The Letter

September 28, 2008
By Jessica Haswell, Brisbane, CA

I looked in the mirror once again, filling my self-imposed quota for the day. Then I leaned over into the toilet and retched my guts out.

This had been a part of my bedtime routine for two years now. I doubted that it would change anytime soon. It was becoming a part of my life. I barely noticed it anymore. I barely noticed the skin peeling off my palms from the lack of fiber, or my front teeth starting to turn yellow from the stomach acid contacting it more than three times a day. I barely noticed my constant fatigue. And I barely noticed my barely noticed my never-ending, bone-shattering hunger. It had become my secret.

“Bryan, are you done in there already? I need to pee!” my younger sister called.

“Just a minute”

She was the one person who should have been able to figure it out. She had to share the bathroom with me, and fourteen year old girls were certainly more aware of eating disorders and their symptoms than any of my friends. The stale vomit smell that would not detach itself from me obviously didn’t give me away, but I always worried that one of these days she would notice what I spent so long in the bathroom doing.

Not today. As I stepped out, she asked, “What do you even do in there anyway? You’re in there for, like, half an hour, and come out looking exactly the same!”

She punctuated her sentence with the disgusted look she’d spent years perfecting, then disappeared into the bathroom. I escaped into my bedroom with my best attempt at a nonchalant expression on my face, sticking up my middle finger at her as an afterthought.

“Dude, there was a letter from your school in the letterbox. What, are you getting expelled?” she retorted.

I forced a laugh and hightailed to the kitchen, where my sister always placed the mail for my parents to receive when the arrived home from work. I found my letter and took it back to my room with me.

As I read the letter, a knot formed in my stomach, tightening with each sentence, until, by the last line, I was as physically ill.

“We hope that you will seriously consider this letter and the consequences reaped by eating disorders in males. Greenville School for Boys is happy to aid in whichever way we can to ensure that Bryan is nursed back into the diligent young student he has always been.”

My initial instinct was to call the school and complain, tell them that it was a mistake, that I did not have an eating disorder. How could I? I was a boy. This sort of thing was not supposed to happen to males. I was so indignant, so outraged at being accused of such a thing, that I nearly forgot that everything that they had said in the letter was true.
I had no idea how the school had found out about it. But I knew that I could not tell my peers. I couldn’t handle any more of the teasing. First I was the fat kid, then I was the ‘Ano’. I couldn’t get it right. I didn’t want any more scrutiny of my body.

They’d mentioned a rehabilitation center. I could not go to rehab. To rehab, with all the drug addicts and the alcoholics. “Hello my name is Bryan, and I have an eating disorder.” Yeah, right.

What if my parents had received the letter? I couldn’t just give it back to them, could I? For a small moment I considered what would happen if I was healed. I tried to remember back to a time when my life wasn’t ruled by scales and mirrors, but all I could picture were the taunts of Susie in grade eight. “I could never date a fat boy” she laughed, as she walked away, whispering to her friends.

I didn’t care if I need help, if the ‘consequences reaped’ were permanent loss of nerve and muscles cells, or even ‘death’. I had it under control. I wouldn’t let it get that far.

I heard my parents car pull into the driveway, signaling my escape route. My last chance to prove that I was a real man.

“Bryan? Kayla? We’re home!”

Sometimes it’s easier living a lie than admitting the truth. Sooner or later, you start to believe what people say about you.

The letter went in the bin.

The author's comments:
I wrote this piece for an English assignment, which required us to write a short story. The story was to focus on certain expectations that teeagers are expected to live up to according to their gender roles or stereotypes, and by the end of the story, the character had to either accept, challenge, or reject the expectation. Obviously, the expectation in my story was the boys are not supposed to care about their body image or weight, and the main character, Brian, rejected this expectation by having an eating disorder. I wrote the story because, even though I am a female, I understand that teenage males have the same struggles as females do, and they are not often spoken about. I hope that this story will make the readers consider the consequences of low self-esteem in boys, and understand that just because boys act tough does not mean they are feeling that way.

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