Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

While I wasn’t there… This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
Two hours before the 8th grade graduation ceremony, three girls are standing in front of a mirror. Their junior high school had given an early dismissal and those three girls were anxious and yet excited for their futures. They were anxious that they were going away from a small pond of middle school and moving on to the fast-moving lanes of high school and yet, they were excited at what possible adventures awaited them there. Those three girls were ready to change. For one of those girls, maybe it was for the worst.

Fast-forward those three girls to the end of that summer. Two girls stayed in America but the third girl has gone to visit Korea for the first time in ten years. Because of this trip, she wasn’t able to communicate with her other two friends back at home. That one girl is me.

Seeing how I was gone for only about a month and a half, I expected everything to be the same. However, things were undoubtedly different. A week after I got back, I went over to my friend Ella’s house. I stood in front of Ella’s house and rang the doorbell. The door suddenly opened and I was face to face with my friend. Wait...was it my friend? The person’s eyes were bugging out, had cheekbones sticking out, and had extreme dark circles under her eyes. Was this really my friend Ella? There must have been about thirty awkward seconds of just looking at one another. I probably looked the same, but wow…was Ella different. She pulled her lips up in a smile and said to come in. Not really knowing what to say, I just opened the screen door in between us and caught a greater surprise. Even being dressed in oversized basketball shorts and a huge t-shirt could not fool me. Ella was skinny. Definitely A LOT skinnier. It wasn’t even the skinny type where people exclaim, “Oh my God!! You’re so gorgeous!!!” It was more like the type where you look at the person over and over again and say, “What happened?”

Stepping into the dark, cool shadows of her house, I took a quick look at her. In the month and a half I was gone, she had lost probably 35 pounds too. Considering how she wasn’t even chubby in the slightest the last time I saw her, the weight loss was a huge impact. Her arms and legs were sticks and they were probably 3 times smaller than my own arms and legs. Ella smiled the awkward stretch of her lips again and asked me if I was hungry. “Yeah.” I responded and she went into the kitchen. “Is cereal okay?” she asked. “Sure.” I responded again looking at her over and over again trying to figure out where my friend is and what to do with this remaining shadow of her. Ella came back with two bowls of cereal and we talked while sitting on the carpet of her living room. I don’t even know what we talked about then. Probably something really miscellaneous like boys or a Korean drama. Nothing was said about her weight. Ella finished her cereal and stood up abruptly. “Be right back” she said. She had to go to the bathroom. As she ran upstairs I looked down at my almost finished bowl of cereal. Twirling my spoon around, I looked around the house as I waited for Ella. I waited for a long time and that’s when I heard the flush of the toilet. Then, Ella came down with teary eyes and little sweat beads around her forehead. That’s when I realized that my friend Ella was anorexic and bulimic.

We never really talked about her weight loss and all the new clothes she had to buy for her weight loss. We were freshman then and all the magazines were raving about the “skinny look.” High cheekbones and eyes bugging out were the new fad and my friend Ella had achieved it. I didn’t know what else to do but be there for her to make up for the 2 months I had lost contact with her. A long year afterwards is when I can say that Ella has recovered. She doesn’t love her body a full 100% but she is trying. Also, she has gained a lot of her weight back and is looking healthy. But, a year later is when Ella could finally open up to me to tell me how she felt during the past year. Ella told me about the loneliness, the darkness, and the fears that had all turned into monsters and were eating her alive every day. A year later is when I figured out what I should have done more and what I could have done. It raises the question, “What if Ella wasn’t her with me now to tell me what I should have done?” What if another friend of mine falls victim to bulimia and anorexia and I completely don’t remember what I did to be there for Ella? The steps can only be broken down into four.

1. Be there for the friend despite her weight loss. It is true that I struggled with jealousy as guys looked at Ella and whistled at her in our freshman year of high school. However, I realized that a lot of my other friends either came towards Ella to bask off her glowing rays of popularity or to actually be her friend. The first choice is too superficial; Ella was able to see right through those people. So, I tried to always be a friend to Ella. Even though there were days when all she talked about was how fat she looked, I smiled and tried to change the subject to something else. Being a friend for someone and being there for them helps them keep a positive outlook.

2. Don’t talk about the weight loss till the friend is ready. For Ella, it took her almost a year to discuss it with me. Before that though, don’t treat the friend like a totally different person. Some of our friends took her as a popular girl and treated her with more superficial niceness so that they would gain some popularity too. They would ask her how she packed her lunches and what workout exercises she did. However, Ella was my old friend no matter what. I would ask her to eat a whole tub of ice cream with me as we cried over our biology tests we got back or watch scary movies with our faces hidden by our hands. I treated her as I did before, making her feel like she was talking to a true friend rather than a superficial one.

3. Food is a forbidden subject but small gifts of food are accepted. As Ella’s packed lunch from home started looking like food for a hamster, food became a forbidden topic. However, there are ways a friend can help with this stage. Be a friend and buy something really delicious looking. It can be a hot fudge sundae or even those ice cream cookie sandwiches in the high school cafeteria. During lunch as Ella and I talked, I would offer a spoon but not force her to do anything. With less attention on the food and being distracted by the conversation, Ella tended to eat small bits. It was a small step but small steps led her to the present.

4. Let someone know about Ella’s situation. Although Ella’s weight loss was obvious, the teachers at school seemed like they didn’t notice it. Students were jealous and didn’t want to talk about Ella. I told my mom and we tried various times to invite Ella over so that my mom could talk to her. Ella’s home situation encouraged her to lose weight and having my mother be her mother for a while really helped. As Ella told me afterwards, it was really just the justification that someone cared for her that she wanted.

Two years have passed now and as Ella and I stand in front of the mirrors in the girl’s locker room, I can only think of these words. “Ella, I’m really sorry that I couldn’t be there for you as a friend while I was in Korea. However, thank you for teaching me a lesson about the importance of friendship and how much safer it feels when someone is there. During that summer I may have not been there but now you can be assured that I will not leave you alone.” Even though I haven’t said these words to her, I feel like I still can’t. As a teenager, Ella still struggles with her body image and the best I can do right is to stay friends with her and be with her every step of her healing process. That way, Ella can later on say, “ While you were there…”



Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

Choirgirl said...
Mar. 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm
This is a very good article.  I hope that your frined is doing better and thanks for sharing your story.  i hope your writing goes well also.  I like how you gave the reader advice on what to do with a friend who has an eating diorder also.
 
Site Feedback