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My footsteps fall heavy as I pad across the hall, making rivets in the multicolored shag carpet that spans the floor of this cramped waiting room. A curvy receptionist surveys me as I make my way to her desk, taking in all 85 pounds of me, giving me a grimace that has become quite familiar. It’s the grimace given to me by every plump counselor, therapist, and doctor, conveying disapproval and disgust of my body, my ‘problem’. When she notices my gaze, she quickly looks up and plasters on a smile.
“Um, Kira Brewer.” My voice comes out hoarse, and my throat burns with every word that I speak. She takes a long time searching for my name, sighing heavily, as if it was such an inconvenience to do her job. It seems like that’s how I get treated a lot now: an inconvenience.
“Second door on the left,” She says, already moving on to the next task. I thank her, shivering. It must be 55 degrees in here, but nobody seems to be affected by the temperature but me.
I slowly make my way down the hall, stopping at a thick mahogany door. Nailed to it is a gold plaque that reads 'Tessa Charice, Phd'. I crack the door, preparing myself for yet another condescending psychiatrist who thinks they know my life. As the opening widens, she turns around in a large leather chair and puts on a smile.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Charice,” She says, pronouncing it share- eese.
More like Dr. Obese. Pebbly, pus colored fat lies close underneath her skin near her thighs. It makes me gag. She flips through her manila folder, perusing every minute detail of my life like it is a magazine at a doctor’s office.
She smiles again, a forced grimace.
“Let’s jump right into it. When did your bulimia begin?”
“I am not bulimic.”, I say, putting emphasis on the word that is bitter to my tongue.
“Oh,” She says, amused. “What are you then?”
“I am skinny.”
“It’s called ‘skinny love’. “Jessa said. “It’s what you feel when you look like me.” She ran a frail hand over her waist and hips, accenting the lines and peaks where her bones jutted from her body.
“But, isn’t that unhealthy?”, I said, scared that I would end up in a hospital with tubes keeping me alive like they showed in health class. Jessa answered with a scoff and flushed the toilet, rinsing away what was left of her lunch. She turned back to me.
“’Isn’t that unhealthy’” She mocked, grabbing the skin of my midsection and pointing to it. “Isn’t that unhealthy? Or is it just gross?”
I coiled away, rubbing my stomach where she pinched me. It’s true; I hadn’t kept up with my running since the end of soccer season. But I wasn’t getting fat…Was I?
Dr. Obese decides to try another question. “Why do you feel pressured to be skinny? You know everyone has different body types. Is it a family member, a friend..?” She lowers her head and peers towards me, as if acting meek will get me to open up. Once again I avert my eyes, focusing on a painting that hung on her wall. On it was a flower, whose petals were drawn with muted shades of red, just like the rest of the décor in the office. I hated red. I hated her. I hated her for thinking she could intrude on every detail of my life, and acting like she was entitled to know it. I hated her and her manila folder that spelled out my life, and reduced me to what I actually was: a paper girl. A paper girl, that’s what every therapist, dietician, and counselor, saw me as. Nothing more than a stack of papers in a folder, a case, a problem.
“Fine.” The doctor said, snapping me back to reality. She was clearly exasperated, making it obvious that I was being difficult. “If you don’t want to talk about that, let’s talk about something else. Do you have any hobbies, do you play any sports? And what about your friends?”
“My schoolwork keeps me busy,” I lie. “Other than that I mostly read, and sleep. I have friends.”
Even though I was only a sophomore, I was the best goalie on the varsity soccer team. I had exceptional speed and reflexes; nothing could make it past me when I was in game mode. But when I started spending time with Jessa, everything got fuzzy. I would miss easy hits; I even missed the ball once when it was passed to me. Coach was furious. He screamed at me about how I was throwing my future away, and if I didn’t focus he would put in my sub, some freshman who didn’t know a soccer ball from a baseball. His empty threats didn’t faze me, though, because I looked fantastic. I lost seven pounds that week, and I was actually skinny.
Jessa was absent from school that day. I thought that she had caught the flu, as the leaves were just turning orange and fall winds got everyone sick. When I got home, my mom was waiting for me. I tried to bypass her, hoping she would ignore me as usual. But she wasted no time.
“Did you know that Jessa Corely was bulimic?”
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I feigned innocence. “What is that?” I slowly turned, but not enough to look at her dead on.
“It is a very bad disease, Kira. It can kill you.” Apparently, my mom thinks I’m five.
“Oh. Well it’s not like I was friends with her anyways. She was kind of a freak.” Jessa knows that nobody else understands skinny love. I’m sure she would have said the same thing, had she been in my position. She said it herself: we are like sisters. And sisters keep secrets.
“She was put in a rehab center.” My mother says, matter-of-factly. “Just thought I’d let you know.” She then returns to her bedroom, slams the door, and turns up the t.v.
I stood there, stunned. A rehabilitation center? How is that possible? I had just seen Jessa yesterday. She was frail, but that was normal for skinny girls like us. There was nothing out of the ordinary.
I spent the rest of the night mourning for Jessa. She was my best friend, after all. It seemed unfeasible that she could be gone so completely and indefinitely. I cried for my partner, no, my sister. It was that night that I vowed I would stay strong. For Jessa and for me; I would be strong for the both of us.
After about ten minutes of one- sided questions, mom comes bustling through the door. A thick wool scarf is wrapped around her neck, and her red pumps clack clack as she makes her way to the couch and plops down next to me. “Ohh, sorry I’m late!” She says obnoxiously, her thick southern drawl enveloping her words. She squishes up next to me; wraps a bony arm around my equally bony shoulders. “Just tell her what she needs so we can get you better again.” Her cherry lips form into a frown, and I find myself growing furious with her. Who is this woman? Certainly not my mother. My childhood consisted of being ignored and lied to, not being cuddled on the couch.
“So, it seems like your mother has been very supportive of you, am I right to assume that?” Dr. Charice questions.
I shake my head, but mom answers for me. “Oh yes. I have always supported and loved Kira for whoever she wants to be.”
That is such a lie that I almost have to laugh at it. Mom, loving? She was about as loving as a piranha. A million memories fly through my head, of her criticism and general disapproval for me.
Mom looks expectantly at me, but I can see the ferocity in her eyes. If I say something wrong, she will disown me. “Yes,” I murmur. “Of course.”
The dressing room in Dillards smells like must. I wiggle and squirm with all my might, but I still can’t seem to fit into the size 2 dress my mother picked out for me for her sister’s wedding. I walk out in the half zipped dress, preparing for what my mother will say. She doesn’t disappoint. “Well I see we can just give up on trying to get you a small dress.” She looks at me, displeased.
“We’ll just have to see if they have any fours… oh, if you could only lose some weight. I saw you taking an extra serving of potatoes last night, and lord knows that isn’t helping your figure.”
I look down at my stomach, on the brink of tears. Mom places her hands on my love handles and squeezes. “This ‘baby fat’ should really be gone by now.” She says, putting air quotes around the words “baby fat,” implying that it is neither adorably nor actually baby fat at all.
That night I cried myself to sleep, and threw up what little food I had in my stomach.
Real supportive, mom.
The next half hour of talking succeeds in making me even angrier. My mother brags about how she has always accepted me, but admits that it “may be the tiniest bit her fault” since she is always at work and “may have neglected my health in the past few months.”
When the conversation finally gets back around to me, I am boiling. Charice takes my anger as sadness, and uses that to try to get more answers out of me.
“Do you feel like you have to be skinny for boys? Your friends?”
I am about to answer, but mom interrupts me, again.
“It was always that Jessa girl. I always knew she was a bad influence. But when she went off to that rehab center, I thought the weight loss would stop.”
“Who is Jessa?” She latches on to whatever information she could possibly get from me. “Was she bulimic too?”
I look up, deciding to answer for once. “Jessa was my best friend. Was. But then she changed, and she wasn’t the same anymore. We grew apart.”
It was the truth. After Jessa came back from the rehab center, all plump and stuffed with food, she was never the same. She sat next to me at lunch the day after she returned, nearly four months later.
“Do you know what you’re doing to yourself?” No hello, nothing. A half-eaten energy bar was clenched in her now-pudgy hand. “You’re killing yourself, that’s what. You’re staving your body from essential nutrients and eating a hole away in your esophagus. If you keep this up, your body will eventually switch into survival mode, you will go into shock, and you will die.” She spews out rehab-center jargon like she used to spew out meals.
I took a long look at her, calmly stood up, and knocked the energy bar out of her hand. “You look disgusting.” I said coldly, and walked away.
That was the last time I spoke to Jessa Corely. Occasionally, she would slip a brochure from the “Circles of Care Rehabilitation Center” into my locker, which sported bright colors and slogans like “If you love your body through and through, have your cake and eat it too!” I always threw them in the trash, making sure Jessa was watching. I would keep all the skinny love for myself.
Mom has a special talent of turning every conversation back to herself. That’s the way it’s always been, in every therapy session I’ve ever been to. It’s always mom mom mom mom mom. Time runs out, and I quickly gather myself and hasten out the door. When we get outside, a thick snow is beginning to fall, providing a screen between my mother and I that I am thankful for. The ensuing car ride is one of silence. When we get home, I run up our porch steps, again questioning why the house is so excessively large. It looms above me, quite impractical since only three people live in the house.
“Kiraaaaa!” My mother screeches behind me. “Let me have a word with you.”
She makes her way over to me, and says matter-of-factly, “I think that went well. Now are you going to give up your absurd little obsession with your weight or do you still plan on keeping up this charade?”
I cannot believe what I am hearing.
“You don’t get it, you ignorant b****,” I spit. “You will never get it! This is not some phase that will pass! As hard as it may be for you to admit, there is something wrong with me.”
“Oh, I don’t understand?” I can tell she’s trying to keep calm, in case a neighbor is watching. “Well then, explain it to me, dear. As your mother, I deserve to understand what is going on.”
“As my mother? As my mother?!” I practically shout. I suddenly feel more alone than ever before. “You haven’t been my mother for seventeen years.”
I turn, kicking some rocks and stomping towards the woods that surround the backside of our house. The snow is coming down hard now. “I need some air,” I grumble.
In the distance, I can hear my mother saying defiantly, “You’re killing yourself, Kira. I am not going to just stand here and watch you die.” But eventually she, too, gets cold and retreats to the warmth of the house.
Yet another to give up on me.
When I reach the woods, I notice how the snow covers everything, creating a crisp white void; it swathes all past damage and trauma, making the trees new again. I stop and stare for a moment, taking in the sheer beauty of a fresh start, a blank canvas. Birds flit through the trees, and a hare darts about the snow. I find it odd; the hare is moving in an erratic pattern, shifting directions often and stumbling from side to side, almost as if there were two of them.
Or maybe that’s me.
I lift up my hand to wipe my nose, and when I do, my gray, clammy skin is nearly unrecognizable. My breaths get increasingly more shallow, and my head begins to swim. I attempt a few rigid steps, but realize that my balance is nearly shot.
Am I going into shock?
….was everyone right?
A blanket of vagueness washes over me.
I’m on the ground.
My pulse is rapid, yet faint; it pounds quietly in my ear as I grasp desperately on to the life still in my body.
I don’t want to die.
I pray for the first time in months, pray to be spared. I promise I’ll eat. I’ll get better. I promise.
Dark cloudiness fills my brain; I am barely conscious, barely holding on.
Eventually, everything is gone, and I fall into the abyss that allows a peace I always chased after, but never truly but never truly wished that I had.