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Caroline looked longingly at the chocolate-frosted cake, thinking about how much she really wanted to fill her mouth with chocolaty goodness. For the past ten weeks, she had gone without any sweets; she ignored the endless inducements of cookies, brownies, pastries, pies, and cakes that surrounded her. She thought they were deliberately taunting her, attempting to break her from her strict diet. Rather than satisfying her taste buds with sugar-infested galore, she was instead munching on dry baby carrots. She crossed her flabby arms over her stomach as it began to growl.
Man, that cake looks so yummy, she thought to herself. No, look away. That is not your friend, Caroline. That is your enemy.
She had lost about 30 pounds and she sure as hell wasn’t planning on gaining it back. Okay, now just walk away. If I walk away, I’ll be fine, she assured herself. She took a small step away from the glass display of decorated cakes. She hesitated before taking another step. Before she knew what was happening, she was dashing along Main Street. Cars blurred past her as the wind whipped her hair back from her face, bringing tears to her hazel eyes. Her breathing became raspy and her sides began to ache, but she continued to weave between pedestrians, putting more distance between her and the swirls of chocolate frosting. When she was far enough away, she breathed a sigh of relief. She had a doctor’s appointment in about a half an hour and the last thing she needed was to add an extra two pounds beforehand.
She strolled along the sidewalk, her breath visible in the cool, crisp air. Cars honked and engines roared furiously as Caroline passed by the lines of lofty buildings. Truck-sized advertisements loomed over her head, their lights flashing in the dimness. Her boots shuffled along in the snow, imprinting it with dirt-stained footprints. Fifteen minutes later, she arrived at the downtown hospital.
The smell of hand sanitizer and Lysol hit her as she entered through the double glass doors. She coughed reflexively. Framed college degrees for Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Swanson, and Dr. Reynolds hung neatly on the white-washed walls.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked from behind the computer.
“Yes, I have a check-up with Dr. Fitzgerald,” Caroline replied.
“Okay, I’ll let her know you’re here.”
Five minutes later, Fitzgerald came into the main lobby. Her auburn hair was tied in a tidy bun on the top of her head. Glasses were perched on the end of her narrow nose. A clean, white-pressed lab coat with a satin handkerchief tucked in the front pocket encircled her willowy figure. Dr. Fitzgerald motioned Caroline to follow her to the back room.
She instructed Caroline to step onto the scale. 165 pounds. 5’0”. Dr. Fitzgerald glanced at the scale and then turned her attention to her clipboard, scratching against it with a ball-point pen.
“Okay, you can step off now,” Dr. Fitzgerald said to Caroline. She stepped off of the scale and waited nervously. The doctor then led her to another room to check her blood pressure. She grunted in disapproval when she read the numbers.
“You still need to lose fifty more pounds, Caroline. At your height, 115 pounds is considered a healthy weight. Your blood pressure is still too high as well. Now, remember to continue eating a balanced diet. Avoid sweets, chips, soda, etc. Stack up on vegetables and fruit. And I want you to go to the gym at least four times a week for at least an hour. Do cardio for maybe half an hour and strength training for another thirty minutes. I want you to record what you eat and your exercise routine each day. Understand?”
Caroline nodded her head, “I understand.”
“Good. Okay, I will see you in three months for a check-up,” Dr. Fitzgerald shook her hand firmly and exited out the door. Caroline sighed, abruptly feeling exhausted. She worked hard to get where she was. And yet, the doctor didn’t comment on the amount of progress she made. No words of encouragement or congratulations. Only discouraging words. Only to be told that she still needed to lose even more weight. That she was still too fat.
Hippo. Cow. Obese. Chubby. Fat. Rotund. She’d been called every name in the book. Since the start of elementary school, the other children pointed and gawked at the layers upon layers of fat rolls that nestled upon her olive skin. Her slimmer peers would poke fun at her belly, fascinated by her excess “squish”. Caroline could sense the children’s eyes gazing in utter disgust and wonderment, scorching holes into her sensitive flesh. Often times, she wanted to wrap herself deep within her blubbery skin to escape from the grip of condescending stares. Each day, she watched the smaller children scale across the carpeted floors, light on their feet. While the ground trembled beneath her, the surface rattling with every trudge. She enviously observed the other kids swing swiftly along the metal monkey bars, sweeping gracefully at ease. While she struggled to hold on, gravity stubbornly dragging her back down to the earth.
After the school days, Caroline usually arrived home with tears streaming profusely down her cheeks. Eyes swollen and bloodshot from the riverbeds that collected at the edge of her lower lids, she’d bury her head into the crook of her mother’s soft arm. Tucking herself into a tight ball, Caroline blubbered about how the children laughed, mocked, and taunted her. Her mother, Karen, would sit still, rubbing her hand soothingly along Caroline’s back, silently listening.
“Mommy, why are the kids so mean to me?” Caroline wiped the tears from her face.
“Sweetie, you just have to ignore them. Remember what I told you before? They tease you because they’re secretly jealous of you,” her mother smoothed back her hair. “It’s like when boys poke fun at the girls. It means it’s because they like them and think they’re pretty.”
“Really?” a smidge of hope reflected in Caroline’s eyes.
“Of course. Just remember this. You’re beautiful just as you are. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”
She wasn’t beautiful. There was nothing beautiful about her. Caroline stared into the mirror, observing the stretch marks, the double chin, the bulges that settled comfortably into the creases of her long-sleeved shirt. She glanced down quickly, directing her attention to the thin strand of cold water running through her stumpy fingers. Every day at precisely 11:35, Caroline hid out in the bathroom to avoid her fourth period Chemistry class. Listening to Professor Fitzgerald’s nasally, scratchy voice for thirty minutes straight was enough, let alone an entire hour. Pressing the water tap off, she heard the click clack of high-heeled shoes echo off the tiled floor. Caroline lifted her head as a girl dressed in a silky crimson blouse and a sleek dusky skirt strode in. Her lithe figure moved past Caroline to the next sink over. She leaned in closer to the mirror to check her mascara, the shadow from the overhead lights highlighting her defined cheekbones. Caroline turned her head away, ashamed and embarrassed. She continued rubbing the peach-scented liquid soap between her hands, bubbles resting upon her porcelain skin. Yanking paper towels from the dispenser, Caroline could feel a pair of eyes piercing holes into her back. When she slowly turned around, she saw an expression of repulsion plastered across the girl’s pretty face.
“Can I help you?” Caroline inquired impatiently, frowning in annoyance.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she replied nonchalantly, redirecting her attention to the mirror.
“No, no. Something is obviously bothering you. So, just spill the beans. Just say whatever the hell is on your mind,” Caroline fumed, a crinkle forming between her eyebrows.
“Fine. You asked for it,” her confident, mature voice rang within the walls. The girl’s wide eyes flashed as she flipped the black curtain of hair over her narrow shoulders. “Now, I’m only saying this as a fellow girl. Word of advice. Get rid of the gut. It’s not attractive at all. No one should have that much fat just sitting there. It’s not healthy. And you would look a thousand times better if you were like sixty pounds lighter. So, do you, me, and everybody else a favor and lose a few pounds.”
Caroline glowered at her, tight-lipped, as the girl swung back around to face the mirror, rechecking her reflection. Blood pulsed rapidly throughout Caroline’s entire body creating a tingle sensation that traveled from the tips of her fingers all the way down to her toes. A flush crawled from the base of her chubby neck upward, reddening her bulging cheeks. Her fists clenched and jaw tensed as her heart began pounding, ears seemingly throbbing. Caroline had had enough. She was sick and tired of people telling her what was wrong with her. Sick and tired of people throwing adverse glances at her. Sick and tired of people saying that she needs to lose weight. Sick and tired of people not worrying about their own damn selves.
Every morning, Caroline’s grandparents brought her on a Krispy Kreme run before driving her to North Park Elementary School. She always ordered the same thing: Caramel Kreme Crunch. “This yeast-raised doughnut has a rich, ooey-gooey caramel Kreme filling. It is hand-dipped in smooth, creamy chocolate icing and topped off with buttery toffee crunch.” In other words…amazingly delicious. While the other toddlers were busy gulping down icky baby food mush, she was scarfing down saccharine doughy rings with chocolate dribbling down the sides. Whenever the car pulled into the driveway, Caroline would jump about in her seat excitedly, urging her grandparents to “Drive faster!” After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, she was lastly handed the heavenly pile of sugariness. Mouth watering heavily, the aroma of the donut sifted teasingly into her nostrils before being devoured wholly.
When she arrived home from school, Caroline religiously sunk into the leather couch in front of her plasma TV screen. She’d sit there for hours each day, clicking the remote with one hand, scouring the potato chips with another. At six o’clock on the school days, Karen would slam the glass door behind her, announcing her arrival home. The sound of paper bags crunched between her flaccid arms and swelling sides. Popping up alertly, Caroline would squeal excitedly, leaping over the couch and sprinting to the foyer’s door. After eating whatever deep-fried specialty from McDonalds, Burger King, In-N-Out, or Panda Express that Karen brought home, Caroline would head upstairs to start her homework, only to fall into a bottomless slumber two hours later.
Oh. My. Gosh. What’ve I done?! Caroline gaped in horror at the bloody, tangled mat of hair. At the petite girl slumped against the cabinet, her head lolling unconsciously to one side.
It all happened so fast. Before she knew what was happening, Caroline was pulling harshly onto a fistful of hair and shoving it towards the mirror with all the strength and force she conjured from her uncontrollable vehemence. The glass cracked, splitting into an array of cobwebs that permeated outward. Adrenaline rushed through her as Caroline continued banging the girl’s head into the shattered glass. Smash. Smash. Smash. Over and over and over again. She gained momentum, thrusting her hand forward more rapidly and forcefully, blemishing the girl’s head with blood and minute glass bits. Gasping for breath, Caroline finally cried out, releasing the hair from her desperate grip. She covered her face with her blood-stained hands, sobbing relentlessly, her shoulders shaking violently. Caroline slid to the floor, gathering her knees up to her chest. She rocked back and forth silently, numbness overwhelming her mind and body. Dried-up tears clung to her cheeks.
After several minutes, reality sunk in. I’m in a deep pile of sh*t. What am I going to do? She glanced at the insentient girl lying next to her. Guiltily, Caroline dug into her leather purse, grabbed her cell phone, and dialed 9-1-1.
Caroline was sentenced to six months of juvenile detention since she was a minor, along with 100 hours of community service and a weekly session of anger management therapy that lasted until the end of the year. The girl, whose name was Ursula, suffered deep cuts along her scalp that would leave scars and a few bald spots. Fortunately, there was no damage to the brain.
“So, Caroline, tell me why you did what you did,” the therapist lifted her eyebrows at her, making her glasses slide down her nose a bit. Her name tag read “Dr. Pearson”.
Pshhh…great. I’m stuck talking to this so-called ‘doctor’. This is a waste of my time. All she’s getting paid to do is sit on her ass, ask me questions, and tell me what I already know. That I’m an insecure person who needs to learn how to appreciate her “assets.”
Caroline shrugged. “I don’t know. Major PMSing?” she chuckled to herself.
Dr. Pearson threw her a stern look. “I don’t think you understand the severity of your actions, Miss Parker.”
“Ha! Yeah, I sure do. That’s why I’m wasting my time here, talking to you,” Caroline exhaled in irritation.
“Yes. Well, you could’ve seriously injured that girl,” Dr. Pearson replied, concern written all over her face. “She was lucky.”
“Yeah, she was. She’s lucky I even dialed 9-1-1. I was contemplating whether or not to just leave her like that.”
“But you didn’t, Miss Parker. Which means that you’re not a bad person,” Dr. Pearson said slowly, pointedly making eye contact.
Caroline matched her gaze, “I never said I was. But I do think she deserved it. All she had to do was mind her own damn business. I didn’t do anything to her.” Her mouth formed a taut, thin line, her knuckles protruding as she clutched onto the edge of the chair.
“No one deserves that, Caroline. I—” Caroline interjected.
“Why on earth did she have to say any of that sh*t to my face?! I don’t even KNOW the girl! Yeah, I’m fat. So what? That has nothing to do with her! It doesn’t affect her. I’m the one who has to deal with the consequences. I’m the one who has to deal with constant bullsh*t from other people. Not her. Me. I didn’t need her two cents!” She sat back in her chair, rubbing her temples roughly as if trying to get rid of a headache.
Dr. Pearson sat silently for awhile, listening to Caroline’s heavy breathing gradually mitigate. When her breath slowed, Dr. Pearson spoke slowly. “Everyone has insecurities, Caroline. Not just you. That girl Ursula. Me. Other people. You’re not alone.”
Caroline snorted in disbelief. “Please. That girl has nothing to be insecure about. I mean, look at her.”
“Caroline, she may or may not have problems with her appearance, but she has other issues that I’m sure she’s dealing with. We’re all human, Caroline. We all go through similar experiences.”
“I’m sure we do,” Caroline retorted sarcastically, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. She checked her watch. 7:00 P.M. Her session was officially done. “Well, Dr. Pearson, I better get going. I guess I’ll see you next Wednesday.” She stood up, grabbed her purse, and threw it over her shoulder.
“It was nice meeting you, Caroline. I’ll see you next week. Remember what I told you today--”
The door slammed behind Caroline, cutting off the words of the therapist. Caroline rushed outside to her silver 1998 Acura, a pounding reverberating inside her head. She yanked the car door open, sliding inside, and shoved the keys into the ignition. Her teeth grinded against each other as she narrowly zipped between automobiles, hopping lanes hastily. Everything was piling up. The doctor’s condemnation. Sixty mph. Ursula’s insolent, but earnest words. Seventy-five mph. That imbecile of a therapist. Ninety mph. Her own self-loathing. She pressed even harder on the accelerator, rage boiling beneath her skin, steam erupting from her nostrils.
Two minutes later, Caroline parked in the driveway in front of her commercial-styled suburban home. Cutting across the cleanly-cut grass, she frantically thrust the silver house key into the lock. Once inside, she invaded the pantry. Grabbing anything that read high-fat, high-cal, arms pulling every which way. Doritos, Oreos, Mini Donettes, Cookie Crisp, anything chocolate. With all the food splayed on top of the kitchen table, she furiously ripped and tore open the packages, wrappers, and cardboard boxes, throwing them roughly aside. Crumbs tumbled downwards as Caroline vacuumed the fatty foods, chomping and munching as utter satisfaction engulfed her. Her taste buds screamed with exuberance; they had been deprived for so long. And for a few moments…she forgot about her obesity. She forgot about the disheartening words. She forgot about the averse looks that were tossed at her. If she wanted to eat junk food, then she could eat junk food. And there was no one there to judge her. It was only her and the sweet, sweet taste of the crunchy Snickers bars that was currently melting on her tongue.