A piece written for Alice Gross, girl, 14, missing in UK now a week, has diagnosis of anorexia nervosa

 

Dear Alice,

I, too, walked alone. I walked alone many times. I walked at night, and during the day. Sometimes, I cried alone while walking, but hid my tears behind thick glasses or a scarf. I often had my little dog with me.

I had a favorite place to walk, a city park, and loved it most when it was empty. I enjoyed the privacy of that park, and the solace away from the incessant noise of the town. I worried sometimes, because it was adjacent to a large apartment building. I was afraid folks would look out from their terraces upon me and say, “Who is that skinny girl walking there?” But truthfully, it was only a worry during a couple of months in summer, when I was forced to take my jacket off. Then, folks saw me. I suppose that was scary to them, or challenged them in some way. I appeared strange to them. Like I wasn’t human.

Somehow, there was a secret power in all of it. Like I could do anything. Like I had the power to tell the entire world to fuck off, and in an instant, all would disappear.

I recall when I was a young girl, perhaps six or seven or eight, I swam in a lake with other children. It was a hot summer day and kids were having a good time, splashing around and shouting. I decided to take the Other Path, though. I wanted to see what was Beyond. Beyond the marker that contained us. Past this rope marker, no children were allowed. I wanted to see what secrets lay there, though, and what was to be discovered. That secret and very special world. No one would see, would they? There were so many of us…no one would notice and I could go peek and then come back. What was there, this forbidden land?

I took a few steps beyond the rope. Then, a few more. I am a short girl. The shortest in the class. So it didn’t take much before I was up to my neck, and beyond. I didn’t know how to swim, or did I? But the Other World was so tempting, so special. I and I alone would know it. I promised myself. I took a few more steps.

With each step, I became more brave, more special, more powerful and unique. I felt that I was shining, a bright star in the universe. I had never been there before. Now, it was all such wonderment. I took another step. I heard a drumbeat.

I have heard this drumbeat several times in my life. It is the incessant reminder. Death is near. Sometimes, I have been in those waters so deeply that reversal wasn’t possible. When I had anorexia, often, I was near drowning, and that drumbeat was loud and all-encompassing. “Come here, come here.”

I don’t know what happened next at that lake, specifically, only that I was being grabbed all at once by a lifeguard and she was yelling at me, over and over, telling me what a bad girl I was! How disobedient I had been!

I felt shame after that, embarrassment, and guilt. I never wanted to go back to that lake again. I wanted to be myself, and not be yanked about in such a manner. If I were to swim, I’d do so alone. And so it was.

I have walked alone and heard that drumbeat. “Come here.” Always alone.

At night, I walked in the park during wee hours. The police were out at night, and drunks as well, and I didn’t want anyone looking at me. I told myself the park gave me invisibility. I didn’t care if anyone killed me there.

I often said silently to these imaginary killers, “Okay, I dare ya. Do you want me? Take me. No one will even notice. I have nothing you want anyway.”

I knew they stole cell phones, cash, and whatever else they thought you were worth, then left you. I’d heard a few stories, but no one had yet been killed in that park. Any known violence was related to drug deals gone bad. I told myself, “I will be the first. And they won’t even know my story.”

What would they find? A skinny girl with crumbs on her shirt. Food wrappers in her knapsack. Maybe she’d be dead with the bits of crackers still smeared upon her lips. Last seen at the convenience store, paying for her loot with food stamps. On her way home.

“Come and get me, assholes,” I’d tell myself. All the way home in the pitch dark. I’d scurry up the back stairs and finish it all off in privacy. I didn’t even want my dog watching.

I walked alone. And no one ever knew. They never got me. I’d get skinny often, and no one cared, only a nasty or obnoxious remark. So it was rather easy and perhaps inevitable that I stepped onward, further into the dark waters.

I am alive. I don’t know why. I got lucky, I guess. Many aren’t.

Alice, please, if you are walking alone right now, know that I am right here. Walking beside you. I was that kid. And all of us, perhaps, have our secrets.

Walk alone. Be proud. Be alive.