Today is a week since L returned to inpatient treatment. We see her everyday and I talk to her in the phone. The unit is a small facility, twenty minutes drive away. Since her last stay it has been refurbished, from dormitory accommodation to ten single bedded places, with a new therapy building and small visitor rooms. But it smells exactly the same, as we all notice. It is the smell of institutional food, like warm unwanted potatoes that have been waiting for too long. Friends exclaim at the prospect of hospital food when I describe L’s meals and suggest that surely what she needs is appetising, freshly cooked food. I want to respond that it just isn’t the case that L would eat if only the food was nice enough, any more than a lesbian is a woman who hasn’t met the right man. Hospital food to an anorexic has a safety all of its own, it doesn’t inflame the taste buds so that Ed’s voice screams loudly. It is bland, lifeless and non-threatening. It is like dating the class bore so as to be safe from falling in love. Because delicious food entices L, warns her of the delights of a loss of self control and all the risks of pleasure and greed. She cannot possibly deserve it.
Our visits are generally confined to an hour as we are not allowed to remain for snacks. We sit in rooms which are newly carpeted, with sofas the colour of the room’s name. The Purple Room. The Blue Room. There is harsh electric lighting, no television and we sit in this alien environment trying to be normal. We are usually shown in as family members, having been let in through the locked doors and L comes to join us. Last night she was wrapped in a blanket, fully clothed, but cold. It looked as if she already belonged more there than at home with us. She sits with her knitting and we try and entertain her, after we have got through the What Did You Eat/What Do You Weigh stuff. The unit does not insist on meals being completed, food is removed after a set time and I worry about this. L tells me she sat and cried at lunch and I asked if anyone comforted her but as she is not completing meals, she must sit alone where no one notices her tears. My heart breaks on hearing this.
When I visit her alone, we just sit and I hold her, wrapping my arms tightly around her as she leans her head on my chest. And later, in bed, it feels like a void, like something you only feel in its absence. When things are too hard, I sleep in her room and her cat Harry curls up on the pillow next to me, leaving his vigil on the stairs to her room. We all miss her much too much.