When Sandra Lark Mocked Me
At the end of the eighth grade, right before high school, each student was forced to take these awful physical exams. How many push-ups could you do? How many sit-ups? How quickly could you run and for how long? Then, worst of all, how much did you weigh?
These tests were performed in front of all the girls in gym class. It was impossible to forget the memory of sitting in the locker room with all the other girls; we were a sea of tacky blue and green gym shorts and oversized t-shirts. My palms sweated profusely as I waited for my name to be called. Everyone sat in the middle of the floor and watched as girl after girl stood on the scale and her weight was called out.
Coach Flynn called my name: "Amber Gonzalez!" Reluctantly, I followed her instructions and trudged to the front of the room, the other girls’ gazes on me. "Step onto the scale," Flynn instructed me. I swallowed hard and forced one foot on and then the other. Flynn reached over me and moved that little tiny beam.
Flynn took her sweet time sliding it across the bar (or so it seemed). It felt like that small beam would determine how I would feel about myself for the rest of my life. After eons had passed she looked at me, shouted out my weight to the group, then called for the next girl to step on the scale.
The number seemed to echo throughout the entire locker room. Bashful and ashamed, I reclaimed my place on the floor next to Sandra Lark. Sandra had eyes so blue they made the sky jealous, and hair so gold it made Olympus look cheap. Her legs were as long as beanstalks. She turned to me and repeated the number, each digit a big, round question. I nodded silently. "That's cute,” she said.
It is impossible to pinpoint at what exact moment in my life I became aware of myself, but I think it was then. When Sandra Lark mocked me.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Gonzalez house of secrets." This was my family policy, instated before I was born, and a rule I followed until I was 21 years old, when I finally decided to speak with a professional about my eating disorder. I was searching online for a therapist, sitting at the kitchen table with my father, shame in his eyes. I grew up in a household where therapy was considered "airing your dirty laundry" and even discussing the cost of a meal was as bad as displaying used underwear as a flag in the front yard.
"Psychotherapy Associates, how may I help you?"
"Hi, I need to make an appointment."
"And what are you coming in for?"
I set up an appointment for the following Monday. I was proud that I had been able to make the call, and I even felt a small sense of relief. It had been almost a year since I had relapsed. Only this time it was worse. I had substituted extreme diet and exercise with extreme purging and laxatives. I was working 40 hours a week, going to school full-time, and I always had a closet full of dirty laundry.
"Amber," my father began. I knew my small victory would be short lived. "Please don't tell anyone about this. It's no one's business but our own."
I'm sure he wanted to say more. Something like, "You are a terrible human being for even needing to speak to a professional about our business. I don't even understand why you have such problems. I grew up poor, the oldest of five, and I was in the military. I lived in Germany for four years. All we had to eat growing up was frijoles and tortillas. And here you are, vomiting up the good food you have."
Familia Para Siempre
place both hands over the wound
but after all these years
it still bleeds
never realizing that to heal
there must be wounds
to repair there must be damage
for light there must be darkness
-Gloria Anzaldua, Healing Wounds
Recovery is a never-ending journey. Family and friends would love to believe that I’ve made it to the end, that I’m recovered, because my bank transactions include food purchases and I’ve gone three years without losing any significant amount of weight.
I suppose I can smile and nod every time someone tells me that I “look good” [translation: “Wow. You must not be having any crazy psychological issues at the moment. Good for you, mija!”]. I can also tell my doctor, psychiatrist, and therapist that, yes, I am just as elated as they are that I have remained at a stable weight for the last three years, and, yes – like a bottle for a baby, my meds are working. However, if I were to make recovery sound that simple, I would be doing myself a disservice.
My father has a saying for every emotion. I remember what my father said to me the day he confronted me about my eating disorder. Admitting that I had a problem was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Just hearing myself say it out loud was strange; it was almost like I was watching myself from another room. After revealing to my father that I needed help, his eyes began to water. I felt his pain in every inch of my body. He put his arm over my shoulder and said, “We all bear our own crosses.”
While I knew there was no possible way for my father to understand everything I was going through, in that moment he gave me the only things he could: love and compassion. In that moment, neither of us knew what was to come – all of the doctor’s appointments, blood work, dental appointments, therapists, psychologists, and medical bills. In that moment none of it mattered; all that existed was a daughter, and her father’s love.
My father is not the only one with sayings in our family; my mother has instilled a couple of her own sayings in me as well. Any time I have needed money, support, love, laughter, anything – my mom always responds, “We are a familia.”
There have been times my mother and I have not seen eye to eye; I know she does not always understand the complexities of my eating disorder – to her, I am perfect. But, at the end of the day, we are two hearts beating as one. She has been a constant light leading me down the road to recovery with her words of wisdom, “If you have the desire, it is possible.” Si se quiere, si se puede.
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