The Way Your Pinkies Bend This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 8, 2013
By , Stanford, CA
Do you remember when you were two and your mother told you that you were going to have a little brother or sister? Do you remember when, a few weeks later, you found her crying in the bathroom with blood on the floor? Do you remember when that happened three more times?

Do you remember watching the tentative happiness growing on your parents’ faces along with your mother’s stomach? Do you remember when her tummy was an engorged watermelon and you sat on your father’s lap and felt the burgeoning life within your mother’s womb kick? Do you remember how your father fell back in surprise? Do you remember how that broken chair sat in your living room for months?

Do you remember when, a few weeks later, you went to visit your grandparents across the country with your father? Do you remember when he went to get coffee and you went to the zoo? Do you remember when you got back to the house and the police were waiting for you? Do you remember what they told you?

An accident. He’s in surgery.

Then, waiting.

Then, the news.

He didn’t make it.

Did you know what that meant?

Do you remember when, two months later, you held your sister for the first time and you thought her eyes looked just like your father’s?

You were four years old. She was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen. You could feel her heartbeat through her tiny ribcage, and her thick black hair graced a soft, pale skull. You thought that maybe you could protect her from the world that, at a young age, you learned was not fair.

You thought that maybe it didn’t matter that you would never be held by your father’s strong arms again, as long as you could love this tiny human.

You cherished her.

The diagnosis comes, and you find a medical definition online. Anorexia nervosa: a psychiatric disorder characterized by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and conspicuous distortion of body image. The individual is obsessed with becoming increasingly thinner and limits food intake to the point where health is compromised.

Okay, you think. You know what to expect.

But did you know that when your little sister becomes anorexic, her knee bones stick into your sides when you carry her, piggy-back style, to bed? Did you know that her beautiful brown hair loses its lustre and falls, limply, to her shoulders? Did you know that she runs away from you in a crowded shopping mall, and when you find her she’s passed out in the parking lot, fatigued from lack of food? Did you know that when you visit her in the hospital, she sends a nurse to take you away because she can’t believe you’ve betrayed her by making her eat? Did you know that when she’s released, she’s so disgusted that she’s gained five pounds of beauty, she cuts into her own skin as punishment?

Did you know all these things?

Victoria’s Secret, did you know that the women emblazoned across your store windows are not real? Did you know that those impossibly concave stomachs and slimmed-down thighs are fantasies that little girls lust after?

Did you know that you would watch your little sister’s eyelashes when she reads? Did you know that you would examine the way her pinky fingers bend to make sure that you would remember them?

Did you know?

Did you know that, two years after your sister started eating again, you would still find stale bits of bread wedged between the books in her bookshelf, shoved under her dresser, hidden in unlikely places through desperate slight of hand? That after she ate a meal, you would have to force her to undress herself, to make sure there weren’t any morsels shoved into her shirt and pants and underwear? Did you know that, usually, there were? Did you know that she had to sing while she peed for months so you could be sure she wasn’t vomiting?

Did you know that nowadays, when a friend tells you she isn’t hungry, you panic? You think of all the times she’s told you she wishes she could lose weight? Did you know that you would begin to imagine a world without her light?

Did you know that when you look at your sister, you can’t see the light in her sunken eyes? Did you know that her cheekbones would stick out like knives and her skin would look grey and dead?

Did you know that you would cry night after night, sure that even if your sister survived, she would struggle with an eating disorder for the rest of her life? That she would probably be infertile? That her immune system would break down from malnutrition so that a common cold could sweep away the life you had fought so hard to protect?

Actually, did you know how hard you would have to fight? Did you know the willpower, the icy strength it would take to hold your sister down and physically force her to eat? How it would feel to dehumanize her, knowing that you did so to protect her beating heart? Did you know how it would feel to hear the psychiatrist tell you that your sister had to be put on suicide watch? Did you know how your stomach would drop to your knees upon finding yet another cut on her wrist, yet another self-inflicted punishment on the skin that you loved so dearly?

Did you know how hard it would be to stay strong? How impossible it would be to go about your day when you knew that your sister was slowly dying? Did you know how arduous her recovery would be, how painful it would feel to watch your sister dragged by her illness across a field of broken shards of glass, wishing you could take her place?

Did you know how strong you were?

Did you know that you would make it?

That both of you would?

When you held her in your four-year-old arms that first September day, did you know?

Join the Discussion

This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

babydoll1160 said...
Sept. 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm
I really enjoyed this article. You could tell how much you loved her! Keep the good work coming!!
Iloveme This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 12, 2013 at 5:14 am
This is one of the best things I've ever read. It rips straight your heart with brutal honesty.
Adventurer23 said...
Sept. 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm
Powerful and seamlessly written. Please keep it up!
thewriter247 said...
Sept. 11, 2013 at 6:34 pm
Totally incredible. This is a great work and it's no wonder it was selected as Editor's Choice. Keep it coming!
MerelyDreamingOutLoud This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm
I cried too :/ You did a really good job, nice work.
NightAngel said...
Sept. 11, 2013 at 6:07 am
This piece made me cry. It was amazing. Well done :)
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