Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spin Cycle: Exit, Stage Left...

In the spring of 1994, I was just shy of turning 18 and had been anorexic on-and-off for 6 years. All seniors at the Arts High were required to complete a "senior project", so in addition to academics, senior class theater rehearsal and daily out-patient treatment at the University of Minnesota, I had agreed to be in a musical directed by my dear friend David.

By that point, I had reduced my intake to 6oz of water a week, which I used to take either a box of diuretics or a box of laxatives (I alternated every other week.) I remember throwing up the blue dye from the pills and mornings spent crawling to the bathroom in order to pull myself into a hot tub , the only thing that helped the pain. My dad told me that several doctors instructed him to start choosing a casket. Nice, huh?

The day before the first performance of David's show, I had some sugar-free jello. You know, for energy. When the time came, I stepped onstage and sang and danced my heart out, until a segue halfway through the show where the cast turned it's back to the audience and sang while a video montage played overhead. To relay what happened next, I must rely on the accounts of friends and family to round out the few details that I remember:

When we lined up, I stood next to my best friend and room-mate Kristen. In that moment, I knew that I was not okay but had only a split second to think, "Oh, shit." before the world swooped around me. As I lost consciousness, I reached for Kristy and my hand slid into her back pocket before I fell off of the stage and into the orchestra, almost taking her down with me. I'm told that my mother came flying up the aisle from the audience before anyone else realised what was happening, and that she just missed catching me. As it happened, I took out the percussion section and my mother caused further destruction on her way to my side.

I remember crawling toward the lights beneath the stage and hearing my mother screaming my name. She says that she yelled for someone to call 911 as she shook me, held my face in her hands, tried to get me to respond. I remember a flash of Kristen's face as she ran alongside the gurney as the EMTs rolled me to the ambulance. I pressed her hand in mine and made her promise to sing my part for me. (Incidentally, my solo in that show began, "Can your God love me? My life of such debris, this mess of my own making?" Scarily fitting...) I remember drifting in and out while the guy EMTs discussed how I was probably just a dumb pregnant slut. (Really?! Assholes.)

At the hospital, tests showed that my white blood count was so low the doctor said that by all rights I shouldn't have survived, and my blood pressure was that of an infant's. They pumped me full of fluids via an iv before sending me home to sleep it off in my mother's bed. Someone (my mother? my boyfriend Ryan?) talked me into eating some kind of cream soup and...happily ever after.

Years later, as I reminisced with my mom and a friend that was in the audience that fateful night, I mentioned crawling under stage toward the lights. When they exchanged a look, I asked, "What?!" It was then that my mother told me what she hadn't been able to tell me at the time: namely that there were no lights under the stage. Good news, everyone! Dying doesn't hurt. Good news! I grew up, I healed, I survived.

For more survival spins, visit Jen at Sprite's Keeper.