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D'juna Sterling was named after a model in Victoria's Secret. A model with glossy red hair, bright green eyes, and best of all, a slim, curvy figure. D'juna looked nothing like her namesake. She had a greasy black bob and glittering blue eyes; she was four feet eleven inches, and her weight was 227 pounds. She was one of many American adolescents to be morbidly obese. She was also one of many to contemplate suicide. D'juna was fifteen years old, and when she was most depressed she would stand, completely nude, in front of the full length mirror with a knife at her throat. She did this now, poking at the fleshy slabs of fat with the serrated edge.
“D'juna, sweetie pie, its supper time!” Her mother knocked on the brass door and pressed her ear to it. “Honey bunny, it's your favorite! Pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, croissants and butter; I even made three different kinds of dessert! Deep fried Oreos, cookies and cream ice cream cake, and apple pie! I'll whip up a banana split if you want! Mmm, yummy!”
“Meredith,” D'juna snarled through her teeth, scrambling for clothes, “Shut. Up. I mean it. This time, I'm going to kill myself. If you even open that door, my head will roll to the floor.”
“Aw, silly, you don't really mean that,” Meredith waltzed into the room to the sound of her own humming, balancing a tray of high calorie delights in her soft, squishy hands and taking the knife from D’juna to slice a mayonnaise-filled roast beef sandwich, complete with white bread. “Get dressed and eat up, Sugar; we have to get some meat on those bones of yours!”
“Mother,” D'juna growled, squeezing her eyes shut and pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. “You are the exact opposite of an anorexic woman. Instead of thinking you are fat when you are skinny; you think that you're skinny when you are fat. I weigh 227 pounds, Meredith. I do not need some meat on my bones. What I need is to lose weight, and having a mother who is the fat lady singer in an opera and living in Oklahoma City, the second fattest freaking city in America, will not help.”
“Sugar cube, I can't talk to you when you're like this. When you stop being ridiculous and eat the delicious dinner I made you, I'll be watching the Food Network.” Meredith warbled.
“Argh!” D'juna slammed her bulk at the closed door and groaned. She liked their old life so much better. In that tiny house resting at the base of the Wichita Mountains, just her Mamma, Papa, and her. It was freezing, and the air always tasted crisp and fresh. During the winter time, they snuggled together on the Afghan rug in front of a crackling fire, and told D’juna the story of how they met, of their brush with fame. They had both been performers, in various musicals and operas, but decided fame was not for them, and settled down in southeastern Oklahoma. Instead of lullabies, they would sing D'juna opera scores when she was little, keeping in tune with the dusty old record player.
D'juna awoke hours later to find stale tears on her cheeks. She lay in bed for a while, thinking about past adventures. Hiking in the mountains, picnics in the snow, and eating icicles off of the coniferous trees. Her Papa wanted to continue that life forever, and so did D’juna; when Meredith had her chance at fame again, she snatched it, and she took her daughter with her. Now they were living in Oklahoma City, she never got to see her Papa, and D’juna and Meredith had each gained over 100 pounds. Life couldn’t be worse.
“Baby Doll, wake up! It’s your first day of high school, you’re late! It’s already 11:15, so I’ll drive you to school. Just let me get my shawl!” Meredith tweeted gaily.
D’juna moaned. High school. Her mother may as well have said that she was late for certain death. Ten minutes later, D'juna heard her mother's heavy footsteps ascending the straining stairs.
“The sun is shinin', breakfast is ready, and it is your first day of high school. Now you get your little tush out of bed, before I pour that soggy fruit salad right down the garbage disposal!” Meredith said with surprising authority, throwing open the door. Despite the reference to her “little” tush, D'juna sat up in bed and beamed. Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
“An actual nutritious breakfast? Aw, thanks, Mommy!” D'juna was grinning from ear to ear.
“Well, of course, sugar cookie!” Meredith said a little gruffly, blushing. “We wouldn't you’re your diet to go awry, now would we?”
“It’s nice to know you actually listen to me, once in a while. Thanks, Mom.” D'juna got up and hugged her mother, who quickly pulled away and mumbled something about leaving her handbag in the oven. When she was gone, D'juna fell on her bed and stretched blissfully. She felt...surprisingly well rested.
She waddled sleepily to the bathroom, rubbing the crust from her eyes and yawning hugely. D’juna glanced up from the sink full of warm water after splashing her face, feeling fresh and beautiful, only to see her reflection as it was: doughy and flabby and without a hope for beauty. She wiped the beads of water from her face that mingled with new tears, and briskly slapped her cheeks for a natural blush.
“D’juna! Potato bug! Your “nutritious” breakfast with be spoiled and brown if you don’t get your be-hind down here!” D’juna’s mother quavered. D’juna could hear her washing her own greasy plate in their expensive marble sink.
“Coming, Meredith!” D’juna sighed, and quickly dressed in her new baby blue jumper, the one with the tiny yellow roses embroidered at the neck and waistline, and slipped on a yellow cardigan to hide the cellulite in her arms.
Shuffling down the oak staircase, a little bit of last night’s dread returned to D’juna; the fruit salad did indeed taste soggy and brown to the butterflies in her stomach. After she forced down the meal her mother had so considerately prepared, D’juna trudged to the bus stop where two tiny second graders stared up at her, terrified.
“Tasha,” The little boy whispered to the little girl. “Why is there a big, fat, monster at the bus stop?”
“I think it’s the one that escaped from the zoo, Damien! Run for your life!!!” Tasha squealed. Sniggering, they both ran towards their approaching, mustard-yellow school bus.
D'juna was right. Today wouldn't be as bad as she expected. It would be worse.
“OMG, have you seen that fat girl?”
“If I had that much blubber I'd kill myself!”
“Dude, get the harpoon!”
These weren't even the worst of the snickers and jibes that day. D'juna could take them; there had been plenty of that at her old school. D'juna mostly was ignored; which, as she said to herself, was better than being criticized. But she had never been one for solitude, and when students stared at her coldly in the cafeteria and smoothly placed their bags and purses on every spare seat in the lunch room, and even the faculty had been reluctant to share a table with her, D'juna Roxanne Sterling decided that she had had enough.
The room seemed to be spinning and angry trails of sweat coated her face as she took three heavy steps toward the unwelcoming tables and faces, and the disgustingly welcoming greasy lunches.
“What is wrong with you people?” D'juna shouted hoarsely, her tummy rolls heaving. “You guys are like freaking clones, brainwashed to believe that skinny is everything! Does anyone here know exactly what this feels like? Never to be a recognized, respected part of society no matter what you are inside? Of course you don't, because you are limited, sorry little people who will never amount to anything. Because you are the ones who deserve to be pitied.”
As D'juna finished her dramatic speech and her scarlet vision cleared, she saw that only a few people had looked up and giggled, and then quickly returned to the juicy pizza that wouldn't cost them their shapely figures.
One of the men at the faculty table said something to his colleague, looking up at D'juna evilly. He stood up and peeled a flyer off the wall, stalking across the room like a predator and shoving the poisonous slip of paper at D'juna.
“Dana, this is a pamphlet for a program you are eligible for, if you are interested. It's a special group for people who are overweight or obese, and their families.” He said nasally, tauntingly. The flyer slipped from his hand, and as D'juna bent to pick it up, vision blurred with tears and face smeared with mucus, her pretty blue jumper she had so carefully selected flipped up, giving the cafeteria a generous view of blue-whale patterned underwear. Now that got the students' attention, and for a split second, there was silence. Then the cafeteria exploded into laughter, and every member of the student body was bent over, holding their flat stomachs. The only sound that D'juna could hear was a shrill ringing in her ears as the volume reached her, like an oncoming train of high school about to crush the last shreds of dignity that she had. But when D'juna stood up she wasn't blushing. She coolly swept the audience with her piercing gaze, gave a little bow, and walked sharply out of the room. When she reached the metal doors, D'juna paused.
“By the way, my name is D'juna.” She purred demurely, strutting into the hallway.
“D'juna the whale!” An obnoxious boy yelled after her, and as everyone else took up the call, D'juna the Whale burst through the doors that would lead her to freedom, leaving only her tears.
D’juna stayed in bed for a week, not moving, not eating. She thought that this would be the answer to all of her problems, and that when she was thin again she would go back to Classen High School of Advanced Studies and be the most popular girl in school, and everyone would love her, and she would never have to suck in her stomach all day so that it ached, or clench her arm muscles so hard just to prove that they were there, or always try to cover up as much skin as possible without looking like a nun, or...
“D'juna Roxanne Sterling! You stop this nonsense at once young lady! You haven't touched your food in days, you've just skulked around your bedroom, and I've had enough! I thought you wanted to lose weight! You do that with physical activity, not lying around in your bed! You're going to school today, whether you like it or not!” Meredith stormed into the dreary room, and when she saw that D'juna was yet again staring up at recently duct-taped pictures of toothpick-thin models she looked disgustedly at her daughter, and stalked out of the room.
D'juna shut her eyes and groaned. These past few days had been horrible, to say the least, but much, much better than high school. When she had come home to ditch school that first day, D'juna found something very unexpected: her mother, who never cooked, preparing a 6 course meal for 20 dinner guests. She had landed a part as Christine in the Phantom of the Opera, and had invited some of the cast to a dinner party. For a moment, D'juna thought that she had walked into the wrong house, but then she saw her mother with a humongous domed platter, and smelled the delicious deep fried chicken, and knew that, unfortunately, she was home.
D'juna also knew that she couldn't hide forever; from herself, from school. So she decided to do the inevitable. She took her clothes off while walking into the bathroom, inhaled deeply, and stepped onto the never-used scale. She stepped off, euphoric. 204.5 pounds! That meant that she had lost over 23 pounds! D'juna stared dreamily at the four length mirror. You could definitely see the difference. You could see her waist now; she was more hour glass shaped than apple. If she kept this up, maintaining her strength by eating maybe a little piece of fruit per day, she would look like the girls at her school in no time!
D'juna rushed into her bedroom with new, delighted eyes, and glanced at the clock. It was 6:15, she had just enough time to curl her hair and take a shower. As she freshened up, D'juna thought about how marvelous it was to be thinner. She chose an edgy graphic tee and her only pair of skinny jeans, big hoop earrings, ballet flats, and, to show off her toughness, a leather jacket. Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if she could get Meredith interested in weight loss! Suddenly, D'juna remembered the flyer the snooty teacher had handed her, and rushed with it in hand down the staircase.
“Good morning, Mamma!” D'juna said cheerily. She glanced approvingly at a mirror as she passed the bathroom. For once her hair was soft and shiny, with a gentle curl. Her cheeks were flushed a delicate pink from the cold shower and the excitement, and her bright, heavily lashed sapphire eyes accentuated her dimples.
“Hello, dear,” Meredith said, a trifle flustered.
“Meredith, I was wondering if you might come to this group meeting after school today. I think it might help us...reconnect.” D'juna said, though she had not considered this aspect of the program.
“Well, of course, honey! Have a nice day!”
And that day did go nicely. People were talking to her. It was rather peculiar, though, because while people certainly did notice her weight loss and hardly anyone was calling her “D'juna the Whale”, she hadn't anticipated their reaction. They were commenting on how unhealthy, and weak, and abnormal she looked. But D'juna pushed this out of her mind, and soon it was the end of the day, and her mother's presence distracted her.
“Now, I'm sure that you all know why you're here,” the spokeswoman barked, “You all need to lose weight, and not by starving yourselves to death and binge eating, either!”
D'juna puzzled at the nervous chuckles. Wasn't that how you lost weight? By not eating?
“The key to losing weight,” she continued, “Is to develop a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it's true that you should only have 2,000 calories a day. But it's more than just eating the required amount. You have to also eat the right foods. There are many aspects to healthy living, mainly eating the right foods and exercising daily, which both greatly reduce the risks of illnesses like sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many, many other things. Exercise helps a lot with depression; too, because of the endorphins and confidence boosts you have afterwards. Many overweight people have stress and self-esteem issues. When you look good and healthy, you feel good, and not just because of your appearance. Any questions so far?” D'juna timidly raised a hand.
“Um, but why is not eating not, um, good for you? I mean, if one were to...not eat for a while, like how my-my friend did for a week, and they lost like 20 pounds, that's good, right?” She asked hesitantly.
“On the contrary, Missy. When you starve yourself like that, you lose nutrients and muscle and water weight, but you keep the fat, making that a very unhealthy way to diet. Actually, diets in general are bad, because they cause you to obsess about your weight. A lot of people, women in particular, lose a lot of the weight, and after they take that off, they eat a lot. And also, if they begin to diet carelessly at such an early age, they will most likely retain some of those bad habits as adults.”
“Can stress have any effect on one's weight? I just got the lead in the Phantom of the Opera, and there is a lot of pressure involved in that role. Also, my job requires me to be of a certain weight because opera singers need the extra bulk because of the exertion of the lungs, and the fatty tissue around my voice box increases my volume capability and how high or low I can sing. What ought I to do about that?” Meredith asked.
“Well, I would suggest that you do a lot of strengthening exercises, particularly on the diaphragm because that has a lot of influence on the voice. Also eat a lot of healthful foods, not simple carbs or sweets, but things with a lot of nutrition like carrots and bananas, which both have a lot of fiber and vitamins in them. Fiber is a vital part of one's diet; it helps to keep things running smoothly... As for the stress, I would suggest a yoga or Pilates course. This will help you to center yourself and feel more at ease with your life and your problems; it will clear your mind. It will also strengthen your core, helping with your physique and your voice.”
“I see. Thank you.” Meredith said politely. D'juna glanced at her mother, not able to see what she made of the course.
“What did you think, Mamma? Was that helpful?” D'juna asked Meredith anxiously.
“It was very...enlightening. Thank you for bringing me to that, D'juna. It helped me to understand what you've been going through.” Meredith broke out into a smile. “And I have a good idea of what we should do when we get home. How about we clean out the fridge, and do a little shopping?”
“That sounds like fun! Let me guess-salads for dinner?” D'juna grinned back.
“The very best.” They caught hands and ran all the way home. This was their year.