I submitted this to my writing class. The students and teacher will provide feedback on Wednesday night. It is nerve wracking and terrifying. And essential. I still dream of writing my memoir and becoming a published author. I feel a wave of worthlessness wash over me, as I write this intro. How could I possibly dream such a bold dream? Deep breath and I am hitting the blue rectangle saying Publish on my wordpress site.
Addy didn’t go to college like we assumed she would when we conceived her. Her eating disorder and the needed treatment to keep her alive disrupted her middle school and high school attendance- which greatly affected her ability to be a teenager and do normal teenager things- like grow up. We were thrilled she could graduate on time with her classmates and none of us could handle college entrance stressors on top of high school hell.
Addy wanted out of high school. Getting dressed and out the door had been tortuous. Addy’s anorexia was a monster invading her body. It took away much of her personality, hair, heart muscle and almost her whole self. Her senior year, I worked in the daycare center in her high school so I could eat lunch with Addy every day. She needed me to face the spiders on her plate that she was required to digest.
When a person with the genetic predisposition for anorexia becomes underweight for any reason, the brain falls off a cliff. Going under her personal weight set point by joining Cross Country in sixth grade, pushed my baby’s brain off the ledge. I learned this information at the University of California San Diego Eating Disorder Center. The head doctor and researcher explained to traumatized parents, that their son or daughter was dying due to this brain based disease and that evidenced based treatment was required to recover. The cliff the brain fell off flipped a switch- that is impossible to switch back. Whenever a person with the genetic predisposition becomes underweight, the brain will forever associate food, weight, eating and anything associated with these unavoidable facts of life with fight or flight. When Addy sees a plate of pizza, her body is flooded with the hormone that causes fight or flight. To her the pizza or lemonade or grapes is the worst imaginable fear.
(Picture facing your worst fear 6 times a day and ingesting it. I would not have survive. We know many who didn’t.)
Addy survived high school.
We spent the following 6 months stepping on each other’s toes and figuring out next steps. Her peers took European vacations and started college. We hoped for recovery. We hoped she would eat attempting to use the skills learned in her many long term hospital stays.
Addy was going to Georgia Southern. Liv was there. In parental terms, Liv is a bad influence. Addy loved Liv. She didn’t judge Addy because Liv was well suited for poor choice, risk, and living on the brink of life and death all while wearing shocking pink Victoria Secret sweat pants with only a sports bra- no matter the occasion or the weather.
Addy spent December and Christmas stockpiling dorm room essentials. Decorative fake grass from Ikea for her windowsill. Hanging baskets for her toiletries. New clothes in ever larger sizes for incomprehensible reasons. Lifetime supplies of the most expensive shampoos to restore her hair. Gel pens for all the note taking she would do. European down pillows with shaggy fur cases to line the wall next to her twin bed.
Three weeks in and hundreds of terrifying phone calls later, Addy’s college experience was ending. I had told her she could always come home. But the idea of coming home to our 900 square foot condo complete with two parents, five kids, and two dogs was the cherry on the top of her adolescent unfair sundae- granted she didn’t touch ice cream. She would have to share a room with her younger sister. George, BeBe and Tuck shared the largest room. Chad and I still kept Mim in our room. And Dolly had the smallest room. Addy could just move right back in.
Addy didn’t choose to come home. She didn’t choose to have me pick her up.
She hated Georgia Southern and the sorority girls which she feared were skinnier than her. She hated the cafeteria with demons and ghouls on the menu. Liv was no match for the disease. Anorexia ruined friendships, too. She feared every student and every professor disliking her- like her anorexia had taught her to do. She was terrified of being alone with the monster that was reigning in her brain and she was terrified of leaving her dorm room and being despised by the eaters/ the humans who she imagined were disgusted by her.
All the while, she appeared beautiful. Lovely. You haven’t met anyone nicer.
She didn’t have to choose to leave. Her anorexia forced her to hide and escape with alcohol on Valentine’s Day with Liv- who had developed a higher tolerance than Addy. One disciplinary action and one well check later, and it was clear to security and the psychological team at the campus hospital that Addy was more than they could handle.
I was good at dropping everything to pick up my child.
I called my husband on the way south. He was unavailable. Well, I’m not sure he was my husband at all during that time period. I had time to think about becoming unmarried on the drive. My van was big enough to house five kids and still have plenty of space for me the driver to contemplate the end of a 19 year marriage. The radio could blare. Kids could yell and or day dream and I could make an imaginary wall between the back and the front of the 12 passenger van to figure out my life. I had known for less than two week about his affairs. About his disrespect of me. About his lovelessness.
I should have figured it out earlier.
Late January, I was chatting with my newish work friend. When I told her what Chad was making for dinner- homemade spaghetti, Ashley marveled “Is he really as perfect as he seems?” He had breezed in a few times to the elementary school where I work- pressed white oxford tucked into traditional Levis. Blue eyes and blonde hair turning gray. He smiles effortlessly a 100 watt smile. Toothy and gregarious without being corny at all. All self confidence and warmth. He impressed people with his non profit work, running body and parenting of his six children. People are interested when a woman has six kids but they are flummoxed and dazzled when a man parents six kids.
Basically Chad was a superhero. The Super Dad.
When Ashley asked, I confided. She was the school counselor after all.
“I’m not sure that he is as perfect as he seems.”
She waited, listening patiently.
Six months ago, I found text messages on his phone. A woman named Hailey was breaking up with him. Hailey was his co-worker. He explained that she was crazy and drinks way too much and that she had accidentally texted him, her boss instead of her boyfriend. She was so embarrassed. He insisted they were co workers and friends.
I must have decided to believe. At the time of my discovery, Addy was in her last month of high school and all our family was coming for our first baby’s graduation. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles and Cousins. We had the family trip of a life time planned. Three weeks to drive from Atlanta to Maine with stops at touristy destinations, friend’s houses, the Cape and a visit to my youngest’s birth parents in New York. I needed this trip. Six kids and our oldest was graduating. The next child would graduate the following year. Another two years later. It was like the beginning of the end. I had dreamed of being a mom since I held my first baby doll. And my dreams had come true and been even better than I imagined. For at least a dozen years of our life together, I had been gloriously happy. So happy that I couldn’t believe or I couldn’t accept when the happiness ended. I was dumfounded and overwhelmed by my own life.
I wanted a vacation from Anorexia, hospitals, doctor appointments, therapy appointments for our youngest who has multiple disabilities, soccer carpools, swimming pool rest periods, and chicken nuggets. I wanted a vacation from the everyday. I wanted to be the family I remembered so I inadvertently decided that Chad’s co-worker had mistakenly broke up with him over text. I decided there was no way my husband could be having an affair. He couldn’t possibly have had time.
( I have no idea why I focused on time so much.)
Now 6 months later in the school counselor’s office, I wondered how I had lied to myself. Ashley agreed that I had to find out.
I waited until the kids were asleep and Super Dad was passed out on the couch after too many beers. I took his phone which waited for me on the kitchen windowsill. Hailey wasn’t in his contacts. Hailey hadn’t emailed. He hadn’t emailed Hailey.
The deleted email box. Breathless. I found what I was looking for. He compared her to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was planning a trip to visit her in North Carolina over the kids’ February break. I should have been suspicious. It wasn’t normal for him to offer to take the kids to my sisters in NC on his way to a business trip. I had work. The kids had a week off and he would be happy to drive the kids 6 hours to Raleigh. I should have known.
“Get out. Get out.” I woke him up. I couldn’t have him in our home.
I cried in the night. I cried in the shower. I cried in the car. I cried at work.
I did not cry in front of the kids, yet. I had to make up my mind.
I couldn’t tell Addy while she was falling apart at Georgia Southern and I couldn’t tell the other kids without Addy, their big sister.
As I drove to Georgia Southern, I went over the facts. He disrespected me. We would divorce. I would be a single instead of a pair. I was heart broken. No listening and No talking to him because he was too good at undermining and derailing my sanity. Addy was coming home. I would feed her as I had learned in the hospitals.
The brokenness. I ached. My love did not love me and my oldest could not eat.
These two such basic components of life. Eat. Love. My perfect little family could not manage these fundamentals.
Oh God. I had failed.
The kids helped and played soccer in the parking lot. Addy and I took those large rolling bins through campus parking lots, long sidewalks, entrances requiring college IDs, slow elevators, and down endless hallways inside this dormitory. All those precious belongings that we prayed would make college bearable were now in a bin.