I don’t remember the taste of her skin. I don’t remember the screams she bellowed as my teeth sunk into her tender arm. I don’t remember the judgmental stares of my classmates as I was sent home. All I know is my mom tells me I bit my best friend in preschool.
My mom always said I was an aggressive kid. Being twenty now, I know that biting your best friend is generally frowned upon. It seems all my issues started when I was younger, and it always seemed to stem from my mouth. I couldn’t keep it off my friends or food, both of which my mom took issue with. Being the dramatic child I was, my parents decided to put me into a theater program. I absolutely loved this creative outlet as a child, especially the part afterwards. My friend Conner’s dad would pick us up and take us to Taco Bell every night after rehearsal. It became the thing I looked forward to most, even more so than rehearsal itself. My mom quickly found out about the whole thing and immediately shut it down.
“Alexa, you don’t need to be eating food at 10:00 P.M. on a school night. Love handles are a thing, ya know.” Her fists glued to her love handles.
Why did it matter? I remember running to my room to check my ten-year-old body in my full length mirror. After I’d run up the stairs and entered my bedroom, I’d close the door softly behind me. After I had slowly locked the door, trying my very best to not let the lock make a sound, I’d begin removing my clothes. Once I was down to skin, bones, and vulnerability, I’d look over to the mirror. My overhead lamp bouncing off the lavender painted walls thinned me out in my mind. Normal concerns to have at ten, right?
High school came and went, and I was more than ready to get out of the house and into college. My older sister Mia attended Salisbury University and left me with big shoes to fill, which was honestly the last thing I needed. The tour of Salisbury was going well until the end; there was still one more part. We had finally gotten to the food court. Smells of freshly baked bread knocked on the front door of my nostrils. Steak bleeding onto its companion waiting to meet its final destination. Ice cream subtly melting with each opening and closing of the heavy metal doors. Fresh fruit glistening under the harsh artificial lighting. I knew this part would come, and I knew she could smell it all too, and she wanted to try it as badly as I did. The university required an all-you-can-eat meal plan as a freshman, which my mom fought against. She was well aware of the “freshman 15,” and she of course made me even more aware of it. I couldn’t fathom gaining weight and having to return home for winter break, but luckily I still had the lavender walls to come home to.
“Tell Conner’s dad I said no more fast food after rehearsal. You won’t be able to fit into your costume, Alexa. Please don’t embarrass me or yourself,” Mom said without a single emotion in her voice.
The post-rehearsal food runs stopped, and I was just faced with returning home to my mom. Every night I’d come home, with the sounds of my stomach growling louder than the musicals. I know she could hear my stomach but not my anger. But to be fair, it was kept inside when I was around her. As a result, my love for the arts declined as my obsession with food took over. This was the start of the steady decline of my relationship with food and my mother.
I began looking to food for comfort once my family left me in my dorm room my freshman year of college. The tour wasn’t a great start to my experience with college, but I knew food would fix that. I was going to the dining hall at least twice a day and snacking after my late night smoking sessions with my roommate.
I would turn off my location every time I went to the dining hall and just blame it on the poor cell service in the “gym.” I didn’t feel good about lying to my mom, but I also couldn’t lie to myself about my feelings towards her. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to hurt someone she loved. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to see me suffer. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t love me fully. I only understood that she was making my relationship with food more toxic than our own. I looked to food for love and loyalty–something I craved from my mom, but was denied time after time. I felt crazy for begging my mom to love me when I feel like it’s usually the other way around. What’s the definition of insanity again?
But maybe I was the insane one. I feared my mom and her opinions as a freshman in college. Though the way she portrayed her opinions didn’t feel like opinions; it felt like the law. When she told me to hit the gym, it felt suffocating. It felt like if I didn’t go, she’d get mad. If I went to the dining hall more than twice a day, she’d ignore me. If I went to Walmart, she’d question me. Love me less. I know I was not overreacting, but how could I have even trusted my own opinion? I used to justify biting people.
After I bit my best friend, I was sent to the principal’s office. I was sat down in a chair so tall my legs couldn’t find the floor beneath me. The principal exclaimed how wrong it was to bite someone, especially your best friend. The principal thought that maybe instead of telling me how wrong it was, it would be better to list out the reasons why.
- You shouldn’t hurt the ones you love.
- Friends are like family, treat them as such.
- Physical pain can impact someone longer than just the initial pain.
- Emotional pain lasts long past the bite.
Even as a preschooler, these weren’t hard concepts to grasp. I knew it hurt to get bitten, I knew I didn’t mean to hurt her, but I knew nothing about emotional pain. How could I have known? I wasn’t even able to properly process my own emotions, let alone the emotions of someone else. I was young and impressionable, and Mom knew that.
I was mad, obviously. I was mad that I allowed my mom to hold such a tight grip over me. She made my days rain or shine. She made my voice feel scratchy or free. She made me feel half or whole. Food made me feel whole. It’s too cliche to say that food filled the hole within me, but it quite literally did. It filled me and felt me. Food had no judgment nor opinion, something I had been looking for since preschool. I understand now, since preschool, that my mother shouldn’t have made me check myself in my childhood bedroom mirror. A mirror and lavender walls that I’ve well out-grown, but never the memories. My understanding of my mom is by no means an attempt to justify her actions. But it helps to make me feel like the bigger person, which is something I know makes me a stronger person than her. I think she saw her weight comments as looking out for me. She thought by telling me to watch what I ate at an early age that I would have a healthier relationship with food when I got older. She took her aggressive comments towards me as saving me.
I know now that she’s the one that needed saving.
I always wondered what was in all of the bottles next to her bed. Some lying on their sides, some standing tall, and some that had completely fallen over. I thought they were bottles of candy that she was keeping from me because she always ate them for dessert. She dumped one candy from each bottle into her hand twice a day and washed it all down with Diet Coke. I always wanted some too, but she denied me the candy, claiming that she hopes I never get the chance to eat them.
My dad had off every Friday when I was growing up, and we’d always celebrate with Taco Bell and ice cream. My dad would return with the food, and Mom always had an issue with it, every single Friday. It was either too much food or not enough. I looked forward to Friday, because it was the most peaceful day of the week. No one spoke during dinner. Me, my dad, and my sister all sat together at the table while my mom sat alone on the couch. Each bite was taken in silence in the hopes that Mom wouldn’t get annoyed at our chewing. I usually waited to eat my ice cream until Mom went to bed, and she always did after dinner. Mom would always go upstairs for dessert, and lay in bed with her bottles of candy within close reach. I guessed she wanted to save her ice cream for after?
Mom and Dad had horrible relationships with food their entire lives, even before they had children. Dad would eat Burger King for lunch every day when he was in his 20s. He’d get a double cheeseburger, a large fry, and a large chocolate milkshake. Mom would eat a commonly-known delicacy: a piece of white bread with sugar, smashed into a ball. One can imagine that their relationship with food only got worse once they started dating, and even worse when they had kids. Wanting the best for your kids and being realistic in relation to food is something they always struggled with. Dad loved bringing his family home food every Friday. It brought him so much joy, but Mom so much pain.
Depression is something Mom has struggled with for her entire life. She grew up with a toxic father, which led to her moving out at a young age. I can’t say I blame her for abandoning her family at the age that she did, when her family basically abandoned her first. She was constantly being ridiculed; being told she was fat, never good enough, stupid, and that she’d never amount to anything because she grew up in good ole West Virginia. She told me one story from her childhood that I can’t forget, no matter how hard I try. Mom was in middle school and it was snowing outside, so school was canceled. Like any normal kid, she wanted to play outside in the snow with her older sister, Kim. Her father was going off to work, but before he left, he told Mom that she wasn’t allowed to play outside, and if he found out that she did, there would be serious consequences. Serious consequences to most children would mean possible grounding, not being able to use the home phone, or going straight to your room after dinner. But this was far from the truth for Mom. She ended up going outside to play once her father had gone off to work and she knew she had only a few hours to play before he’d return. She was making snow angels when she heard a car slowly approaching. She stood up and looked to the driveway, only to find her worst nightmare coming true. He came home early to see if she obeyed him, which she did not. He got out of the car, grabbed the closest weapon, which happened to be a panel of wood, and went up to her. I am going to leave it at that, assuming most can fill in the blanks.
After she moved out, she had very little money to support herself. This, along with an abusive childhood, led to horrible relationships with her boyfriends, friends, and her own mom. She wasn’t properly medicated, fed, or loved. She was never trying to be mean to me, she was just trying her best.
Time flew by during my freshman year of college. They say that time heals all wounds, and while they’re not all healed, they’ve got band-aids. I began standing up for myself more than I ever had before because of the support of my friends. I started going out more, which left me less time to answer my mom’s calls or texts. Once my mom started to get no reaction out of me, she was able to really take a step back. She found herself looking in the mirror, reflecting on herself. But she didn’t try to lock the door, and was certainly not focused on the lavender walls. I joined a sorority, earned a 4.0, and gained a new-found love for myself. I finally felt that she was proud of me for my accomplishments, and for once wasn’t worried about my weight. She helped me understand her better, and it consequently helped me understand myself.
Maturing has made all the difference with me and my mom. Independence, growth, and understanding has made it possible for our relationship to be possible. I am so unbelievably close with Mom now. I call her every single day, even sometimes twice a day if there’s a lot going on. The terrible and unfortunate combination of the pandemic, prior mental illness, and becoming empty nesters led to a major decline in my mom’s mental health. This big change made me worried for her, so I checked up on her every day. I made sure she was taking her medication and eating properly. She’s my best friend regardless of everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Change is something I’ve always feared. I enjoy consistency and hate the unknown. But this is a change that I accept and love. My relationship with Mom changed for the better over the years, for a multitude of reasons. I’ve made an updated list from the one my principal made me.
- You shouldn’t intentionally hurt the ones you love.
- Family and friends are interchangeable words. My Mom is my best friend.
- Physical pain leads to emotional pain.
- Emotional pain lasts long past the food.
- Read the whole book, not just chapter one.
Understanding Mom has made me understand myself better, and I am forever thankful for that. We are alike in more ways than I’d care to admit. We both love too hard, cry at romantic movies that we’ve seen easily a dozen times, and love playing Wii tennis. I know that food isn’t the only way for me to self-soothe. I know that Taco Bell is cheap. I know that I never want candy bottles by my bedside. I know that childhoods aren’t always easy. I know that you’re a product of your environment. I know not to bite my best friend. I know that if I ever have a daughter that I will not be painting her walls lavender. Along with all of this, Mom, there’s one thing I know for certain: we’re a pair of biters.
Alexa Dikos attends school, lives, and works in Salisbury, MD. She currently studies communication with a media studies track and minors in English. She is originally from Lutherville-Timonium, MD.