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The A Word
''What exactly is it?'' her little-girl voice asked.
''What exactly is what?'' I asked in response.
''That big ''a'' word that makes Mommy and Daddy cry,'' she said, ''the one that you have, the one that you're going in the hospital for.''
Oh that. That misunderstanding that my parents kept insisting was something more. And my family, and the friends I used to have. None of them understood, understood what it felt like to feel... So ugly, so fat, so worthless. None of them understood, or they wouldn't be sending me to a hospital in the first place.
''Nothing, Iz, nothing,'' I told her, ''No big deal.
''How come Mommy and Daddy think it's a big deal then?''
I felt myself sigh. Because Mom and Dad made such a big deal about everything, because they understood nothing but their own adult lives, because they're purpose in life was to make my life as difficult as possible. This was something my baby sister couldn't wrap her head around yet, considering she was at the age where kids thought their parents were superheroes.
''Because they're Mom and Dad,'' I answered finally.
''Which would make it a big deal.''
''Don't worry about me, Izzy, I'm fine.''
''Then why do you look so...''
I was preparing for it. Fat, ugly, an adjective that it seemed everyone was saying about me.
''Frail,'' she finished, ''sick.''
''What?'' I asked, shocked. Then I realized that she was probably just echoing their words.
''Emmy, do you have cancer?''
This conversation was taking such a shocking turn that I didn't even know how to react. ''Don't be silly, Izzy,'' I said, ''Of course I don't have cancer.''
''Well you look like you do,'' she said, ''You look like Tyler's mommy when she came to pick him up, and she had cancer. Only she didn't have any hair.''
''Well I'm not Tyler's mommy.''
''I was just wondering if the ''a'' word and cancer meant the same thing. I thought they were cinnamons, because....''
''Synonyms, not cinnamons,'' I corrected. The grammar freak that was left inside of me had to say that, even though I thought I had convinced myself that that was uncool.
''If the ''a'' word isn't cancer, then what is it?'' she persisted, ''You still aren't telling me. Mommy and Daddy aren't telling me, either.''
''It's nothing, Iz, didn't I tell you? Stop worrying about it.''
''It is something!''
My little sister could be cute at times but right now she was annoying the hell out of me. Acting just like Mom.
''Leave me alone, Iz,'' I said, annoyance creeping into my tone.
''No. I heard them say it was a mental disorder more than anything else. That you were sick in the...''
Mom acting like I was some psycho person just crossed the line. ''I'm not sick,'' I said, ''I don't have a mental disorder. I'm fine.''
Izzy launched into one of her Mom-influenced suspicions speech, though I only heard a few of her words. ''PMSing''(where had she learned about that?) which I hadn't done in, like, forever- ever since I started losing weight, I stopped having my period which basically stopped me from PMSing too. That wasn't intentional, though it was one less inconvenience in my life. I didn't see what was so bad about that.
I also heard ''stopped eating'' and ''said you were sick.'' It was a little hard to stop eating. My stomach hurt a lot, and I got dizzy a lot, plus I was always hungry. But once I reminded myself how fat I was, and reminding myself how it was to change that with this and how good it felt losing weight, it was easy to overcome. It even became routine. Now I could proudly say that I only ate a bite of cheese and a cracker. I could probably skip those too, if I didn't need them to survive.
''Iz, I'm just losing weight,'' I said, ''it's something 7-year-olds don't have to worry about. You will, though, when you're older.''
''And you're only twelve, you shouldn't worry about it either,'' she said, ''Ms. Robins told us about the kids in Unicef who couldn't eat, and how bad they were. How could you do that on purpose?''
This was beyond her realm of understanding, I knew. She had no idea what it felt like to look in the mirror and see only how ugly you were. She had no idea what it felt like to feel that ugly, either, and how that feeling made you want to change that fact so much. She didn't know what it felt like to be so out of control about who you were and what you looked like that this was the only option. She didn't know how dirty and hopeless it felt eating, knowing how ugly you were. And she didn't know the hope you felt when the pounds shed on the scale, and the triumph at conquering your body and saying no to food. She didn't know how much more powerful that hope was than the risks (and yes I knew the risks. I knew that was the reason why the parentals were hyperventilating.) No, she still lived by the myth that everyone was created equal, and that every girl was beautiful.
''It's nothing you could understand, Isabella,'' I said, using her full name in my by now pure exasperation, ''It's nothing anybody but me could understand.''
I turned away so she couldn't see me cry the tears I always cried when I thought about my appearance.
''You're right,'' she said, venom entering her voice, ''I couldn't ever understand. Just as you couldn't understand what it feels like watching your big sis become one of the Unicef kids or Tyler's mommy.''
''I'll start eating again when I'm skinny,'' I said.
''No, you won't,'' she whispered, her voice breaking with tears, ''That's what Mommy and Daddy was saying. I didn't want to believe them. They said you'll never stop, but I didn't know what it meant. Now I do and I know it's true. The old Emma wouldn't of done that. I miss that Emma. What happened to her?''
Then I turned around and briefly saw the tears in her eyes, before she ran out of the room.
Her question ran through my head. I miss the old Emma.
It was then I realized that I missed the old Emma, too. I missed that grammar geek Emma, the one who didn't care what people thought of her, the one who didn't care how she looked, the one who wasn't afraid to be herself or to eat. But that Emma was gone. She vanished the day I first threw my food away, when I first decided that I was too ugly and too fat for food. When I threw my food away that day, I threw her away too.
There wasn't anything I could do now. The new Emma, the opposite of the old Emma, was always in me, telling me how ugly I was, that I needed to starve myself in order not to be ugly anymore. If I ever ate again, she would always in the back of my mind, telling me, screaming at me, that I was going to be even uglier if I ate, that there would be no future for me.
The new Emma wasn't going to be skinny again, not ever. She would never be skinny enough.
With that epiphany, I curled myself on the floor and started to sob.