The Standishes lived a block away. The father was named Young Attorney of the Year; the mother enjoyed the Junior League and the Neiman Marcus makeup counter. They had two little girls, prim and pretty, and for a stretch of three years, I was their babysitter.
“Help yourself to whatever,” Mrs. Standish would say, slipping on a mink as she rushed toward the Mercedes idling in the driveway.
“I’m fine.” I would wave her off as she headed for the door. “I already ate.”
For the next few hours, I was an attentive babysitter. I bathed the girls and played with their Barbies and laughed at their jokes though they were never very funny. They went to bed at 8 p.m., at which point I began rooting around the house – digging into the refrigerator, the bathroom cabinet, the closets. See, while I did enjoy playing with the Standishes’ children, what I liked more was playing with the Standishes’ things. Especially the missus – her costume jewelry, her high-end makeup, her clothes in seductive, luxury fabrics. Eventually, I became curious about their expansive liquor cabinet as well. By the end of our three-year run, I was stealing vodka and measuring my diet by how Mrs. Standish’s leather pants fit.
It’s hard to remember when it started, how I became bold enough to do any of this. Because, at thirteen, I was the opposite of bold – shrinking, nothing but polite, save for the wicked interior monologues only given voice in personal diaries and fanciful, incomplete novels. I did wear an awful lot of makeup – even slept in the stuff – and so I wonder if the gateway was Mrs. Standish’s vanity. Maybe I peeked out of curiosity but couldn’t keep my hands off the stuff. All of it Chanel, candy colors hidden inside that glossy black lacquer: the little dome of sparkly peach-pink blush; the blue shadow smeared on with an index finger; the tarty red lip gloss thick as Vaseline. I would slather all of this on my face – regard its wild iridescence, regard the way I resembled a movie star (Kathleen Turner! No, a young Kim Basinger!) – only to wash it off, almost immediately afterward. I’d go downstairs and call a girlfriend. Or I’d stare at the food in the refrigerator like it was MTV.
During these years, I was on and off many diets. Some were self-made (the starvation diet) and some were pre-programmed (Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers), but the point is that food had become an epic preoccupation from which I sought any escape. The place I didn’t want to be – but the place I always wound up – was alone, calculating calories with the refrigerator door hanging open. How much for a slice of American cheese? How much for a tablespoon – okay, four – of peanut butter? Sometimes I’d just go straight for the good stuff: an endlessI guess a lot of this is just part of being a thirteen-year-old girl. supply of chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer. I always made sure to eat a negligible amount. I always rewrapped each package so that it sat in the very place, at the very angle, where I had found it. The Standishes wouldn’t have cared if I had Hoovered their cupboard with a giant straw, but I didn’t want them knowing I’d taken anything. Not even a slice of Velveeta.
I guess a lot of this is just part of being a thirteen-year-old girl. So much feels wrong that you’re not sure what behaviors you should be hiding (lathering your skin with someone else’s high-end liquid foundation) and what behaviors you shouldn’t bother hiding at all (eating all the Triscuits). Once, I folded and buried an empty box in my purse so they wouldn’t find it in their trash. But for me, in particular, food was a subject larded with shame. It made me mental. I remember the Standishes had this gingerbread house one Christmas – the kind made with real gumdrops and icing – and I would drool over that thing. And eventually, I took a gumdrop and popped it in my mouth. And the next week, I took another, and the week after that I took two. And all winter long, I kept nibbling at it, one teensy bit at a time, until it looked like something the birds had eaten. But no one asked me about it. It was possible no one cared. Actually, it was possible no one noticed.
The Daily Babble