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Sam: Two Years Later

A few years ago, I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that one day, Angers would have come this far in his recovery, that he would ever be this determined enough to genuinely want to beat this, to reach this level of stability and happiness in himself. Mentally, he has come further than anyone ever expected him to, and he's even becoming involved with Natasha's work, and has already given a couple of lectures in other areas of the country.

But finally understanding how sick he is also threw him into a deep depression, because whatever beauty he used to see in his sickly appearance is no longer visible to him, and he has grown to loathe the bones he once used to desire so much. It has been a very long and painful process to try and rebuild his self esteem, but we're getting there. He will never gain enough to pass for 'normal', so he will have to make peace with his mirror image at some point, otherwise he will keep hating himself forever.

Where a few years ago it was me who was trying to convince him that he was too thin and that emaciation did not equal beauty, our roles have almost reversed now. If anything, he is still far too hard on himself for being too thin, and it is me who has to put him in front of a mirror and help him see just how pretty he still is.

Yes, he is still severely underweight, but he genuinely looks healthier than I have seen him for a very long time. He is now two inches shorter than when we met, it's almost as if his body had reached a compromise with his iron will at last. He is getting stronger and more independent with every passing day, and the setbacks are getting fewer and fewer, though it got pretty bad last year when he got sick with the flu and found the resulting weight loss too hard a temptation to resist.

I did have to use my Power of Attorney on more than one occasion, taking him back to hospital when he slipped back to under sixty pounds, and getting him on an easy-fit glucose drip at home about a month back , because he still struggles so hard to get himself to eat. But I am getting the impression that Angers actually appreciates it when I am firm about his treatment. I suspect he knows he can't trust himself any more. Not when it comes to making the right decisions...

We are even able to have a social life, within limits. Lucien and Eve have moved back into the area to be there for Mel after Mark's disappearance, and we spend a lot of time with them and their five year old twin girls. Angstrom is so brilliant with the girls, and they are utterly enamoured with him, free of the prejudice of the adult world that still causes people to gawk and point at him wherever he goes.

I don't think they are old enough to understand what is wrong with him, but they are so gentle and caring when they are around him, we don't ever have to worry that he'll hurt himself when playing with them. I can even leave him alone with them for a little while, they know exactly what to do when "Uncle Angstrom has one of his funny turns". He still has to use a wheelchair most of the time he leaves the house, and they are now getting tall enough to be able to push his chair on their own. Not many kids can take their 'uncle' for a spin like that!

Their words of concern whenever Angers is slipping again somehow get through to him more than even mine or Natasha's. He certainly listens to them even when the things they have to say would cause him to shut down or snap back if they came from anyone else. I guess when a five year old child lies in your lap, her head snuggled into your stomach, you listen to her when she starts crying and tells you she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, so she can "make you better, Uncle Angstrom. You are still so sick, all the other doctors must be rubbish."

The other week, I made them honorary members of his nursing staff, because he always manages to eat that little bit more than usual when the twins play Mummy with him and spoon-feed him soups or porridge. I can do with an extra hand or four some days, and Luc and Eve are more than happy to let the girls stay with us regularly. Sadly, now that they are getting ready to start school full-time, they won't have as much time any more and we're really going to miss them.

Having seen how he positively glows with happiness when Angstrom is with the kids, we are even thinking of applying to adopt a child one day, if his health remains stable. We both want it, and now that he is doing so well, it would just make us complete. Once again, his financial independence and his status might come in handy there, because now that AsCorp is no more and his tormentors are serving their sentences in prison, society is actually happy to help out an Asgaard, rather than just bending the law and speeding up bureaucracy because they are afraid of Sr. Asgaard's power.

I was initially worried that Angers might be pushed into a relapse because of the added responsibility of becoming a father, seeing as though it was pressure and responsibility that set all this off so many years ago. We both know he doesn't have the strength to survive another dip below 50 pounds...

But I really think he is strong enough now to take on some of that responsibility, and he has so much love and warmth in him that any child would be lucky to have him in his or her life. I just hope Lily and Mae won't get jealous... But seeing how caring and helpful they are with looking after Angers, I think they will be fine. A little bird tells me Luc and Eve are planning for another baby, so perhaps this will help prepare the girls a little.

Angstrom has really matured these past few years, he has finally left behind the hungry-eyed boy I met at the airport so long ago, and has become a wonderful and in his own way amazingly beautiful young man. I don't know what the future will hold for us, but he deserves more of the amazing good luck that saved his life a few years ago. He is the most wonderful person I have ever known, and however long he has left, I will make sure that he relishes every second of it!

Angstrom:

I am thirty years old today, and while every day is a struggle, I'm still hanging in there. I never made it up to my goal weight, haven't even made it into the 70ies... It is laughable just how little weight I have managed to gain in the past few years since I almost killed myself. Well, maybe more than I had hoped for a few years back, but still... I'm hovering in the mid to high-sixties, and have slipped back into the fifties again several times, but never because I meant to. At least that. 64 is more or less where I'm at right now, and I am gutted. Sam can still pick me up with one hand, and I know even though he tries to hide it from me, he still can't look at me without tears shooting into his beautiful eyes.

I have eaten almost every single day for the last eight months, but this is as good as it gets. I genuinely can't do any more than I already have, but I fight on none the less. How I wish I could at least eat and gain enough to stop me from fainting several times a day, to give me the freedom to at least have a bath or sit in the park without someone watching over me or holding me up to make sure I don't drown or collapse in front of oncoming traffic...

When I left the clinic three years ago, Natasha tried to be gentle in breaking the bad news to me, but I know that I have damaged myself beyond repair. I will probably not live beyond fourty or fifty, but that's another ten or twenty years with Sam that I have ahead of me, more than enough time to make up for all those wasted years of my life.

We are looking into adopting a little girl in the near future... Sam suggested naming her Yolande, after my mother, but only if she hasn't already got a name. I don't want to remove her identity by giving her a new name, that just wouldn't be right. It all depends on how my health holds up in the next few months, because I don't want Sam to overwork himself by looking after me and a baby. There are many older children out there that need a home too, although we both would prefer to be there for her right from the start.

I am eternally thankful for Luc and his family for teaching me about the value of family and especially children, and even though until recently I was convinced I would never want children, the twins have awakened something amazing and beautiful in me. I missed so much of that love and friendship when I was little, because for so much of my life I was too scared of the responsibilities and the burden of being an Asgaard, and later too locked up in my own private hell to allow myself to get close to my own parents. And when I finally tried to let them in, I ended up losing them both because of it. I understand now that I was not to blame for their deaths, but it still hurts, more than ten years later.

Sam would have liked to adopt a boy, but Natasha is worried that it might trigger too many bad memories for me, especially as he gets older. I'm in two minds about this, because on one hand, I would like the idea of giving a little boy the chance and joy in life that I never had. And yet I know there is still far too much that I still haven't dealt with, and I would hate for that to interfere with a child's happiness. The fact that I may not be around for our child for as long as I would like to is a worry, but on the other hand it is a comfort to me that no matter what happens, Sam won't be alone when I'm gone.

I am terribly excited about the prospect of becoming a parent though, and it has given me even more strength and motivation to keep fighting my demons than the amazing Sam already has. I am still in therapy and go to the clinic once a week for follow-ups, because everything from bone density to bloods needs to be tightly monitored, possibly for the rest of my life.

Natasha is very happy with my achievements, the fact that she approved of our wish to have a child, that she thinks I can cope with it, means the world to me. It means I am not a complete failure at this recovery malarkey, even though the scales and the mirror tell a different story.

She has worked very hard on trying to get me to accept my body, so I do not end up spending the rest of my life loathing my reflection, hating the skeleton in the mirror. In all the years I have been in treatment for this, I would never have dreamt it possible that she would one day have to turn around and teach me how to accept and love myself as skinny as I am, rather than try to convince me to put on more weight!

I hid my body for the first few years after I was allowed to leave the clinic, because I finally see myself the way others see me, and it scares me witless. How could I ever find this beautiful? Sam is such a star for having stuck with me through all this, through all the shit I put him through when he tried to make me see the truth. Because anorexia isn't pretty, it's a sickness that messes with your brain and turns your senses against your own body. Being able to count all my ribs in the mirror and have my bones poking out through layers of clothing used to be a desirable goal for me, but nowadays it just makes me want to cry.

But I eat every day, and I make sure my body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs. And in spite of still being nothing more than skin and bones, my body is showing its gratitude for this unexpected care and attention by letting me experience the full joy of hormones, though I must say I could have done without the sudden need to shave. I'm thinking of growing a beard, because my co-ordination isn't stable enough to do this by myself, and I feel frankly silly to have my boyfriend help me shave every morning. A little beard definitely makes my cheeks look a bit fuller, which can only be a good thing.

Natasha had certainly not seen that one coming, yet another reason why the medical community can't keep their hands off me... My survival is a medical oddity in itself, but even those disturbing images I had taken three years ago aren't enough to satisfy their curiosity. It hurts so much when I take part in studies or Natasha introduces me to yet another eating disorders specialist, that the one thing they all have in common is that even now, they are almost unable to believe that I am in recovery. I don't mind them taking more photos, but only if they are willing to acknowledge that this is me trying, that this is not what I want, but what this disorder has turned me into.

While I am willing to devote much of my time and my body to their studies in the hope that some day they might be able to help people like myself, I will not allow them to turn me into the "before" picture. Nowadays I only allow them to use me and my body for articles or studies in which Natasha has direct involvement. She won't let them publish anything unless I have approved it, and I am eternally grateful for that.

My appearance is still gruesome at best, and no amount of clothing can ever cover that up. Though I have finally had the courage to get a whole wardrobe of garments specially tailored, because Sam is right: Having a pair of leggings hanging loosely off my hips doesn't hide my emaciation any more than several layers of clothing through which you can still count my ribs. I might as well be honest about it and wear clothes that are tiny enough to fit without sliding off or hanging off me.

I still love dungarees, they are quite handy at pretending that I have a semblance of a stomach and that my waist isn't still small enough for Sam to reach around with his hands. But nothing can hide the truth, not from myself, not from the world. I get stared at, and Sam forever has to answer awkward questions when we're in public.

I'm almost considering getting a T-Shirt printed because I swear if Sam gets told one more time that he needs to feed me properly, I'm going to force them to look through every single horrific image taken when I was at my very lowest. Maybe then they'll understand that I'm at least trying.

Although more people recognise me these days, and know why I am the way I am, not just locally, because I have taken part in the odd programme and been interviewed for various magazines. I haven't made any money on all this, everything goes straight to various charities, but I feel this is my chance to make a difference.

But I am a hypocrite, because I get angry with people for experiencing exactly the same feelings as I do when I look at myself. It sickens me to be able to put a hand in my stomach and find nothing but emptiness, to turn sideways and watch myself disappear in front of the mirror. I still look and feel hollow, and it breaks my heart whenever other patients come up to me when I am in the clinic for a follow-up, asking for tips and telling me how much they wish they could be as thin as me.

They make me feel like I have failed, like my attempt at recovery is a sham. This is the healthiest and most stable I have managed to get with my eating since I was nine years old, and they still see me as a poster boy for anorexia rather than a person fighting to recover from this hell. It is so, so difficult to deal with that, and I have lost my temper on more than one occasion, and every little encounter like this throws me straight into a mini-relapse. How ironic, that my attempts at explaining to people how wrong it is to starve yourself and how dangerous it is once it gets out of control, usually leave me so upset that I can't eat for days on end!

I just want to take my clothes off, and make them take a long hard look at the walking corpse I still am. Push their hands into my empty gut and make them feel my spine right through it, show them the sores on my buttocks and feet, the bruises I get just from standing up or lying in bed on my own. I want to show them the X-Rays from all the times my fragile bones shattered from the tiniest of strains, because I've wrecked them just as badly as the rest of my body.

I want to throw my brain scans and medical charts at them, the ones that document in gruesome detail precisely which parts of my brain I have irreparably damaged, want to make them watch me break down in tears because my memory and attention span are so shot that I need almost constant supervision and forget where I am or where I'm going so often that I suffer almost constant panic attacks. Bet they never expected that when my IQ was tested to be in the genius range at the age of 6!

They just can't understand the sheer frustration of being a thirty year old man who has been so sick for the past twenty years that I am only just beginning to experience a semblance of a libido - with the rather unfortunate complication that my body is so damaged that I am not physically capable of acting on these urges, and my boyfriend doesn't dare sleep with me any more because I am still so thin he could seriously injure me (and probably himself!) in the process.

Of all the things Natasha had to put on my 'list of fun things you're not allowed to do for the time being', that was probably the hardest to swallow, although of course there has always been far more to Sam and me than sex. It's just unfair that now that I finally know what it feels like to want this, I can't have it any more!

Perhaps I am being a bit of a hypocrite there, but I want nothing more than to get all those desperate souls to understand that no matter how much they think they want this, it's not worth it. It's never worth it. It is never worth having your boyfriend try to kill himself because your eating disorder got so out of hand that you pushed him away and broke his heart.

I thought I would achieve perfection, but all I achieved was a physical appearance that was so grotesque and sickening that my own boyfriend had a breakdown just because he dared to look at me when I had starved myself down to less than 37 pounds. The only reason it was even feasible to go that low was because my bones and muscle tissue were already worn out and diminished from two decades of starvation.

I didn't find perfection at the end of that slow and painful path, but I found understanding. It sickens me to think that the only thing that ever got through to me was not my boyfriend's love, or my therapist's endless patience, but instead it was embracing anorexia one last, near-fatal time that sent me on the road to recovery. As far as remedies go, this one is too lethal to be worth much, and the damage I suffered in the process was immense.

I really am damaged, and it has taken me years to fully take in just how disabled I now am, just how little function there is left in my body. I am extremely lucky to even be able to digest what little food I can handle, and it is precious little indeed. Both physically and most importantly psychologically, I still cannot eat enough to survive, which I had to grudgingly acknowledge when Sam had me put on a more or less permanent glucose drip at home. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I felt gutted. But it takes a lot of pressure off me, although it also makes it tempting just to stop eating again, that little voice trying to convince me that I don't need food if I have a needle in my arm. But I have to fight this. I have been through too much to give up now!

The girls are so sweet about the drip though, always making sure I don't run out, even on days where I fall back into that dark hole and would rather go without even this insufficient level of nutrition. They were devastated when Sam first explained it to them, because they thought they'd not be allowed to feed me any more! But I wouldn't want to miss those bizarre mealtime rituals for anything in the world - Somehow, when Lily and Mae exercise their budding maternal instincts and carefully feed me like a baby, I am free from my eating disorder for a little while, though I have to be very careful not to 'overeat', because that makes me very sick no matter how much I fight it, and I would hate for the girls to think they might have hurt me.

Even though I am still technically starving myself, for the first time in my life I can actually enjoy food, albeit only in portions of milligrams rather than grams. And I will not let anyone or anything take that enjoyment away from me! I honestly do not know how long I have left. All I know is that I am loving every second of it.

Now that I am well enough to get out of bed almost every day, I have started going through those deranged and garbled notes again. It was hard, having to face all those horrors all over again in order to put them into a more coherent form, but I have to do this, for myself as much as for others in my situation.

I have also started talking a more active role in Natasha's studies and research projects, and have started giving lectures in schools and clinics around the country. If my health permits it I will try to do the same overseas some day. In addition to that, I am also writing a book, somewhere in between a memoir and a warning. I know now there are so many other young lives out there, being ruined by eating disorders and abuse, and not all of them are looking to me solely for assistance in killing themselves. I don't know if I can make a difference, but I'll be damned if I don't give it my best shot!

The boy in the mirror is now a man who can speak for himself. Still empty most of the time, but he sure doesn't stay silent any longer...