The Chronicles of a Fashion Woman: The First Day

I wasn't sure what to expect. Perfectly reasonable, isn't it?

When you're returning to a place two years after you went through these exact same motions with less than half the body weight and a completely toxic mindset, it's expected to be a little jarring.

You get up early and take the train into the city, somewhat relieved that you're taking the J to the B going uptown from Brooklyn and not the B or the C going downtown from the Upper West Side, because that would make this whole thing just a little too familiar.

You get onto your first train, wrapped in a thick, woolly coat because it's less than 50 degrees out and your pansy ass is from California. As soon as you get on the train, packed in like a sardine with all of the other Brooklynites commuting to the City for the work week, you breathe in the musty and humid air of the train impacted by everyone's body heat (including yours) and you remember where you are. You smile; you hold back some tears of joy. It's too early for that.

You transfer to your second train, a little closer to your fate. How is this about to go down?

Are you going to get tired quickly, make mistakes, think about all of the food you're withholding from yourself instead of putting your 100% into your work? Are you going to let your mental illness take over again? Are you going to let yourself down in the most grandiose and traumatic way yet? Are you going to scare your mother again, keep her tossing and turning at night over the state you've worked yourself into? How is this about to go down?

It was easy to starve myself last time I was alone--too easy. And when I'm alone in New York, I'm alone. 

I went public about my anorexia and subsequent recovery for two reasons: to hold myself accountable and to help others. However, it's hard to be held accountable when the only people who really know about your past are all 3000 miles away. But, I digress.

Your train stops at that fateful station that transports you back in time. You're not 23, you're not recovering, you're not yet confident and curvier than Lombard Street. You're 21, you're judgmental with no right to be, you have a false sense of confidence; you're hopelessly anorexic.

You snap out of it, hesitantly walking up the stairs and across the platform to the exit closest to Hearst Tower. You notice how much faster you're walking than you were two years ago. Your knees aren't hurting from the constant strain. You marvel at the fact that you don't feel...degradable. Fragile. Ready to fall apart and die at any moment (because that's what eating disorders are - a constant pounding on death's door).

You didn't think it was possible to ever feel this okay again.

You enter the building and give your name to the front desk: TAYLOR ENGLE. You're here for your first day. The security guard at the front desk makes small talk with you, bringing up the weather. He looks at the computer screen and muses, "Ah, you've been here before. In 2016?" You nod, but you know that wasn't really you. Yes, Taylor Engle has been here before, but this is your first time. 

You take the surreal journey from the lobby to the 25th floor, recalling all the times you stood in this same elevator surrounded by people but feeling completely alone and close to defeat. You arrive at the correct floor and wait to be buzzed in. You want to believe that this time is going to be different, but you're still incredibly unsure of yourself and what you're capable of.

The truth is, it's been in the air - the doubt. You know everyone is proud of you and believes in you, but you feel the hesitation in others' voices when you tell them you're moving to New York. You see the fear in their eyes. You can sense them wanting to say, "Are you sure you won't relapse?" They don't say it, but you know it's on everyone's mind.

"Welcome, Taylor!"

You recognize your new boss Janice from the interview. She's tall, waif-like and beaming. She's dressed impeccably, like everyone else in the building. She ushers you around, introducing you to people who you remember but who don't remember you. You can't blame them - even if they did take the time to remember faces of past interns, they surely wouldn't remember yours compared to how you look now.

Janice takes you into the closet (insert tired gay joke that people somehow still find to be funny), where you will be working out of every day. The "closet" is huge: a spacious room with bay windows overlooking the city. It's filled with accessories and clothing from all of the top designers in the world, and your job is to make sure the French and Italian brands get to where they need to go for the magazine's photo shoots.

You meet the women you'll be working alongside. It's all so reminiscent of two years ago. You can't help but notice that you're the biggest person in the room. Not by a lot and not at all in an unhealthy way, but it's something you still notice. It might be something you'll always notice. You have curves, and that is, in no way, a crime.

Everyone seems nice enough. You sit right next to Ricki, who is Janice's other assistant in French and Italian ready-to-wear and the person who is going to show you the ropes. She's tall like Janice with bright, naturally red hair and glasses. She's soft-spoken and well-read. You don't interact too much on the first day, but you can tell it's a relationship that is going to come easily.

Across the way from you and Ricki is Frankie, Sloan and Thalia. Frankie and Sloan are accessories assistants while Thalia handles American and British ready-to-wear brands. Thalia's fellow assistant (there are two in each market under each editor) is Natasha, who sits on the other side of the closet next to the accessories assistant editor, Cat.

The best part? No one knows you've been here before.

No one knows you used to sit here, practically out of your mind with hunger, convincing yourself to wait a little longer before you go get lunch (which was never more than a small salad of a few vegetables). No one knows how little you actually cared about your job because your entire life was consumed by your eating disorder. The only you they're going to know is the version of you who wants to be here, is grateful to be here, and is going to give this job all of your attention because the rest of your basic needs are taken care of.

Your first day goes miraculously smoothly. Both Ricki and Janice are impressed by how easily you're learning. Of course, much of this is because you have been here before and remember how things are done, but you have to give yourself credit where it's due: you're working harder than ever before.

Soon enough, a week has passed and you've gotten the hang of things. There are still many little bits of information you need to familiarize yourself with and in fashion you are always making mistakes and learning from them, but for the most part, you are making your boss (and yourself) proud.

A major test comes after the first big photo shoot: returns. After every photo shoot, it is the assistants' job to return every sample piece to the designer or PR company who loaned it to the magazine. You remember doing this as an intern, which means you also remember how you messed up because you were so malnourished. You returned the wrong thing to the wrong brand, you missed a few pieces of jewelry in a return, etc.

It's two years later and you're terrified to make the same mistakes. You're handling the entire return process by yourself because Ricki is consumed with another task. A few hours go by - you have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to ensure you're doing everything properly and in entirety. Janice comes into the closet and is amazed. She calls you a machine for getting everything done so quickly and effortlessly. This means more to you than anyone in the closet will ever know (unless, of course, they're reading this).

You still have many more days at work and many more opportunities to slip up, but so far you're incredibly proud of yourself. This journey in your life could have gone one of two ways, and so far, you're making all of the right decisions. You're finally growing up.

**NOTE: Names and the details of certain events have been fictionalized for privacy reasons...but email me at taylorfengle@gmail.com if you want the REAL gossip.**

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