(Part 3 of Other Peoples Windows: An attempt to provide a glimpse into someone else’s life)
As Meredith ducked into Pret, she ordered her usual, strong café latte, and a soup of the day. She tucked her paper neatly under her slender arm, and wiping a near invisible piece of lint off of her ¾ black jacket, which flared neatly around her waist, and accentuated the gentle curve of her figure. Meredith walked over to her favourite table, only to find it taken by a large woman, with her hair messily scrunched into a bun which seemed to be plastered to her oily head. The woman’s suit was a weak imitation of Merediths style, the small frills replaced by solid straight lines which hung around her body. Meredith scrunched her nose up as the woman hunched over her own choice for lunch, a cheese and ham croissant, a creamy hot chocolate, and a chocolate brownie. The woman glanced up, as if she felt Merediths disapproval, before quickly looking away, and refocussing her attention on her food.
As Meredith sat down at a different table, she made sure to face away from the woman. As someone who had always managed her own weight just fine, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, Meredith did not understand how someone let themselves get into such a state. It was not hard to choose the healthy foods, there were so many available. Likewise, exercise in London had never been a problem, so many brilliant places to walk, Hyde park, regents park, greens park, along the Thames, or even around one of the outer parks, such as Finsbury park. Then there was the case of the presentation. Meredith prided herself on keeping a neat appearance, especially during the week. Little things, like keeping her hair well washed, regularly cut, and brushed well each day made such a difference.
Meredith turned around once more to glance at the woman, who was now chugging down her large hot chocolate, and shook her head. Disgraceful the greed of some people, and the state that they allowed themselves to get into. She thought, Absolutely disgusting.
‘Darling, sit up straight when you’re eating.’
‘And remember to just take your time while you’re eating, if you rush you will over eat.’
‘Did you get the test results back?’
‘Yes Dad. I got 85%’
‘Not bad. What was the highest mark in your class?’
‘I dunno, 92%?’
‘Kelly, you know how I feel about that word.’
‘Sorry Mum. I am not sure what the top mark was, Dad.’
There was silence for a moment at the dinner table, as my parents each carefully scooped in a small mouthful of food each. I sat between them, a parent either side. Anyone listening in on the conversation would have thought that I was at some sort of finishing school, or preparing for a very important meal. In reality, this was my day to day life. I was the result of 3 years of IVF, countless appointments, disappointments, and finally a miracle birth. All my parents hopes and dreams were pinned on me, if I succeeded, then they had succeeded, and if I failed, well, that wasn’t actually an option.
From as long as I can remember my parents had a strong influence on my life, and the way that I behaved. Every aspect of my life was so strongly managed by my parents. My clothes were handpicked by my mother every morning, co-ordinated, neat, and reflective of my plans for the day. When I was 12 my mother started “educating” me on how to choose my clothes. This did not mean I had a choice in what I wore, far from it, each morning it was my job to guess what my mother would like to see me wear, then at breakfast, my mother or father would let me know where I went wrong with the outfit.
My father, a dietician, was very careful about what I ate, and ensuring that everything that went into my mouth was healthy, and provided some nutrients. My schooling was monitored closely by nightly debriefs on what I had learnt, extra homework my parents sourced out, and ensured that there were always plenty of books on my reading list. As for friends, my parents discouraged most friendships, and only allowed the occasional play date with preapproved friends.
As I grew I began to feel more and more controlled, like a closely monitored animal in a zoo. I began to clutch desperately to the small things in life that I had control over, time alone in the bathroom, the silence of the night, and the rare moments where I had a play date at a friend’s house. When I was 8 I discovered the ultimate in freedom- an unattended kitchen late in the evening when my parents had gone to bed. It started by just the occasional sneaky sliver of fruit cake, a few mouthfuls of left overs, or a cracker with peanut butter. Little bits of food that I knew my parents wouldn’t notice miss. As I got older I began making myself sandwiches, sneaking in food from the shops that Id brought at the school canteen with money Id found lying around the house. Over the years my snacking got worse, I started to, inevitably put on a little weight. As my weight crept up my parents started to get more and more concerned, I began to be allowed less and less food, which meant I snacked more and more. I then followed the tragic, but all too common teenage problems of body image problems, and eventually, bulimia.
My parents sought treatment for me, and the symptoms of my illness slowed down. I managed to get my HSC and followed studies into public relations, which led me to London where I moved out of parents grip, and began my own life. Id survived.
At 26 I was single, working in my dream job, and had successfully completed all my studies, the world was my oyster, and I was at its mercy. I was happy, successful, and finally free. Unfortunately life is not a simple children’s fairy-tale with a simple happy ending. At 27 I fell, my position in the company fell through, and I was made redundant. I had to take a massive pay cut, and ended up in a much smaller company, in a very small scale PR position. As a result, my confidence to took a hit. I felt out of control, and I began to feel trapped, as if my life was not in my own hands. Feelings from child hood, of being over controlled, began to boil over. I began to feel the same needs I’d felt as a child, the need to feel comforted, and I began to go back to old habits, shoving in food whenever I was alone, usually food that was unhealthy, although this time I did not bring it back up again. This time I totally let myself go. I soon stopped with making my bed, ironing my clothes, and taking care of my overall appearance. I started taking less and less interest in my life, my job, and my commitments. I stopped seeing a lot of my friends and took a rather haphazard approach to work, turning up when I pleased and only ever doing the bare minimum. My house became increasingly unclean, and mice were becoming an all too common sight.
I reached rock bottom one unimportant Tuesday day, when yet again I decided to call in sick, and spend another day in bed. I was sitting in bed, television on, takeaway pizza for breakfast, big greasy box of dirty chicken and chips on the floor beside me from last nights dinner. As I was eating I heard movement beside my bed. When I looked down, there were 2 mice nibbling away at last nights dinner, not even bothered by the fact that I was right beside them on the bed. What scared me next, was the fact that I then turned back to the pizza picked up a slice, and kept eating. Suddenly something in me clicked, I was laid up in bed, eating. I had no friends, my job was clearly on the rocks, and I had nothing to live for. If I kept on this path, eventually I would not get out of bed, and I would become like the greasy left overs on the floor of my bedroom, eaten away by mice.
Years ago my parent s had created a prison to keep me in, in place of steel bars had been disapproving looks, comments, and rules. Somewhere along the line, I created my own prison of bad thoughts and lack of confidence, falsly believing that food and guilty eating would bring me pleasure. As I chewed on the pizza, I began to realise how little pleasure I was now deriving from it, not because I didn’t like Pizza any more, but because I was full. I was so full. I had finally had enough.
I sat up, threw the pizza down, and started throwing all the food into a big plastic bag. I went down to the local store, and returned with mouse traps, bleach and sponges, and I spent the rest of the day cleaning. I would like at this point to be able to say that I then changed into my jogging gear, ran downstairs, and took a stroll around the block. But that would be a lie. In reality, when I finished, I took a boxed pizza out of the freezer, turned on the television in the lounge room, and ate ¾ of the pizza in front of the television, then, in a rare moment, threw the remaining amount out, instead of forcing it down, and following it with more food.
The next day, I searched my wardrobe for anything half decent to wear, and finally settled on the one suit that fit. I pulled my hair up as neatly as I could and even put on a bit of eyeliner. Before I left the house, I made my bed.
When I got to work, I did something I had not done in a long time, I tried to do better. I started thinking about how I could better build up the profile of the company, and what I could do to make my work really count for something. At the end of the day, I left feeling tired, and the old urge to stop of for a pre-dinner burger and chips was still there, but I decided to fight it, and reminded myself I had a fridge full of food at home. I made it home, and even resisted the urge to have a chocolate bar while I waited for my oven baked chips to heat up.
3 weeks later, I had managed to loose a few kilos, and I had even begun to start incorporating what had become foreign foods into my diet, like fruit and vegetables. The mice were gone, and the house was staying neater. I needed though to remember that everytime I cleaned it was for me, and that if I decided to eat healthy, it was for me, and for my own health.
You see on T.V, and read in magazines about people that go cold turkey, and cut out all the junk food, run every day, and completely turn their life around. That wasn’t me. I didn’t want to join a weight loss club, and count everything I ate, I had endured enough control so now, if anything, I was allowing myself to loosen the control, eat only when I really actually felt hungry, listening more to my body while not stopping myself from enjoying things in life.
As I sat, two weeks later in Pret, I enjoyed every bite of the cheese and ham croissant, and every sip of the hot chocolate as I sat in the Camden restaurant in my lunch break, I had even bought a brownie to finish with. I knew that it wasn’t the most healthy of lunches, in fact it was the fattiest I had eaten all week, but I had made some real progress, and refused to not allow myself these treats.
I caught the eye of another city worker on her lunch break, and I saw the look of disapproval in her eyes, the disgust I had seen so often in my parents eyes. As much as I would always try to be confident, every now and then I would struggle. I stared back down at my food, and thought about what I would have done a few years ago, sneak into the toilets, and scoff not just the croissants on my plate down, but also a few bars of chocolate from my bag, and maybe even a bag of crisps. This time, I refused to move. I ate my food, I enjoyed my food, and when I had eaten enough, I stopped. That was progress. My progress.