hennessey the teacher said it was like watching ‘a pair of elephants’.
You didn’t tell your parents, embarrassed and ashamed. You started to feed Roxy the dog under the dinner table. Nobody noticed amid the usual chaos. You hoped that doing without would make you smaller.
Then you found a perfect excuse for eating after everyone else had finished and got on with their evening (TV, homework, kicking a footy in the backyard, walking the dog): homework at Elsa’s.
On one visit her mum commented that you were losing weight. Is everything ok?
To which you replied: I’m fine.
Going to bed hungry became normal, your leftovers from dinner scraped into the bin. You allowed yourself only seven items of food during the day; because seven is a lucky number? You recorded the details in your diary: Tuesday: a tub of low-fat yoghurt; mandarin; banana; a tin of tuna; cucumber, carrot, a piece of toast.
Miss Campbell the ballet teacher was thrilled to see you looking so slim. Before the days of understanding that starving yourself can cause complications – low blood pressure, insomnia, your hair falling out.
Two months later, the GP put you in hospital on a drip. They weighed your food before and after meals, wrote down what had been consumed. Weighed you every day too. You didn’t want to leave the bed. It felt safe there, under a blanket of starched white.
People came to visit with flowers, cards and worried looks.
Your little sister Audrey brought you chocolate frogs wrapped in gold foil. Please eat them sis she whispered up close, tears pricking her eyes. I bought them with my own pocket money. You could smell chocolate on her breath. I ate one in the car on the way here, she said sheepishly, her moist big blue eyes blinking away the tears.
Audrey always did get her way with you; she shared your bedroom, which drove you nuts most of the time. But you missed her in this foreign place, where things beeped and blinked during the night. You missed her smell – of shampoo, never washed out properly. And you missed watching her boss her toys around, lined up neatly on her bed.
Years later when you tried to broach the subject of the hospitalisation, your parents put it down to puberty. Then you told them about the incident in the classroom. Anger darkened your mother’s normally open, warm face.
I’m sorry. It must have devastated you.
In your 30s, you and your husband Sam tried to conceive. But your exhausted body couldn’t carry a baby. You gave up after four miscarriages.
When you next visited your mother, she handed you a clipping from the local newspaper: Here. I kept it for you.
You read that Mrs Hennessey had died after complications from gastric band surgery. Relief flooded your body as you sat down in your mother’s kitchen to take in the news.