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The Secret MAG
Ali awoke to the warm sun kissing her cheek and the roaring snarl of a snow blower outside her bedroom window. She turned to the sound of the old wind-up alarm clock and was surprised to see how late it was. Stretching, she felt the ache of her worn muscles. Scrambling out of bed, Ali cringed feeling the frigid wooden floor. Racing down the stairs of her grandparents' home, nestled in Sun Valley, Colorado, Ali shifted her weight with each melodious creak. Arriving at the bottom of the steps, Ali could smell the aroma of breakfast and until now she did not realize how hungry she was.
Stepping into the warm kitchen, Ali's vision was obstructed by the radiant shine of the newly-waxed hardwood floors. Placing her limp body at the huge oak table in the center of the cheerful kitchen, Ali gazed in amazement at the mounds of fluffy, yellow eggs, steaming hot coffee, perfect circles of flapjacks, sparkling heaps of sausage and bacon, and rows of light, golden biscuits.
"I'm sure you don't see many breakfasts like this in the fancy school of yours down in California," Ali's grandmother said.
"I haven't see many breakfasts like this ever!" exclaimed Ali.
"Well, seeing how you're going to be staying with me this week, I'm going to put some meat on that frail body of yours."
"Oh Gram, please. I'm too big already," said Ali with a nervous smile. After she could eat no more, Ali pushed herself away from the table, the legs screeched as she retreated to the bathroom.
Mrs. Peterson looked out the kitchen window to see the endless sheet of white, sparkling powder that had fallen the night before. She loved the way it covered the huge redwood trees like a new white blanket. Mrs. Peterson had always enjoyed having Ali visit her. They had been very close when Ali was younger and Ali was a joy to be with. Not only was she a good child, but she was also good at everything she did. Mrs. Peterson remembered the days when the whole family would watch Ali at a softball game, swim meet, or spelling bee. Ali always won. However, one would expect that from a girl whose mother was a Harvard lawyer and whose father was a well-respected surgeon. Perfection was the top priority in that family. Yet, Ali handled the pressure wonderfully, always going over something until it was perfect.
When Ali was younger, there was only one thing she constantly had a problem with, her weight. No matter how much she exercised, she was always chubby. Now, however, Ali was a slim, young lady. Maybe she had finally joined one of those diet clubs her mother was always nagging her about. She would have to ask Ali.
"Honey, you better hurry if you want to get in a good day of skiing," yelled Ali's grandmother. Inside the bathroom Ali sighed. She did not want to go skiing today or any day soon. She felt as if she had the flu, but it wasn't the flu. She had felt like this many times before and she knew what was causing the awful pain that was furiously gnawing inside her body.
Washing her hands free of the morning grime, Ali wished she could wash away the pain and the secret, the awful secret that only she knew. Escaping from the bathroom, Ali threw on her fluffy down jacket, grabbed her keys and headed out the front door. The sun was shining over the countryside. It would be a good day, Ali thought as she pulled out of the driveway, gravel crunching beneath her tires.
Stepping out of her black Chevy, Ali shivered as the bitter winter wind pierced her face like a knife. Ali had always loved to ski as a child and was remarkably good at it, but lately Ali didn't have enough strength to walk to and from classes at school, let alone do activities. She had made sure to park close to the lodge so she wouldn't have to carry her heavy equipment a long distance. Setting her skis down against the gigantic lodge, Ali noticed little flurries of snow crystals had begun to fall. Ali glanced in astonishment at the rows of spectacularly groomed white trails. Even though she had grown up skiing this mountain, Ali was still mesmerized by how lovely it was.
Walking in the front doors, Ali instantly enjoyed the welcoming sound of people's voices buzzing everywhere. Stepping up to the ticket counter Ali was welcomed by a hearty, red-faced woman who smelled of cheap perfume and wintergreen Certs.
"How may I help you?" she asked politely.
"One ticket, please," replied Ali.
Bending over to get her wallet out of her bag, Ali's head began to throb and spin. She fell over with a slight thud.
"Oh my gosh, are you O.K.?" cried the ticket lady. Nodding, Ali slowly rose to her feet. "Do you want me to call First Aid?" questioned the lady.
"No!" Ali snapped rather harshly. Grabbing the ticket from the woman's plump hand, Ali stomped toward the bathroom, her feet scraping loudly across the floor.
What's wrong with me? What's going on, Ali cried to herself. She already knew the answer but was afraid to face it.
After she had piled on layers of clothes, Ali picked up her skis and carried them to the chairlift, the snow crunching beneath her boots. Only now did she feel comfortable, bundled up in warm, loose clothing like everyone else. But Ali had a different reason: winter clothing hid perfectly her secret.
Once on the huge, ancient chairlift Ali relaxed and rested her head against the side bar. Why am I so short-of-breath lately, she thought to herself. Could it be? No, don't think that, Ali said, reprimanding herself. I have been doing it for years and never had these problems. Before she could finish her thoughts, it was time to get off the chairlift.
Sliding off, her newly waxed and sharpened skis glided across the snow like a jet in flight. The air was so clean and crisp, nothing like smog-filled California. Ali skied gracefully with self-confidence, all the while increasing her speed. By the bottom of the mountain, Ali was flying. Suddenly her head began to spin and she couldn't see straight. No, no, she echoed inside her head. It was too late. Ali fell, her body slamming hard against the cold, wet ground. Her ski caught and her leg twisted almost in half. The pain was excruciating! It could only have been about ten seconds but for Ali it felt like an eternity before her damaged body came to a heaping rest along the bottom of the slope.
In the distance Ali could hear sirens and people talking but she couldn't see anything. It was as if she were sleeping, the whole thing a bad nightmare. But it wasn't, because she could feel the pain, the horrible pain.
Ali groggily awoke, the hot light burning her eyes. Where am I, she thought. Ali tried to sit up when an enormous wave of pain shot up her leg. Surrounding her were rows of beds filled with lifeless people. The stench of lemon cleaning spray and antiseptics that lingered in the air made her want to vomit.
Then reality came crashing down around her: the accident. Oh no, do they know my secret? No sooner had she thought this than a doctor came strolling in, his brightly polished black shoes tapping underneath him. He had a totally grim look on his face.
"Ali," he said. "I don't know if you know this or not, but your accident was caused by a sudden blackout and weakness. Ali, we believe that you have an eating disorder called bulimia. Is this true? Ali, do you understand what I'm saying? The binge-purge effect?" he asked slowly as if she were a child.
Inside Ali was empty. It was all real now; it had a name; she couldn't deny it anymore. Ali nodded slowly, without saying a word. The doctor let out a sad sigh.
He started explaining groups and therapy that could help her. She wasn't listening.
Outside the sun was rising slowly over the city, but for Ali it had just gone down, forever. As the doctor spoke, one single tear rolled from her eye onto her cheek.
"No more," Ali interrupted. "I don't want this awful disease to possess me anymore," Ali whispered, her voice cracking. "I need help. Will you help me?"
The doctor looked into Ali's fearful brown eyes. "Of course I'll help you. That's what I'm here for," he replied sympathetically.
Ali could say no more. She buried her face in her hands and wept like a child. Ali knew it would be a long road to recovery with many tears. But she would make it. She knew she would make it. n