or how one person with disordered eating found another. Circa 1990.
When I moved to Madison, WI with Igor after grad school, I had no idea of what to do for a job. Suffice to say I didn’t have what it took at that time to have a career. Therefore, I did what most liberal arts majors without clues (or master’s degrees in library science) do — I got a job in retail. That lasted for a short time until I saw that a local bakery/restaurant chain needed help. Yep, I applied, WROTE AN ESSAY FOR, and got a job selling pastries. The essay part should have been my clue as to the pretentiousness of the establishment. Nope. I was either desperate, clueless, or oblivious. Actually, all three.
Initially I started working the 6 am opening shift. There was an hour of things to do to get the place ready to open. I worked the bakery side. The other side was the restaurant. We sold normal morning breads and then pastries — bars, cookies, and cakes. After a month, I was asked to come bake. God knows why I said yes (probably more money and longer hours) because I had to be at work at 4. Not fun.
Let’s just be clear. As an adult female with a history of completely disordered binge eating, working around carbohydrates was just another one of those ignorant plans. I had previously lost about 30 pounds before moving. Now it was coming on FAST. There is nothing so depressing as gaining weight, being lonely in a new town, not connecting with your live-in boyfriend, and busting out of your clothes. Yep, I had baked goods and pastries EVERY SINGLE HOUR OF WORK.
Which brings me to my flip side, Julie. Julie was six feet tall, was ADHD, weighed maybe 115, talked a mile a minute, and seemed dumb as a box of hammers. Naturally she gravitated towards me. She had recently decided she was a lesbian. I can’t say why she wrote her essay to work there, but I have to think it had something to do with being around food. She was, and may still be, an anorexic. This she was clear about. Jack Spratt had found his wife.
Julie was obsessed with food, and she was obsessed with my desire to eat food. Famously she once asked me why customers asked me what was good to buy. I looked at her, stunned, and blurted out, “Because I look like I eat the product!” It was true. I knew what had good mouth feel, what was deliciously crunchy, and what had been in the case too long. I could say which muffins were most tender and whether the buns were in good shape. I was never a croissant eater and still am not to this day. I hated making them, I don’t eat them. A cheese danish, however…
The interesting thing about Julie was how she interacted with people and food. She would watch you eat. It felt…dirty. I’m serious. It was just that uncomfortable. She wanted to know every detail of how the food tasted. Food was her pornography, and she was abstaining. I didn’t know this, of course, from working with her. I learned it when she asked me over to have dinner with her. I arrived to find a fridge filled with… mostly nothing. She had a gallon of wine, mayonnaise, ketchup, and maybe some limp lettuce. That’s it. When I asked her what she was going to make, she was surprised. She had forgotten that people invited to dinner expect to eat dinner.
That’s when she offered to take me out. I was naive and went. WRONG. It was the first and last experience I had with being stared at while eating. It was creepy. To make matters worse, her lesbian girlfriend was jealous. Apparently Julie had been taking home goodies from work and feeding her. She’d gained 30 pounds and was not happy that Julie was feeding another. I just was uncomfortable with how it was all playing out. Was she dating me? I mean she knew about Igor.
Luckily one of my other co-workers managed to get me an interview at a state agency in Madison. Had I known at the time how hard it was for people to find well-paying jobs with benefits (NO ONE ever seemed to leave which is why people with BAs, BSs and Master’s Degrees were working retail all over the place), I would have kissed her feet. I would have been a better employee (another story for another time). However, it got me away from my disordered eating friend (who encouraged my binge eating) for a while.
I’d like to say that Julie got over being an anorexic, but during my time with her that was a big no. I’d like to say that I became a normal eater and stopped having binge episodes. That’s a huge no too. I still struggle with it. What I did learn though is telling someone you love food doesn’t mean you do. I think it just means you have an addiction to it that’s not normal — whether you’re eating or not.