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My Land of Oz

I grew up in what I considered to be a “happy home.” My beautiful mom took care of us just like in the movies—cooking, baking, shopping, keeping everything sweet-smelling and shiny, including me and my sister. I did have an inkling early on that she did it for herself, for her image, but that was ok with me. I was the baby in the family and was treated well, and as far as I could see, my sister got all the anger, I got all the kisses. She provoked our mother by simply wanting her way some of the time and I saw what that got her, screaming, yelling, terrifying in its intensity. By temperament or by wise choice, I went the path of pleasing or invisibility. That was ok with me.

I had a long bookcase in the upstairs hallway lined with Oz books that I could dive into to escape the charged air. Ozma, Scarecrow, Dorothy and Toto were pals. And when I had night frights I could take my pillow down the hall, take my dad’s place in the big double bed. Dave, she would say, go to Joanie’s room. I’d crawl in and feel so safe. As safe as I feel now with my wife’s arms around me. But somewhere along the way, I began to feel a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied. I was about 10 when it started. I was very young to mature, get breasts, hairy legs, menstruate—10 years old. I know this for sure, as my sister wrote in her diary, Joanie started her period today, poor thing, she’s only 10. I was my full 5 ft 3.5 inches, big bosomed, and only 10. The little boys in my class in 6th grade were a foot shorter and very skinny and hairless. I felt huge. I also felt very hungry all the time. I found myself stuffing down frozen brownies my mom had stored in the freezer, or eating entire bags of cookies, chewing entire boxes of chicklets, eating 5 pieces of toast with lots of butter. I couldn’t get enough. I would hate myself afterwards and soon discovered I could throw up anything I ate just by sticking my finger down my throat. I didn’t know another soul who did this. I might have been the first on earth for all I knew. I felt good afterwards and vowed over and over never to do that again. But the horror of getting any larger kept me at it because there was no way on earth I could stop bingeing. My mom seemed not to notice ever. Whole boxes of cheerios and cornflakes would disappear, schnecken wrapped in layers of wax paper stored in the freezer, down the hatch. I was bottomless, apparently, but no, not so, as I heaved it all up afterwards. This went on at various levels of intensity for years—through college (the Wellesley Village howard johnsons had great pancake breakfasts and nice clean bathrooms) through marriage (I had to clean my own toilets then but that didn’t stop me). Finally one day in my late 30s I told someone about it and like magic it began to slow down and eventually stop. I wonder to this day if I had been able to tell someone at 10 if I could have avoided those long years of hidden binging and purging. I did ask my mom if I could see a shrink when I was 11 (my sister was in all out teenage rebellion then and seeing a psychoanalyst!) so my mom said yes and sent me to a Dr. Small. Well I couldn’t bring myself to tell Dr. Small what I was doing, so he thought I was perfectly fine and told my mother so. I think my skepticism about therapists began then—I wanted him to PULL it out of me!!!

When my daughter started to get skinnier and skinnier at age 12 or so, I noticed and I freaked out. Terrified, I sat her down and told her how dangerous it was. But did I share? I don’t know. [find out!!!!] I don’t think so. She did manage to avoid anorexia, but just barely.

Now I find out that I was in good company—look at all the famous people who had bulimia—Elton Joh, Lady Gaga, Sally Field, Princess Diana, Jane Fonda, the ancient romans. Looking back, I think my worry about being a BIG person caused the purging and the hunger for love, attachment, honesty, authenticity, REAL not fake sweet family life was the root cause. Keeping the secret was also part of it, holding back, keep up appearances that’s the ticket. A wicked one-two punch that I couldn’t duck.

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