One night about midway through the fall semester, I sat alone in my room — my roommate was away somewhere — and reeled from a night of too many and too much of everything: plastic cups of beer from a keg at some outdoor party, pizza afterward, ice cream after that. I was angry at myself for all that I'd eaten and felt slightly queasy. I worried that I'd throw up.
And then, a split second later, without any conscious transition, I hoped I'd throw up. It hit me: if I threw up, the evening's eating would be expunged.
I was already on the precipice of getting sick. With a little effort, could I get myself over the edge?
Yes, yes, I could.
By the middle of the spring semester, I was expert at it.
Freshman year, I often ate dinner with my closest friends, whom I'll call Abigail and Jared. Abigail was my stand-in for Beth, another looker adept at weaving an air of melodrama. Jared was the gay man I wanted to be: quick with a quip, confident in his charms, slight enough to wear plaids and horizontal stripes. He tended to pick at his food, while Abigail could go either way, eating a lot or a little, depending on her mood. I always started out determined not to eat much, but there was food and there were restaurants that foiled me, like the tuna salad at Sadlack's, a deli of sorts that we frequented.
''Be right back,'' I said one night when the three of us were there, as I clambered out of our booth and headed to the bathroom in the back.
I'd eaten too much: a whole tuna submarine, when half would have been more than enough. No way was I going to let all of that linger in my stomach. The bathroom at Sadlack's was for one person only, and it locked, so I had the privacy I needed. I ran water from the sink to camouflage any sound I might make. I got to work immediately. I kept getting speedier and speedier at this. Within 45 seconds the sandwich was gone. I flushed the toilet, then went to the sink and scooped some cold water into my mouth to rinse it. I splashed some water on my face. I studied myself in the mirror. I needed to wait a bit longer before returning to the booth. I was still too red.
After a minute, I made a fresh appraisal: pink now. Much better. Almost there.
Thirty seconds later, I was good to go. My eyes were still watery and faintly bloodshot. But how much of a giveaway, really, was that? Eyes could look the way mine did for any number of reasons. Allergies. Dirty contact lenses. Those were two reasons right off the top of my head.
Jared and Abigail weren't talking when I returned. And they were looking at each other in a puffed-up, purposeful way. Then they were looking at me.
''So,'' Jared asked, ''did it taste as good coming up as it did going down?''
''What?'' I asked, going through his words one at a time, twice over. Could they have a meaning other than the obvious one? Could he be asking about something other than what I'd just done in the bathroom?
I didn't think so, but I didn't cop to anything right away. I feigned confusion.
Jared rolled his eyes.
Abigail said, ''Do you really think we don't know what's happening when you disappear into the bathroom the minute you stop eating?''
''When do I do that?'' I asked, trying for a tone of indignation, because that's how the falsely accused were supposed to sound.
''Um, I don't know, maybe half the time we eat with you,'' Jared said.
''So I go to the bathroom!'' I said.