as soon as my mother descends the stairs, she crosses her bony arms and casts a critical look at my midriff. reflexively, i clench my abs and straighten my posture perceptibly. she is my own personal firing squad, disguised as a tiny, aging korean woman.
“you look old,” my mother complains by way of greeting. she squints critically at my face, as if counting wrinkles for evidence.
“hi umma,” i mutter. “have you guys eaten yet?”
“just got through with lunch, but i saved some for you,” my father says brightly the same instant as my mother hisses: “all you think ’bout is food. always food, always hungry. this why you gaining so much weight.”
i follow my father to the kitchen, ignoring her steady stream of criticism with a practiced deafness.
it turns out lunch was chicken wings, which dad can eat at any given time throughout the day with the utmost enthusiasm. as he reheats them over foil in the toaster oven, my mother pats her stomach delicately and informs me that she only ate the vegetable sticks that accompanied the order.
“i make better vegetable,” she finishes smugly.
“it’s just celery and carrot sticks,” i tell her cuttingly. “there’s nothing to make.”
i stare moodily into the toaster oven as she continues her tirade against american food and all things fried. i watch the crispy chicken skin sizzle under the glistening barbecue sauce, recalling a time when i could never look at food in her presence. back when i was still in high school, and she praised me for skipping meals.
i ate one meal a day at school, buying multiple sandwiches and cartons of fries in the fast food line of our cafeteria. i made nervous jokes to the lunch ladies about being the designated buyer for my group of friends, and they would stare back at me with dull, apathetic eyes as they rang up one burger after another. they did not care what i did with my armful of food.
i took it all into the most remote girl’s bathroom, the one on the third floor by an unused music classroom. i sat in the handicapped stall and ate my way through everything, cramming it all in as fast as i could. no room to breathe, no time to think. for fifteen glorious, golden minutes a day, i ate whatever i wanted and i ate as much as i could. until my stomach felt tight with a sickening heaviness, and my mouth could no longer differentiate one bite from another, i ate.
i remember the worst part of the purging wasn’t the vomiting itself. after a while, i could no longer taste that either. the most uncomfortable part was when i threw up with so much force that the pressure behind my eyeballs threatened to compress my vision. during these moments, i imagined blood vessels giving way to the crushing force that expelled from my throat, imagined my vision shot through with crimson as i purged over and over and over again.
halfway through senior year, the music classroom was converted to a computer lab furnished with shiny new macs, and then no bathrooms were safe. a lone, straggling sophomore overheard my lunch ritual and not long after i found myself staring at my feet while the school counselor, mrs. dodson, interviewed my parents.
dad was bewildered and alternated between shaking his head in disbelief and patting me on the shoulder clumsily. my mother, meanwhile, baffled mrs. dodson with her apoplectic rage.
“i not telling her to waste food! she should be studying lunch period, not throwing up all over bathroom. i teach her better than this!”
my mother broke off from her diatribe only to glare angrily at me, then fixed her beady gaze back on mrs. dodson.
“how is sophie’s grades? she making all a?”
“mrs. green-park,” the counselor said evenly, “sophie’s grades are not the issue at hand. she seems to suffer from a very serious eating disorder, and she needs to seek professional help. she especially needs the support of her family to help her through this difficult time.”
“what she need is more study!” my mother retorted, deaf to mrs. dodson’s disbelief.
“sonya.” i remember my father intervened at this point, an odd shift in my parental dynamic. he gave her an uncharacteristically stern look and said, “stop. sit down.”
she looked as if she fully intended to shout him down as well, but something in his expression must have defeated her. she sunk back into the uncomfortable metal folding chair with the wounded dignity befitting royalty and sulked.
“sophie,” my dad said gently as mrs. dodson nodded encouragingly. “we’re here for you. you’re going to get you the help you need.”
i looked at my mother from the corner of my eye. she caught my glance and turned away pointedly to look out the window. outside, the powerdancers were practicing their routines. i remember in that instant knowing that i would never feel as beautiful, happy, and energetic as they were at that moment unless i found some way to rise above my mother and prove her wrong.
ten years later, she perches on a barstool in the kitchen in her primrose-colored cardigan and makes disparaging noises while i eat wings. she does not know how far i have come from the unhealthiest i have ever been, and the sheer force of will i adopted in order to overcome my relationship with food. she does not know, because she does not understand.
there is little of our lives that intersect, despite her best efforts to take control of my every decision.
when things ended with noah and i finally braced myself to tell her, she only nodded satisfactorily and said, “i tell you so. years and years ago, i tell you. he not good enough not for you.”
i looked up hopefully, elated by the possibility that i would receive a compliment from my mother that wasn’t underhanded or coerced.
“he not make enough money,” she continued placidly. “can’t take care of you when you get fired from job.”