I shared a bunk bed with my little brother until I reached adolescence. We shared lots of things, actually, but the bunk bed sticks out to me due to the sheer number of years I spent directly above him while he fiddled with a torch and a book under his duvet. I would hush my dollies back to sleep while he giggled loudly at a Mad magazine, unaware of my consciousness.
But when he slept, finally, in the dimmest hours of the morning. I fiddled with crinkling wrappers and packaging, careful as could be. I never liked to share the food I bought with my birthday money. It tasted sweeter than a good night's sleep could ever make me feel.
At 26, I scrounge for moments I can rest my head like I used to scrounge for change in between our couch cushions. I was first told I should be a nurse at three years old, when I kissed better a neighbours bruised knee after he fell off a particularly tall fence. I followed through. The night shifts I take are dull as dirt and I stay awake only out of obligation, watching the patients sleep soundly with a dramatic kind of envy in my gut. But sleep is never quite as fulfilling when you get to it at 8 in the morning. Food has been the most consistent comforter in my life since I was 6 years old. Since I was 13, it has also been the bane of my existence.
I live far from home now, in the suburbs of a big city. My studio apartment is a mess of post it notes and notebooks full of information I am not supposed to forget. Important dates, addresses, phone numbers and upcoming gynaecologist appointments. I had a third date end abruptly as he walked in the door and saw the inside, fluorescent as a night club, messy as a crackhouse. He looked over the notes and finally, peeled off one and wrote my name on it. "Do you ever forget that?" he joked, sticking it to my front door. What a terrible headache I had, at the snap of my fingers. But I must hand it to him, that note has come in handy more than once when I have woken up next to paper bags, all lined up and filled to the brim with vomit. Who are you, why the fuck are you too lazy to get your fat ass to a toilet? Who does something like this? I go to the door and see for myself: Rosa does.
Last week I received an invitation to a family reunion, where my mother, brother, grandmother, all the others will be, amongst roasted turkeys, potatoes and buttery baked cheesecakes. I stuck the reminder right on my door, next to my name.
Perhaps I didn't spend as much time packing as I should have. Indeed, I forgot my laptop, socks, a second pair of jeans and a second coat as I packed in a hurry, two hours before my flight. I put off thinking about this reunion until it was imminent. Of course, every flight to my hometown, only barely established enough to have an airport of its own, was nearly empty. I spent the two hour flight hurriedly recalling tips and tricks I had used to cover up my secret as a teenager, that had stopped being valuable as soon as I stepped into the adult world. Secrets were easily kept in cities, where people only watch you to see if you're watching them. They know me so well back home they may just pinch my cheeks.
I will stay for two nights and three days, and I will eat on coloured plates only? Only on plates as small as saucers? It had something to do with plates. In the olde world internet I inhabited as a teenager, where you spoke to your friends on Myspace instead of Facebook and you conversed with strangers on online forums instead of...Snapchat? Anyway, I was a member of a forum where teenage girls swapped these tips so they could starve and purge under everyone's noses. I never contributed greatly to the discussion - as a lesser bulimic to the bony paragons of self control that were anorexics, I had very little to say. I was there to learn. But it seems I've retained very little of what I learnt, so I silently pray the forum is still running.
I arrive one day before the larger reunion, obviously for one on one time with my mother, brother and grandmother and whomever my brother has brought home with him. The same guy never makes an appearance twice, but I miss Christmas every other year, so perhaps they do stick around for a while and I just don't see them. I'm happy for my brother - Marc's 22, a little shorter than me and so funny he makes me cry. I just wish I could do something to alleviate the pained look on my mum's face when she sees me at the door, on my own.
"Hi, mum." I smile at her. She looks away.
I bide my time chatting away with my grandmother in the living room, giving a quick run through the 'why don't you ever come and see us, Rosa, darling, where were you last Christmas?" before the big event. I say 'Time doesn't ever allow! And the penalty rates on Christmas are too good,' like every time. I hope she doesn't ask again.
I've arrived earlier than Marc has and although I would like to be alone, I do not want to be alone in my old room. At least not until until I have to sleep in it tonight, and that thought fills me with dread.
I don't ever sleep well in that room, another reason I don't visit home often.
Marc arrives, toting a long coat I'm sure is in high fashion and a man double his height. This man stands by Marc's side when he comes over to hug me, towering above us both awkwardly. He shakes my hand and lowers his glasses so he makes eye contact. He makes me shudder. He introduces himself as Dr Thom Maryland, which makes sense. He's creepy in a chilling but sexless way quite specific to doctors. He specialises in psychiatry, and although he obviously keeps his hands clean, I feel an intense urge to wash my hands after I shake his.
Marc is all smiles and warmth and his hugs feel like they're recharging me. He takes me into the kitchen to make tea where he tells me about Thom.
"He's nearly 40, I've never been with somebody that young!"
He radiates the warmth of birthday cake or a king size bed, and that is how I know I'm dreadfully deprived.
When bedtime comes around for the rest of the family I stay put in the living room, watching Foxtel on the scratchy box television. Marc offers a hot water bottle to press over my belly, as this must invoke his memory of the nights I spent unable to move on to bed due to menstrual cramps. I am not menstruating. I say I'm fine. I twiddle my thumbs and wait for my family to sleep.
From there I eat handfuls of crackers, muesli and pantry staples, cans of tuna and things nobody would notice were gone. I know now, after years of bulimia, that I am not going to stop after one bowl, one pack, or one slice. I fill myself up, like a half empty glass until I run over with guilt or nausea, or both. I run the shower in the downstairs bathroom. The retching will never be silent, but I don't wake anyone.
And it works just like a sedative. I can sleep in my old room again.
I wake groggily, to the bustle of breakfast in the Deluca household. I don't change out of my pyjamas, but I brush my hair and sit down to nurse a cup of tea.
The doctor passes me the sugar.
I suddenly feel awfully chilly.
My brother exchanges some glances with Thom.
My eyes dart around the room as my forehead suddenly becomes rather oily. I will leave for my room and lock the door, when my grandmother leaves the table. I don't know if anyone still respects the DO NOT DISTURB sign on that door, but god, I hope they do today. I don't want anyone to see me cry.
I had a date use my bathroom once while I slept, after sex. He pulled back the shower curtain to reveal a few bags of day old vomit I hadn't been able to bring myself to throw out. When he brought it up in the morning, with his coat draped over his shoulder, I did, in fact, cry.
It's not like he knew what it meant. But I felt ashamed nonetheless. He was weirded out, understandably, but it felt better than concern would have, coming from a Tinder date. He didn't call again and I didn't want him to.
I spread butter thinly across my toast and sip on a cup of instant coffee, keeping my eyes down. When my grandmother leaves for the green grocer on foot, I make my exit. My pace quickens as I get closer to my room and halfway up the stairs I feel a cold hand on my shoulder.
"Rosa, sorry, sorry to interrupt."
I compose myself. 'Hi, Thom...is there something you need?'
"Can you come sit down with me...please?"
I felt like I would collapse on the spot.
But I didn't and I went and sat down with him, on the upstairs balcony, of all places.
He started by showing me some photos on his phone of Marc and himself. He looks happy, engrossed in Marc's softness and joy. He shuts off his phone rather abruptly after showing me a set of him and Marc quad biking.
"Look, Rosa as you can see, I care quite deeply for your brother. He's asked me to do him a favour, and being frank, there's not much I wouldn't do for Marc."
I'm obliged to listen, now. I'm not sure if there's much I wouldn't do for my brother, the human marshmallow, either.
"What's the favour?" my voice shakes a little.
"He heard you throwing up quite violently in the bathroom last night."
"This wouldn't be concerning - well, as concerning - to him if you didn't have a history of disordered eating. Do you have a history of that, Rosa?"
I pause. After a few seconds I realise he wants me to keep talking."
"I've been...binging...for a long time, all throughout my childhood and teenager years. I started purging, um, when I turned 13." Afterwards I swallow. Hard. I speak up again.
"What exactly did Marc tell you, Thom?"
"He told me that when you were a teenager, you had an eating disorder. He believed you had been treated and, um, cured, verbatim. Is that true?"
"I was put into therapy for some time after my mum found some stuff on my computer. I stopped the whole thing, for a little while, until I moved away, really."
Thom nodded sympathetically.
"I hope this doesn't feel like an intrusion of your privacy, Rosa. Your brother was up all night worried."
My stomach churns. That, that is everything I've been trying to avoid by keeping my relapse secret. I would rather die alone in my apartment than worry him, my beautiful brother like that. My mother, my grandmother who spent her inheritance from my grandfather on my therapy, once weekly. How could I let them down like this? How could I...
And I start crying, badly. My eyes puff up, I start sneezing. An ugly girl, ugly crying.
Thom comforted me, patting me on the back from a distance.
"There, there Rosa...we just...want you to get some help."
I shiver and look back up at him.
"I don't think...I can't really afford it."
"Look, Rosa...I, might not be able to do your therapy myself, but I can help you find someone. Someone who can negotiate around fees, depending on what you need. I'm sorry you've been hurting all this time."
'Hi, don't want to interrupt...Rosa!"
Marc comes to comfort me, with an overwhelming, tight hug.
"Sorry, Rosa, sorry, sorry."
"DON'T BE!" I yelp.
My mother found a forum or two, while browsing through my computer when I was 17. They thought I had been looking at porn. They saw my posts, calling for help on purging silently and cleanly. My mother cried herself to sleep, and cried when she confronted me the next day. She cried looking at the prices for therapy in our area, and she cried when booking an appointment with an out of area psychiatrist. I sat diligently through the sessions, and talked about how I hated my body. I talked about losing all my things, and forgetting every important name or date, and my bad grades. Mostly I talked about my need for comfort. Every binge and purge brought me a little comfort, with a whole lot of crazy, the therapist explained. Even though sometimes the therapy made me feel worse, I worked through and I was able to stop therapy a few months before I went to uni.
My mother watched me diligently as I ate and kept stock of the pantry. She took the locks off the bathroom doors. What I took away from my first round of therapy, was that I had the ability the hurt people with my dysfunction.
City life away from home came with a new set of temptations. For the first two years of my nursing degree I drank heavily. I began to smoke as well, to ward off the appetite for destruction that was peeking out the shadows. In those few years I wasn't a practising bulimic, I don't think that constant desire to binge and purge went away. It lay dormant, to come back for me when I became too tired and stressed with work placements to cope. And then it got worse than I ever imagined it could be. I was alone. I got messy and lazy, and every year I became more ashamed.
I thought I were doing my family a favour by keeping my distance. But as I go through a line, picking up roast potatoes and turkey meat in a line with about 60 other relatives, I realised I'd just been punishing myself.
My brother had been too young, at first, to find out what I was doing every Monday at 12:30. When I was about to go off to uni, we sat down and told him. He was 14, at the age when boys find every instance of human suffering funny. But he was horrified - maybe more horrified than my mother had been. Even though I was supposed to be all better, I felt ashamed.
After the external family left, Thom sat me down and went through a list of contacts he had. I asked him to call a woman named Shelly Mores for me. She sounded warm and friendly, like she slept a 10 hours a night, ate cheesecake for breakfast and then went for a run. She sounded happy. I don't know how I got that from a name, but the imagery her name evoked was just so vivid...I want to be a Shelly Mores type of person.
By the name of Rosa Deluca, of course.
I go home, sleepy rather than tired and nourished, somewhat. I stare at the two post it notes on my door. Instead of taking down the reminder of the reunion, I keep it up and write in my last name below my first on the note right beside it. There. They go together now.