Note: This is Part 2 of my Prep School Across The Pond Memoir. If you haven't read the first part you may want to skip down to the next post and come back to this one. Both pieces are fairly long. They are edited (shortened) versions of those compiled for my memoirs.
I saw the disappointment in my mother’s eyes when she greeted me at the airport. My father was there too, but he has a better poker face. I knew I didn’t look the same. I didn’t feel the same. But I was completely unexpected to find what stared back at me in the mirror. I was aghast and horrified with myself and by myself. How did I do this? I knew damn well how I had. All those afternoon “teas” stuffing myself with loaves of bread with butter and jam or Marmite. The walks to Waitrose to pick up packages of Smarties and Minstrels and crisps of all flavors. I hadn’t given a second thought to what I was putting in my mouth. Pure unadulterated emotional eating. I did not know what it was at the time. I knew that I ate because it felt good, even though I may not have liked how I felt after. And there it was, all that food staring back at me. Disgusting. I had no idea who that person was in the mirror. The bloated, puffy face, the shrunken, sunken in eyes. Those were not mine? I had big brown eyes and high cheekbones. My body became a soft blubbery blob. My once skinny legs were anything but. My stomach and arms and breasts belonged to someone else because surely they were not mine. I would stare at myself for hours and wonder what I had done to myself and why.
My mother was no help. Well-meaning perhaps, initially, she constantly and incessantly harped on me about what I was eating or not eating. I had never had a weight problem and so this was new to both of us. I am sure that neither one of us knew how to react. All I did know that was the constant badgering was not helping me. Did not help me.
I continued to seek food to comfort me. Now away from England I was not getting the comfort and encouragement I needed either. Mother was heartbroken and terribly disappointed over what had happened to me. Of course I was as well but could not speak of it. My petite and skinny mother now had a really fat daughter. This just doesn’t look good.
We never really had junk food at home but I would find things to comfort and console myself with. I would find the carbohydrates or walk to the store and load up and enjoy them at home while my parents were at work, with no one to bother me.
I didn’t call my friends to tell them I was home. I didn’t want to socialize with them. I didn’t want to see those same horrified stares and the looks of pity wondering what the hell I had done to myself. The girl who was so on top of the world and so sure of herself just months before had come spiraling and crashing down.
To further add insult to injury my mother told me that I had to complete my year abroad. I could return to my school in New York for my senior year, but I absolutely had to finish what I started. Heartbroken I remained on my own for the remainder of my Christmas vacation not wanting to do anything or see anyone. I would walk over to the Love’s store on 89th and Madison and buy candy and magazines and Marlboro lights. I would read the magazines and stuff my face and smoke out my window. Funny thing to be a kid and in pain and not at all realize it.
I wonder, to this day, what would have happened had I not had to return to England. It’s hard not to. But we can’t go on wondering about all the “what ifs” now can we? That would not be beneficial and would serve no purpose.
So in the end, after a month, I had to pack up and go back to England.
Somehow I managed to pick myself up and make the most of my situation. The only setback was that Victoria, who had become my closest friend, who was also a new student, had chosen not to complete the year. At first I felt alone without her and I was indeed devastated, but I knew I couldn’t wallow in self-misery and mope around for the rest of the year. So I decided to pick myself up and dust myself off.
Luckily, with the semester break we also got new living arrangements.
I found a new room in a new dorm called Butler House which was just across the way. We had a new House Mother and the girls I lived with were truly my friends. I had a large bedroom that overlooked the main street below. Emma was my room-mate. She was pretty and funny and could be quite mischievous. In fact, we were all good friends at Butler House, having picked the dorm and the rooms so we could be together.
While I was homesick still, I was no longer the sad girl I had been the last semester. I continued to do well at school and enjoyed excursions in downtown Oxford and London.
I went to friend’s houses for the weekend and had friends over to La Jolie Grandmère’s house. I traveled a good bit of the country for my Art History class, and life was starting to look up again.
The only thing which would plague me was my weight which was still not under control. While I was not so much using food to fill a void, it was there all the time. And as you know when you stick your hand in to a bag of m&ms or potato chips it’s really hard to stop at just one!
Eating, as you know, is a necessary evil. One does it socially and one needs food to stay alive. While the food at school remained abysmally bad, because we had full kitchens in our dorms, we could cook and create. I had no idea how to diet as I had never needed to in the past. My friends didn’t look at me or treat me any differently. For that I am now eternally thankful. As my struggle was a personal one, and would remain so for years, it was nice to know my friends could see past my layers.
Finally, at the end of the school year, I wore more smiles than sadness and I was beginning to feel settled and as though I belonged.
My mother had called Hewitt (my school in New York City) to get all the paperwork in order so that I could return for my senior year. Imagine my devastation when I learned that because I had missed out on my Junior Year and all the AP courses required to graduate into the 12th grade and I would have to enter the 11th grade. In essence, my year in England – where I had experienced an education so superior that one cannot even compare – did not count for anything and I would be held back a year.
The decision was entirely 100% my own. I would not be returning to school in Manhattan, but instead would finish up my A-Levels and return to England to finish up my studies.I did not make this decision hastily or with a light heart, but it was not one I regretted either. Perhaps the next year would be easier. I would no longer be the New Girl. I left that July happy to return home and sad that I would miss the girls whom I finally and truly considered to be my friends.
I was not as unhappy when I boarded the transatlantic TWA flight this time. I did have my Walkman with me and I played, once again, as I would do every time I neared home, played A Heart in New York as we sailed the smooth skies above the Hudson into home territory.
To be continued...