Authors: Elena Dunkle
Also by Clare B. Dunkle:
Hope and Other Luxuries
To the lights that lead me through the darkness:
My husband and soul mate, Matthew
My unwavering family
My little love, Lilly Arabella
My soul's echo, Rupert Brooke
And in remembrance of the souls
Who fought bravely alongside me against anorexia
“Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
One mote of all the dust that's I
Shall meet one atom that was you.”
Copyright Â© 2015 by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataDunkle, Clare B.
Elena Vanishing / by Clare and Elena Dunkle.
1. Dunkle, ElenaâHealth. 2. Anorexia nervosaâPatientsâBiography. I. Dunkle, Elena. II. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4521-2151-2 (hc)
ISBN 978-1-4521-3068-2 (epub, mobi)
Design by Jen Tolo Pierce.
Typeset in Sabon and Helvetica Neue LT Pro.
, “We Should Talk about This Problem,” from
I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
, renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky. Copyright 1996, 2006 by Daniel Ladinsky. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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This is a true story. But it is also a work of fiction.
Every incident, thought, and dream in this story happened as described, to the best of the authors' memories. Our goal has been to create an accurate portrait of anorexia nervosa in all its separate stages, just as Elena herself lived through them. But the portrait of a chronic illness comes through best in small moments: five minutes of action, one mental observation, or two lines of dialogue, sometimes separated by weeks. Skipping around like that is no way to tell an interesting story.
To solve this problem, the authors have grouped minor events around the major events. Each chapter creates one to three “typical” days out of a time period ranging from as short as half a week to as long as half a year. This means that in rare cases, we have moved a few minor events (episodes during Elena's time working in the ER, for example) months out of their real sequence. But such events did occur just as we have described them.
No events related to the progression of Elena's illness have been moved, and all significant events have stayed in their proper sequence.
The authors have reported important dialogue exactly as they remember it. But they have also abridged many conversations. Several therapy sessions have been condensed into one, for example, as well as several arguments. And the authors have created dialogue where they couldn't remember exactly what was said, although they took pains to make that dialogue match the topics and emotional tone of what they remember.
All journal and letter excerpts are real, with only clerical changes. All statements concerning when or how they were written are accurate.
While all the people in this book are real, all names outside the family have been altered. A few very minor plot or physical description details have been altered solely to protect the identities of others. And very minor physical details have been created, in a few cases, where such details have been forgotten (a person's clothing in a particular scene, for instance).
I wake up in a panic, and acid churns in my stomach. A nurse has
walked into my hospital room. I was asleep. How long was I asleep? How long has it been since I last reached for the makeup bag under my pillow? Does the nurse see a girl with a bright future ahead of her? Or does he see a sweaty, tearstained mess?
As it turns out, I don't need to worry. All the nurse sees is my lunch tray. “You didn't eat any of this,” he says. “You didn't even unwrap it.”
I feel my face settle into a polite, neutral expression: forehead smooth and lips curved slightly upward. And I hear myself speak in the voice I save for strangers: slightly higher and more childlike than my normal voice, with a gentle lilt. People like that voice. They relax and smile when they hear it.
“I'm sorry,” I say. “I fell asleep.”
“So, if I leave it, will you eat it now?”
No. There's no way I can force that stuff down. This morning, I had three bites of pudding, and I'm still full. At the thought of more food, the familiar pains knife through me. But if I say that, I know what he'll think, so I purse my lips and arrange my face into a thoughtful expression.
“I don't know,” I say. “I'm still sleepy. Maybe later, when I wake up again.”
The nurse isn't happy with my answer. He growls and mutters as he takes my pulse and updates my chart.
I like this nurse. Yesterday he yelled at me, but I could tell he only did it because he was worried. Now he huffs, “Anorexia! You and my niece. Two beautiful girls, destroying your lives over a diet!”
I take careful note of the comment:
. This nurse is the fifth person in the last four days to call me beautiful. But worry poisons my relief. What do I weigh now? I need to know the number that's made me beautiful.
“How's the heart?” asks the nurse. “Any pain in the chest?”
“No,” I say, trying to keep annoyance out of my voice. That's because there's nothing wrong with my heart.
“Are you noticing any tightness? Any shortness of breath?”
“No.” Of course not! One echo exam, and everybody freaks. Doctors read those tests wrong all the time.
“Do you need anything?”
“No thank you,” I say with a shake of my head and a smile, as if he's a waiter taking my order. I feel the smile stay smooth and perfect on my face until he leaves the room.
As soon as the nurse is out of sight, I double up in agony, clenching my teeth to keep from groaning out loud. If I make a sound, I know he'll hear me and come rushing back to help. And I don't want anyone's help.
Anger and bewilderment are forms of admiration. It's pity I can't stand. Pity wraps you up inside your problem until the problem is all people see.
Did you hear what happened to her?
they whisper behind your back.
Can you just imagine? No wonder!
you do something amazing, nobody's jealous anymore. They hug you and cry and call you
, when what they really mean by that is
So I lie still and take deep, quiet breaths. Pain doesn't bother me. I'm not afraid. I'm used to living with pain.
He saw you looking like a mess
, warns the voice in my head.
You weren't careful enough. You let down your guard.
That's my conscience. We all have one. Mine never lets me settle for second best. There's no place in life for losers.
So, even though the pain in my stomach still has me clenching my teeth in agony, I pull the little makeup bag out from under my pillow and touch up my face in the compact mirror.
Perfection. That's what I want people to see when they look at me. Nothing but perfection.
Anger is honest. Hatred is a backhanded compliment. Envy is the best gift of all. But let them turn you into a victim, and you're labeled for life.
Pity is the sea you drown in.
The psychiatrist sidles into my hospital room and looks grave when
he sees my untouched tray. But then again, he always looks grave. He's a short man with sad brown eyes and a limp little brown mustache. He looks like he belongs in one of those old photographs, an explorer in a pith helmet with his arm draped around a half-naked tribesman.
I forget my pain and enjoy the feeling of how much I hate him.
I've only seen this moron for three short sessions, but he thinks he's figured out the solution to the Elena Dunkle mystery. He locked me in the hospital, and he told my parents I have anorexia nervosa. Now he wants to ship me back to the States.
I've lived in Germany for six years. It's a safe place for me, and I've earned that safety through hard work and plenty of angry tears when no one was around to see them. Germans think I'm one of them when they hear me speak. I know how to diss people in two languages. I love the Air Force base where my father works, too, with its neatness and discipline. It's a closed system, a small town, and I belong there.
I even love this hospital. It's like a second home to me. I volunteer here all the time. They're shorthanded right now down at the chaplain's wing because I'm stuck here in a hospital bed.
Being stuck here isn't why I hate the psychiatrist. I can respect drastic action. And I'm not an anorexic, but I know that anorexics are strong, smart people. I'm willing to take his diagnosis as a compliment.
No, the thing I hate about him is that he's still making pathetic attempts to be friends.
There are things I told this guyâlittle quirks about how I cope with food. If he shared them with the pediatrician and cardiologist, they might go along with his crazy diagnosis. But he's keeping those things from everybodyâeven from my parents. It's like those things I told him are our little secret. It's like he thinks we're two girlfriends away at summer camp together instead of what we really are, which is a maniac mad-scientist doctor and a prisoner he's locked away by force.
The psychiatrist wants me to be the one to tell my secrets. He actually believes he can persuade me to do this. But I haven't worked this hard this long at perfection just to throw it away.
It's an insultâthat's exactly what it is. He's insulting my intelligence.
Now he sits down on the edge of my bed and gazes at me mournfully. “We're running out of time,” he says.
I perk up. Maybe he's finally ready to do something on his own. Maybe he's finally going to quit treating me like his buddy.
In a way, it would be nice if he did. I've done nothing all week but wait. There are only so many interesting movies in the hospital library, and they won't let me leave this ward. The restricting is wearing me out, too. I've done my best to eat almost nothing, but it's exhausting to put up that kind of fight. I need a change. I hope he's finally ready to take action.
But no. He sighs and says, “Well, Elena, what are we going to tell them?”
Oh, for the love of God, will this loser just man up! When is he going to figure it out? I am
on his side.
“You know and I know how important this hospital stay is to you,” he murmurs. “You can't fix this on your own. It's time to bring your parents in on this. Are you ready to tell them the truth?”