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Superhero

The thin shirt draped over her knife-like shoulder blades, clinging to the knobs of her spine. Elizabeth’s slim shoulders were hunched over, shielding herself from the pain of the world. Attached to the end of the skinny limbs that she called her arms were trembling hands, clenched together to stop the shaking. She stared down at them as her colorless lips shaped themselves around the dismal words that came from her mouth. One lone tear slowly trailed from the corner of her brown, almond shaped eye, down her hollowed out cheek, and to the sharp edge of her quivering chin, from where it dropped and disappeared.

I was horrified. She was toothpick creature with skin loosely enveloping her tiny frame; the type of thing you would see in a Tim Burton movie. Once upon a time, those bones had looked strong and sturdy, the skin healthy and radiant. Her shoulders had been proudly cast back as if daring any monsters to challenge her. Now she was only a ghost of herself, only slightly reminiscent of the capable young women she used to be, like a photograph that had been faded and smudged with time.

This is my sister, I reminded myself, but I was lying. There was no way that this could be the same sister that would sneak into my room at midnight and play dress up with me, the one that fondly called me Morgie, rather than my given name, Morgan. The one that had held me close to her as I cried my poor little heart out when I didn’t get asked to the sixth grade dance, who gripped my hand and hid with me in the dark as we listened to screaming escalating as our parents fought until the door slammed shut. This couldn’t be her.

I remembered when all the Bad first started. Almost a year ago, ElElizabeth had come into my room, babbling to me about how some guy had said she looked like was pregnant, and then me assuring her that she was not in fact fat. I liked to think that my words did at least temporarily delay what was to come, but I never knew. It was a tough year for her; her first year in high school, and ElElizabeth had recently switched to a more rigorous ballet company. In the end though, the Bad took over her, the eating disorder.

Little switches came first. One slice of pizza instead of two, skipping the ice cream, a salad with her dinner instead of fries. Simple stuff like that. As time went on, her diet became more drastic and she began to skip entire meals. Finally it was something truly Bad.

Anyone who has family or friends who suffer from the Bad know that it is a horrible, awful experience, watching someone kill themselves slowly. First the skin turned from a normal, healthy, peach color to a yellowish-puke color, with a light layer of downy fuzz covering her. As any fat dropped off of her body, her shoulders began to turn in, sinking as her self confidence seeped out of her, her nails dreadfully brittle. And those were only the physical things. She became moody, crying at the drop of a pin. If you so much as mentioned food or her weight, ElElizabeth would scream at you until she was hoarse. The friends who had been at our house so much that they almost seemed to live there would no longer come for fear of her bad moods. Her grades dropped from her average A to B range, to D to C, and then to Fs. And all the while, our parents denied it.

In their heads, she was still their perfect little angel. Now she was front and center for almost every single ballet recital, and requested to sing in the choir in her church every week. She had a different boyfriend every other week, and was constantly away from home. They blamed her weight loss on the excessive amount of dancing she was doing, and her failing grades were always blamed on her boyfriends. Nothing that happened was their perfect little angel’s fault.

Even when she stopped going to school altogether, choosing instead to spend all day practicing Pointe until her feet were raw and bloody, they made excuses for her. When she quit going to churches and humming church hymnals under her breathe? Oh, she was just so busy right now with dance, but she would come when she could. Or at least that it was our parents said.

I knew better. I knew ElElizabeth didn’t go to church anymore because people there cared enough about her, that they would ask questions, that they would suspect what she was doing to herself. She stopped going to school because it was too much strain to put on her fragile shoulders to have to explain to her friends why she wasn’t going to eat lunch again, why she couldn’t go out to dinner with them again, why she couldn’t go see that movie that they had been promising to go see since they were nine. She did it all so that she could deny that she had not taken control of her life, but the Bad had taken control of her.

Worst of all, I let her slowly fade away. As much as I could try and blame other people as we sat there, her begging us to help save her, I knew that this was my fault. Not our parents, not her friends, not her boyfriends, not the people from church, it was nobody’s fault but mine.

I was the one who could have saved her, but I was too afraid. Now some girl she barely knew had gotten to be her superhero, swooping in and saving the day. I used to know her heart like the back of my hand, but she had turned into a stranger. She was stronger than me, even compared to the strength she used to hold; at least she had admitted that she could no longer kill herself. But I had done nothing but observe.

I looked back at the ghost of ElElizabeth. Her shoulders shook under the thin cloth of her shirt, our parents’ hands both rested on her back that heaved up and down as gut-wrenching sobs tore out of her. It was true that I had missed my opportunity to save her, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t be the one who let her rest on my shoulder after finally finishing a hard stretch of her life.

I reached out to her and crushed her into me, wanting to stay that way forever.



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