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Art by Soos Packard

Counting Crackers: The Anatomy of An Eating Disorder
by Renée Germaine

I started counting minutes and hours when I was four years old. I counted varying increments of time during which I kept my fingers crossed – index and middle, both hands, the way people symbolize good luck. The counting and accompanying crossing had begun innocently and simply. The first time I crossed my fingers was during a prayer to God, I guess, or to whomever the force is that in childhood we believe controls our lives. I was praying that my mother would give me permission to spend the night at my friend Pam’s house. While Pam’s mother was on the phone with mine, I made my decidedly childlike appeal. Please, please, let my mom say yes. If she says yes, I’ll keep my fingers crossed all night. It seems sort of cute, the bargaining. At four years old, a sleepover was a serious issue. There hadn’t been too many things in my short and relatively unhappy life that I had consciously wished for so desperately. And for some reason it seemed to me at the time that the best way to insure that I would get my wish was to offer some sort of sacrifice, perform some small penance. It worked, I had believed; my mom said yes, and I kept my fingers crossed all night. I never once thought of abandoning the promise. In fact, I was sure that something horrible would follow should I break my end of the deal. And that day, that deal, turned into two years of crossing my fingers. I ate, took piano lessons, played kickball – all with my fingers crossed. I appealed every day to some omnipotent force to grant me a favor or simply spare me danger or pain in exchange for my physical offering. I came to believe – at four years old – that I couldn’t be happy and safe unless I was willingly a little uncomfortable in return. It made perfect sense to me, and the crossed fingers came to feel natural. I had a strangely instinctive feeling for how long they needed to be crossed on different days as well as several meticulous methods for keeping track of this time. It kept me safe.

 

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