Yet I do know.

Sort of.

How my issues with food and body started, that is.

I was 3 or 4, standing in the kitchen after a lazy summer’s dinner on our screened-in porch. My sister was still a baby, my dad the breadwinner, and my mom a happy and (so I’d like to think) fulfilled stay-at-home mother, catering to the needs and attention spans of the ever-jolly Hannah, age 2, and myself, soft-spoken and introverted.

I stood then in the kitchen, bare feet planted on the linoleum floor that never quite shone, watching as mom and dad went through the motions of putting away the remainder of the meal. Potatoes, fresh corn, steamed broccoli, chicken– it was a typical weekday meal, a medley of wholesome flavors and textures heightened with a shake of the garlic salt my parents couldn’t do without.

Hands at my side, wearing my summer uniform of cotton T-shirt and shorts, I experienced suddenly a feeling more painful than any I had felt before. The feeling was not a physical pain, not the stabbing hurt of a skinned knee or a stubbed toe, but rather something deeper. It was, I imagine, in a way akin to a newborn crying out for nourishment or for warmth; an integral need presenting without warning.

I felt this hurt as it spread from finger to finger, from limb to limb. It coursed powerfully through me as I stood there, paralyzed by its resolve.

In that moment, I understood what I had hitherto not known– that I, Sarah, was an ugly, awful being. “Fat” had yet to be incorporated into my vocabulary, but I felt at once too much. Experiencing in that moment the sensation of my flesh and body, I felt profoundly too “too”– too big, too wide, too expansive.

I was at the time of normal size, having grown from a narrow 5-lb. baby to a round toddler, all cheeks and thighs, and subsequently into a gangly child with long, tapering fingers and toes. This revelation of being “too much” held little basis, it would seem, in reality. I was tall, yes, for my age, but neither my height nor weight would have met with anything more than a “normal” rating from my pediatrician.

Still, I experienced in that moment that painful “too”-ness, and desired suddenly to be small and helpless, once again at the mercy of my mother and father for all manners of care.

I remember looking then to my sister, absorbed in her play, and wishing to be like her. Two years, one month and eleven days younger than me, little Hannah was still dependent on my parents for most things. While mom and dad might still have prepared meals and outfits for me, Hannah remained the baby of the family, living in the perpetual land of “not knowing better.” I, I realized, did “know better,” and would from then on be counted on to apply maturity and learned wisdom to daily tasks. I had crossed the threshold from toddler to child, and there would be no turning back. I was a little adult now, for better or for worse, and I hated this.

I wanted to be small, and I wanted to be held. To be nurtured, to be reassured that I deserved, even as I reached the age of 4, of 5, of 6, to be loved as I had been at age 2, at 1, at six months.

This feeling did not last forever, its “too”-ness evaporating after a few minutes, and I soon forgot about it.

But the feeling returned the following year, again without warning, and the year after that. Uncomfortable and just as painful as that first time on a summer’s evening, the feeling would then disappear from whence it came, leaving me to wonder when it would strike again.

The beginning, perhaps, of my self-criticism? My self-loathing?

That’s the theory so far, folks.

As always, to be continued.