Two years ago, during the Easter weekend, L made herself sick for the first time ever. She had been counting calories for quite some time and I presume that the volume of chocolates she consumed terrified her into trying this. Needless to say, I didn’t know. No one knew, except L. She carried on, eventually telling her friends, when drunk in a rum experiment that went wrong, and then me, when her friends told her she must. A year later, I knew about it, but thought we had it under control. L baked for Easter, making Hot Cross cookies and Easter cupcakes. I think she ate some, but I really can’t remember, the time before the full realisation of the extent to which she was consumed by anorexia is hazy and blurred. I do remember her habit of storing Easter and Christmas chocolate in a box in the eaves storage cupboard in her room. How it would last for months and L would bring it down after meals occasionally and share it out, months after her brother and sister had eaten their own chocolate. We would smile at her self-discipline and admire her generosity. We didn’t know, we just had no idea.
This year, I am no longer innocent. C buys eggs for the children, but I have no real interest in this ritual any more. Each egg I see appears as a symbol, not of Spring or Easter, but of anorexia and of the seeming impossibility of recovery. My mum comes to visit, though, bringing eggs for J and K and a CD for L. Her visits are always happy times for us, she brings expensive wine and I cook celebratory meals. On the Friday, I make fish pie, followed by lemon and raspberry pavlova. I am delighted by the pavlova, it is exactly as Mary Berry described. C, my mum and I eat it exclaiming at every mouthful; J devours it, declaring it “very nice”; K picks off the raspberries and says she likes the meringue. L eats it dutifully, but without comment. I know that the fact she eats is the main thing, but it strikes me that what I miss most of all is a sense of joy in food. I love that L has always shared with me the sense of joy you feel in a perfect moment, which might be an extravagant one, such as getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or it might be sitting in the kitchen on a spring day with the French doors open, freshly baked bread and cheese, with nothing to do for the rest of the day. Anorexia has replaced joy with fear and it is this loss I feel most acutely, not just for her, but for all of us.
But she does well. We visit Wells on Saturday morning, to visit the market and craft fair. L tries some sample chocolates and we take shelter from the cold in a perfect tea shop, where L eats lemon and polenta cake. L goes to the football match and we laugh about her new interest in football and warn her to wrap up warm against the cold. I roast duck and L eats it, although recoils at J attacking the carcass like a young Henry VIII. On Sunday, she makes pancakes and bacon with maple syrup and eats them with all of us, on the understanding that this is both a breakfast and snack. In my own head I work out that this means she has probably had fewer calories. But what really counts is that it felt something like Normal. In a family that has dealt with autism, depression and anorexia over a number of years, I am not really sure what normal means any more. I don’t know if recovery means we have to find something new, develop family rituals which have nothing to do with the past and make sure we leave all old rituals behind. But L is recovering from anorexia, not a dysfunctional family, and I think we all relished the normality of pancakes and bacon on a Sunday morning again.