Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Training on Empty -- Chapter 3 (Possible TW)

Possible trigger warning relating to behaviors

Chapter 3 – Growing Up Is Hard

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher

My dad wanted a boy. In the 1960’s, it wasn’t common for fathers to be a part of the birth of a child. Instead, the doctors would later inform the new dad in the waiting room or at home, “Congratulations, it’s a boy,” or “You have yourself a healthy girl.” My father had accepted the latter news twice already. A child with his first wife was a girl, and his first child with his second wife, my mom, was also a girl. My two half-brothers were from my mother’s previous marriage. All my father’s hopes for his own male offspring rested on my unborn shoulders. There was no way to alter the DNA that was already in place, so with his full disappointment, I came into being.

Growing up, I considered myself a tomboy. I wasn’t a typical tomboy, though – the kind who is skinny with wild hair, wears jeans, climbs trees and plays in the mud. Instead, I was just anti-anything frilly and rejected anything girlish. In sharp contrast to my sister’s clean, well-kept stuffed animal collection, my animals were losing stuffing, dirty and missing ears and whiskers. I played with dump trucks and hated dresses, but I was also quite afraid of adventure. In fact, trees were just not something I considered climbing, and even non-threatening playground equipment, such as the geo-dome climbing structure on the school grounds, often worried me. However, I still tried to be boy-like. One year I cut my hair short and wore a t-shirt to school every single day, even on picture day. I never felt pretty, especially compared to my sister, who was rail-thin with beautiful straight hair down to her waist. I feel today that since I felt I was lacking in the looks category, I was trying to get some kind of approval from my dad by being as much like a boy as I could.

During these early years, while I was trying to survive grade school, I developed a growing hatred of my body. It seemed entirely impossible for me to control the fat that was accumulating around my middle and thighs. I didn’t correlate all the extra snacks with being fat. I thought I was just built that way, and I hated it. I even beat my stomach with my fists and cut other parts of my body with an X-ACTO-knife on occasion, turning all my anger at the world onto myself. Scratching bloody lines on my arm seemed to relieve some of the self loathing, but there was no escaping it entirely. Still, books like The Ugly Duckling, in which an ugly little bird grows into a beautiful swan, gave me a hint of hope that maybe one day things would change. I didn’t know how or when, but I kept hoping that one day I would “show” all those bullies in my life. I hoped, too, that they would be sorry for calling me names, teasing me and ignoring me. Little did I know that I would eventually choose the ultimate form of cutting off my nose to spite my face.

In terms of physical maturation, everyone around me seemed to be a late bloomer. I, on the other hand, developed early. The day I got my period I remember thinking, “Oh no, this can’t be happening, not yet!” I had just turned 12. I changed my underwear when I got home without telling anyone and went to bed hoping it was all a big mistake, that it would just go away. Unfortunately, the next morning the blood had soaked through my recently changed underwear and onto the sheets. Eight days and far too many maxi pads later, my mom dragged me to the gynecologist. Apparently I had a bit of a hormone imbalance. I was reassured that with time, everything would even out, and my periods wouldn’t be so long and bloody. It was two months before my next spotty period, and after that I developed amenorrhea due to starving myself. Once I became anorexic I wouldn’t have another menstrual period for 20 years.

Shortly after I started my adolescent journey, while I was wrestling my way through 5th grade, I picked up horseback riding. I’m not sure what caused me to want to start riding, but one day I got tired of sitting around so much. I wanted to do something different that I could claim as my own. Everyone in the neighborhood was athletic and thin; we had five cheerleaders on one block. I had tried dance, swimming, hiking, basketball and even gymnastics, and while I did an okay job in all of these sports, none really resonated with me. Besides, swim suits, leotards and shorts did not exactly make my plump body look glamorous. My parents allowed me to take a few riding lessons and after just one, I knew this was the sport for me. I loved it. It made me feel free, and for once in my life, I wasn’t the fattest girl in the group! One of the girls in my weekly lessons was a good 15 pounds heavier than I was.

I began riding Western, but the minute I saw one of the advanced riders jumping, I wanted to switch to English. Western riding and English riding differ not only in the equipment used, but in the events offered. English riding, with its smaller saddle and less restrictive style, appealed to me. I liked the idea of the horse and rider having more freedom to move. Soon I was entering shows and even winning ribbons. My sister began riding as well, and the two of us begged our parents for a horse.

Horseback riding isn’t exactly the safest sport in the world. There were times when I was bucked, reared or thrown off, stepped on and even bitten. Twice my horse fell with me. At various times, I was thrown on top of the wooden post that holds the fence, was hit in the head when my horse threw his head back, and blacked out when I hit the ground after being bucked off a runaway horse. Despite the danger, riding was more often fun than not, and I refused to give it up no matter how much my mom worried. For me, riding was not only a sport; it was a way to be social. In addition, I felt that riding allowed me to experience some newly found confidence.

One day while I was having trouble focusing on my schoolwork, I overheard a girl talking about riding. After class, I approached her and asked if she owned a horse. She said that she took lessons at a nearby barn, but didn’t own a horse yet. We talked about riding and our riding instructors and eventually became good friends. Although we rode at different barns, I would occasionally visit her at her barn to watch her ride. Both of us desperately wanted to own a horse. She was a better rider than I was and had been riding since she was a little girl. I envied not only her elegant riding style but also her slim body. She and the horse she rode looked beautiful together.

Eventually, after so much begging, my parents decided to buy my sister and me a horse. Owning a horse meant that we spent a great deal of time at the barn where we kept Michelob, our palomino quarter-horse. In the summer, my sister and I would spend the mornings riding and taking lessons. Then our instructor would take the two of us, along with a few other girls who rode at the barn, to Taco Bell for lunch. Our favorite meal consisted of a Burrito Supreme with extra cheese and sour cream loaded with the contents of several hot-sauce packets. This was followed by a Coke or Pepsi to wash it all down. Occasionally, we would head to Wendy’s for burgers, fries and a chocolate Frosty instead. After lunch, we would return to the barn to help with chores such as cleaning out stalls or mucking out the runs, and then go for a dip in the creek or go inner tubing down the ditch that was connected to the creek. I always felt melancholy returning home in the evening after a long day at the barn. These were some of the best summer days a young girl could imagine.

About a year after my sister and I got Michelob, we followed our instructor to a new, larger barn. I entered junior high school shortly after our horse was settled in his new surroundings. Oddly enough, the kids in junior high were not as mean to me as some of the kids in grade school had been. I had a few more friends there, and at the barn, I eventually met Amber, a girl in high school who seemed quite okay hanging out with me even though I was a few years younger. Amber was cool. She smoked Marlboro Lights, drank beer, and went to parties and concerts. I smoked my first cigarette with her, drank my first beer with her and smoked my first bowl with her. I also did my first line of coke, took my first sample of speed and had my first encounter with hashish with her. She introduced me to boys and took me to wild parties. We dabbled in the fashionable art of fad dieting, often skipping meals during the daytime only to give in to our hunger late at night. Nachos were a favorite nighttime snack for us.

At the barn, where my mom and dad assumed we under the supervision of our riding instructor – who occasionally partied with us – Amber and I would ride our horses throughout the day and hang out with the ranch hands and drink or smoke at night. My parents incorrectly assumed that my instructor, whose husband was dealing drugs and was often away, would keep us out of trouble when she let us spend the night in her trailer. She let us stay whenever we wanted to, whether she was there or not. Occasionally, her sister Kathy, who was in college, would visit and stay in the trailer with us. Kathy was beautiful, thin with blond hair and a great smile. She was also bulimic and encouraged Amber and me to try throwing up after eating. I never dreamed I would force myself to throw up, even if it meant having a thinner body. I tried it once and determined there was no way I could ever do it again. Sticking my finger down my throat burned and puking was repulsive to me. Despite the fact that I was staying up late and living the life of a college student at age 12, I was still managing to get good grades at school. Eventually, though, the combination of drugs and naïveté led me down the wrong road and into trouble.

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