You Don’t Know When You Start

In Maine: peace and quiet. A half of a mile to get the mail. Lettuce in neat little rows. A single room with cell service. A barn full of boats. Every issue you could ever want of Down East, Car and Driver, and Money Magazine. Filet mignon for dinner, not marinated or seasoned, just slapped straight down onto the grill. Easy. I like easy. My dad’s voice. 

Peonies in the front yard — peonies that about broke my heart. After two years of neglect, there they were in full bloom, just as beautiful as ever.


I snipped a bunch to put in my old room, flicked off the few ants interested in hitching a ride, and thought quietly, Mom’s. Mom’s peonies.


Overall though, going back didn’t give me the gaping-hole feeling I’d worried it would. It filled me up. Right up to the brim.


It was so unbelievably good to be back around the familiar. The Portland Harbor Hotel downtown still has a seasonal seafood omelet, it’s still market price, and it’s still delicious. We went for breakfast on Father’s Day, and even though we both cast a quick glance over at our old table for six, we left agreeing that we have a new spot now. Several new spots, in fact.


My dad and I have come a long way. I won’t even try to explain the complexity of what’s gone on there — between the way my parents’ divorce shook out and everything I learned about my eating disorder my first year in Oregon — but anger, disappointment, frustration, and resentment are no longer the first four feelings to flare when I think of him.


What I can’t love, I overlook. And when he slips and says [just] the wrong thing, I dial up Yogi Bhajan: “If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.”


Apparently that’s what you get for $2,600 dollars in copays. (Where is the laughing-crying emoji when you need it.)

When I think of my dad now, I think of the talk we had in a two-hour traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge on the way into Philadelphia. I think of us picking up that train of thought on a tennis court on Cape Cod. I think of the stumbling, awkward-but-good conversation we had while riding the mail boat between islands off the coast of Maine.


Neither of us is perfect, but I’m proud of how hard we’re trying. To communicate better. To be less rigid. To be more generous. To be less black and white. To be more forgiving. To be less judgmental.

So that was one major goal of the trip: to repair my relationship with my dad. To let him see me, to say the hard things, to make some good memories, to eat the way I needed to.

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My other hope was more ambitious, in the end: to reassess my answers to all of the questions I feel like I’ve asked myself five hundred times since graduating from college. Namely, where do I go to feel like I’m home. And more broadly: how exactly do I — for lack of a better word — do life, on my own.


I badly wanted Oregon to be the answer to Part A. I was talking about this with a friend the other day — I think we all do our best to make decisions that feel like right decisions at the time. And they actually are, in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right decisions forever. Two and a half years ago, after a brutal-in-a-different-way year in NYC, Portland, OR was an excellent choice.


I’ve managed to set up so much of the life I’d envisioned. I have a good job with a great boss. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to live here. I have a cute studio apartment approximately five minutes from my office. (Four minutes, if I take the fire escape.) I work from 7:30am to 4:00pm and don’t check my email outside of those hours. I go home every day for lunch. I get paid overtime when I opt — yes, opt — to stay late. I’m a quick walk from the library, the bank, the doctor, the dentist, five incredibly nice grocery stores, dozens of nationally ranked restaurants, an impressively forested park, and a killer view of Mt. Hood.


I wake up every day and recite these things. Be grateful, be grateful, be grateful. And then I flip over my phone (no new messages) and start running through the ways to keep the loneliness at bay. I actually look forward to when it’s time to go to sleep again. (Should we be counting down all day?) This kind of loneliness…I can’t be the only one to know it, but it’s the kind that feels like it absolutely would swallow me whole, if I let it. If I weren’t so constantly vigilant.


I still want to monitor the extent of that misery. I still want to manage the intensity of feelings felt. And that’s why anorexia continues to meet some deeply seated need. When I let myself cry, like I am now, I cry over how much I miss my family.


I’ve been in Oregon long enough to get acclimated, and I still feel like a fish out of water. On my trip back home, I absorbed everything so familiar, so the same (!), like a sponge. The cobalt blue skies. The seagulls swooping every which way. The sun-splashed cobblestone streets. The lobster pots on front lawns. The sweet salty air. The “Accessible Only by Boat” signs. The lupines lining the highway. The brands I’d forgotten: Vineyard Vines, The Black Dog, Sperry, Barbour. The way even strangers looked familiar.

What I really couldn’t get over was the number of things that screamed New England. Even the days I left my camera at home, I kept seeing things in small square frames. Click, click, click.



For a long time I felt like I needed to be away in order to get better — in order to reject parts of the person I’d been, in order to gain weight, in order to actually make a living, in order to gain my independence, in order to go on, hurry up.


I thought being around my family would make it harder to recover, which is why I resisted going back for so long. But I had it all mixed up.


It is easier around my family. Infinitely easier. It is ten times less difficult when I am around other people just in general. I had such a good time on this trip because I was reminded of how little other people even think about weight. How many other things are there to think about? So, so many.


It felt so good to be loved, to be thought of, to be hugged, to be cared for. I don’t know how we’re supposed to live without those things. (And to be honest, I don’t see an awful lot of people doing it. I know of only one other person really alone-alone, doing the best she can, and I love her more than life itself.)


I guess the other unspoken part of that second sentence is: I don’t know how to get what I need here. In therapy we talked a lot about “needs not being met” as a root cause for disordered eating, and that’s absolutely been the case for me.

It was so nice, even just for a week, to wake up every day feeling safe and secure and genuinely full of all the fuzzy feelings. Yes, I was on vacation, but [correct me if I’m wrong] that sense of contentment and belonging should not be a once-a-year phenomenon.


Still, I am proud of myself for picking up and moving across the country. It’s a tough thing to do, especially without a friend or a significant other. I just don’t know if living so far from everything I hold close is what’s right for me anymore. What’s right for me right now might not be living in a city. It might not be living on my own. It might not be throwing myself into work. It might not involve trying *this new thing* in *this new place.*


“The hardest thing about moving forward is leaving something behind — and usually it’s a part of ourselves.” -Unknown


“I’ve never been very good at leaving things behind. I’ve tried, but I have always left fragments of myself there too, like seeds awaiting their chance to grow.” -Joanne Harris


“I despise my own hypersensitiveness, which requires so much reassurance. It is certainly abnormal to crave so much to be loved and understood.” -Anais Nin


“I wish to love and be loved. To hold and be held. To kiss and be kissed. To feel and be felt. Nothing more. Nothing less.” -Daren Colbert

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“I will fool around on the typewriter. It might take me ten pages of nothing, of terrible writing, and then I’ll get a line, and I’ll think, ‘That’s what I mean!’ What you’re doing is hunting for what you mean, what you’re trying to say. You don’t know when you start.” -Anne Sexton

{PDX from above via @josh_ross_, Mt. Hood #1 via @kyle.pnw, Philly from South Street Bridge via @rmbarnette — all on Instagram.}


4 thoughts on “You Don’t Know When You Start

  1. Beautiful photos of landscapes! As an ex- New Englander, I relate to your feelings of the familiar. I now live in CA, but always feel that a part of New England is within me.

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