Caught in the iron grip of the disease, she wants nothing more than to shed her skin and be free of the sickness. Unfortunately, the clutch is too strong and she is too weak.
The room smells like burn apple cider and worn leather. She inhales deeply, the simple movement brining on a ripple of agony through her chest. Defined, ivory bones poked out through her taut, ivory colored skin in a distorted, grotesque way. A spindly, nimble hand, full of bruises and lacerations, reaches up shakily and pushes back a piece of limp, dull brown hair that obstructs her gaze. The simple maneuver seems to wind the waif of a girl. Her lungs push against her chest painfully, the taut rib bones denting through the skin, pushing out like a soft piece of tissue paper covering her body.
Her whole body is trembling. The room is stuffy and warm but she stands in the midst of aTennesseeheat-wave with the windows open and the air conditioner off shivering like a leaf on a windy way. It’s too hot for her to be this cold. She should be sweating and fanning herself down like the rest ofTennessee. Instead she wishes that it were hotter so she would be even the slightest bit warmer.
She wavers on her feet, ankles and knees shuddering to keep her up. All of the joins in her body protest of the excess weight she inflicts by standing. But it hurts too much to sit down. Her hip bones protruding from her skin burn when she lies down on her once soft and comfortable bed that now feels like rocks cloaked in sandpaper.
The girl swallows, standing in the middle of the room, her gaze never leaving the monstrous looking thing standing in front of her. Its eyes were too large for its face; wide and tired looking, framed by large dark circles underneath that stretch down to defined cheekbones that jut out from the worn skin. The monsters lips are thin and chapped, cracking in the middle as a spot of blood runs down. It makes no move to catch it.
The revolting being stands awkwardly, slouched down. Shoulder blades stick out from it, a row of jagged bumps roll down the centre of its back in a ghastly line. Its naked save for a simple pair of shorts and a brazier - doing nothing but sitting on a flat, rigid chest – and the clothing seems to sag downward. Hipbones poke out of its taut skin, following up to an indented stomach and brittle ribs. Its elbows and knee caps are bigger than the width of its arms and legs.
It looks so sick - so grotesque.
She wants to look away but is mesmerized by the unearthly creature looking back at her. The sight used to be beautiful to her; it used to be a sign of strength and admiration. It was an achievable dream that only sacrificed the substance of food – nasty, horrible food. All she had to do to obtain the lovely sight in the magazines and online was to cut out all of the foods that would make her fat. It was okay though; she had more than enough on her to spare.
Why add extra?
She cut out all the fatty foods first and only ate fruits and vegetables and lean meats. It was healthy. There was improvement in her appearance and her weight shrunk down. She was happy to see the pounds simply fall off – and all she had to do was stop eating junk.
Something whispered in her ear while she was eating: how much would you lose if you just stopped eating? She heard of girls doing this and found it repugnant. Why would anyone to that to themselves? Of course, deep inside, she realized that maybe she was just too weak to achieve that level of strength those girls possessed.
Eating was weak. It didn’t make you strong; it didn’t make you happy, either. Eating only made everyone unhappy. She knew this because each time she ate the horrible sense of guilt and disgust would well up inside of her. She was never happy when she ate.
It started off small: she would halve whatever she ate, throwing one side in trash and eating the other. Then she would sneak off to her bedroom, and work out until she was sweating. If you didn’t sweat, you weren’t doing it right, she would tell herself. Soon, she started drinking eight glasses of water a day – health and calorie free. Drinking before meals diminished the hunger.
No one noticed her skipped meals or her obsession with calories. They didn’t notice that she snuck the scale into her room and stood on the flat platform, waiting for the numbers that would either make or break her. They never noticed how she would throw her food away or go to the gym twice a day for two hours. This routine was good for her – she only ate under five hundred calories and burned it all of easily.
But she wasn’t losing fast enough.
How could she be lovely if the scale said she was fat?
Once when she was younger, her and this girl made a bet to see who could last the longest without eating. She went a full day before her mother found out and made her eat again. She never thought much about it until now. The pangs of hunger were applauding her.
She wanted a standing ovation.
It was difficult to stop eating at first; the ache in her stomach wouldn’t go away for a while, but eventually she got used to it. Empty was strong. Empty was good. The only thing inside of her pretty pink stomach was water. Her insides were clean and lovely, unlike all those other girls whose were tarnished with nasty foods that would only add on pounds in the long run.
Time seemed to slow down and then speedup, spiting her out at random moments. 0ne minute she would be getting ready for bed and the next she would be standing in the kitchen with the door open, reaching for a ice cream sandwich. Other times she would get tired and lay down for what seemed like ten minutes and wake up on a completely different day.
She paid no mind to it. The dizziness, the fatigue, the hunger pangs, the disorientation – this was all signs of her strength.
The sullen skeleton of a girl remains in the mirror. She tries to steel herself against the fetid looking sight before her - but her eyes were glued open, forced to watch the stick figure staring back at her. Was this beauty? What part of that was beauty? The girl swallows thickly, bile rising from her empty stomach and rushes up. She had not eaten anything and bore no risk of any nonexistent item coming up but the acidic taste surging to her throat was putrid.
Was she going to die?
It felt like it.
Her chest burns with each inhale and exhale of air. The tight threads that hold her together coiled, stretching in order to keep her from ripping open. She could hear the echo of wind whistling through her bones; ghosting along her thinning insides. Her bones burn with effort of holding her up steady - all she wants to do was to sit down for a while, maybe close her eyes and sleep.
Everything was too hard though. It was much too cold to sleep anyway. Dazedly, her mind seems to wander all over the place, sluggish in its thinking. Her whole body was wracked with painful tremors as the weight on her shoulders ache painfully.
God, she wanted to curl up in a warm blanket on a soft bed and sleep until everything stops hurting so damn much. No – she couldn’t. Not yet anyway. She needs to find out what the hell was in the mirror, gangly and horrendous looking, that seemed to stare right into her.
Her hand rose shakily as her vision faded and she holds it out in front of her. A gasp tore from her chapped, bleeding lips as the creature in the mirror did the same thing. Was it copying her? What did it want from her? She didn’t do anything to it. No – of course she didn’t.
She made the monster.
She was the monster.
Her knees give out and she crumbles to the floor in a shuddering heap. Everything inside of her is wasting away to nothing. Struggling to sit up, she jerks her lankly hair out of her face before slowly sliding down to lie on the harden floor.
Everything was fading before her eyes.
She was blind.
No – she could see now… no, it was gone now.
Instead of rock she was lying on, it was a plush carpet that went through years of spilt makeup and food and clothing strewn around it. Her bed didn’t look like a cement block either; it was an inviting purple velvet she longed to lounge on.
She was cold.
Why didn’t someone turn the heat on? Oh – it was August and she lived inTennessee. There was a heat-wave going on outside and she had her windows open to let some of that blessed heat inside of her house. Shivering, she wraps her twig-like arms around her body and closes her eyes.
How did she ever think that this was beauty? What made her believe that everything she was doing would work out in the end? Why hadn’t she listened to anyone when they tried to help? Perfection was supposed to be comfort – all she felt was agony running like hot lava through her bones.
Bah-boom, bah-boom, bah-boom…
What was that?
Swollen eyes crack open to stare into the dusky room; a feather of orange sun light breeches through the open window, cascading in a lovely line on the carpet before her. The noise was still ringing in her ears –bah-boom, bah-boom, bah-bah-boom– at a furious pace. For a moment she thinks someone has dropped something on the floor – repeatedly, but the thought dwindles out of her mind, dissolving into nothingness.
No one was home except for her.
And that stupid, fat cat her mother insisted on keeping.
Mum…?The name slips from her open lips, caressing the icy air. A phantom of emotion she hasn’t felt in years digs through her long-dead heart, crunching and grinding up the stone incasing her still-beating organ. What would her mother say to her right now? Sobs break from her throat painfully.
Her mother was gone fishing with her father and her sister…Her family. They would be devastated if they found her like this. Didn’t they warn her? They wanted her to get better but she saw nothing that needed to be fixed. Her mother’s soft chestnut nut curls flicker like a candle in the haze of her mind. Doe eyes and dimples, and full pink lips and sundresses and the smell of vanilla and cherry assault her in the mirage of her loving mother.
Her father, too, flickers against the agony of her head. He liked to fish down by the lake a mile away from her home. He was a strong man that only cried once when the doctor read out her weight. She was disgusted whilst he was terrified. His strong, warm arms embraced her and the scent of freshly cut grass and cheap cologne was wrapped around her, his scruff scratching her thin cheek and neck as he nuzzled her close to him, afraid to lose his eldest daughter.
Chelsea. Oh, god – her sister! What was she going to tell her when she woke up? How was she going to fix years of the emotional and mental terror she inflicted on her baby sister? Their relationship spiraled downward the moment Chelsea turned to makeup and friendship bracelets and she to calories and scales. She never even told her sister that she was beautiful. Oh, oh, no – what if she ended up like her? She was too young and pretty for this. Why did she make fun of those soft curves or her baby fat?
Why wasn’t she a better sister or daughter?
Why wasn’t she perfect?
Bah-boom, bah-boom, bah-boom
Her sped up in her chest, tearing holes through her skin. It burned like someone doused her with gasoline and lit her on fire. Why couldn’t she stop the flames from eating her whole? Thick lumps formed in her throat, closing it shut as some invisible force sewed her lips together tightly. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t scream –couldn’t eat.
I promise I’ll be a good girl. I promise I’ll eat again – I promise.
The wrenching in her chest went on excruciatingly as she lies, grasping for comfort. She received nothing but flashes of smells and tastes that she long forgot. Desperately, she wanted to sit up and run to her mother, hug her tightly and kiss her father on the cheek. She wanted to tell her sister she loved her and that she was perfect. She just wanted to bewarmagain.
Images of snippets from her life flash before her in tune with slowing thumps of her heart. Breathing gets harder, like she’s inhaling a piece of cotton. She wants to close her eyes and sleep but her stomach is churning and she’s hungry – so, so hungry. Things fade from her mind but the thudding of her heart stays, slow, diminishing, spreading warmth she hasn’t felt in years through her abuse and wasting body.
Warm, so warm – it feels so good to be warm again. A tongue drags along her body, igniting her thinly flesh with a comfort she hasn’t experienced in years. It was amazing. She wants to relish in it. Nothing hurts anymore inside of her.
Bah-bah-boom, bah-bah-boom… bah-bah-bah-boom
Something switches in her mind and she’s a hazy image stand before her. Downy brown curls framed by a soft, full ivory face with flushed cheeks and full lips; a body that isn’t sickly looking but full andhealthy, hands that do not look like her grandmother’s anymore reach for her, the nails polished and not brittle. The girl does not break out into agony sweeping through her bones when she bends down, when she moves.
She stares into the full brown eyes of the girl for a second, trying to figure out who – what – she is. It hits her hard and before she can blink the image is fading into a distorted story of a girl, hunched over with a grimace of pain on her face. It’s her. Both of them are her – one from before, when everything was easy and life was chocolate cake and sugar cookies and her mother’s pot roast with her father’s special mashed potatoes, and her sister’s concoction of brownies made from a package of muffins and cookies that were left over one summer. It’s hot and humid and lovely and she can smellsummer, spring, fall, and winterin the air as her family sit in the back porch, watching the fireworks in the sky. Her mother’s arm wraps around her shoulders and pulls her against a plush chest, kissing her damp forehead from the humidity sticking to everything.Chelseachases a firefly around the yard as her father stands at the barbeque, smiling up at them. That stupid, fat cat purrs and nuzzles her leg before bounding down the stairs in case of a moth that fluttered by. Everything is perfect and beautiful as bites into a roasted marshmallow and laughs with her family.
The girl from now, however, is still hunched in pain, a bitter chill sweeping over her. No one is standing beside her, no one is kissing her forehead or hugging her. There is no chocolate, no marshmallows, no potatoes or her favorite pot roast, no cookies or brownies or muffins. There is a book with measurements jotted down and a scale she stands on with a frown. Numbers, calories, hunger pangs, cold, thin, thin, thin, now thinner; be skinny, be lovely. Be broken and cold and alone. Haunted eyes dart to her face and a skeletal hand pokes out toward her.
The girl shivers and reaches out to the smiling, happy family from before only to hand cold, dead hands wrench her backward into the icy chill. She opens her mouth to scream but nothing comes out. Struggling against the hold on her arms, she pushes and tugs herself free of the grasp and runs to her family, a cry of help on her lips. Just as her hand reaches out to grasp her mother, the woman turns and her hand catches only a lock of brown hair before it fades into smoke.
Turning around, she watches with horror filled eyes as the attenuated girl looks up with haggard eyes before crumbling to ash. She screams, the sound echoes in the darkness as cold, dead fingers latch onto her and pull her down. Struggling against the iron grasp was futile in her efforts, but she still tried, desperate to free herself.
For a moment she thinks she might have been under water as the tides crash into her wilted body – her lungs burns like she was breathing in saltwater and the concrete walls of water shake her body back and forth. Her mind was a mess of incomplete thoughts and feelings: her parents rushed by in chunks, her sister in willowy snippets, a family gathering, her school, and friends.
Was she going to die?
The raging tidewater raged violently around her – pushing and shoving her into boulders with rough edges that dug talon like claws into her skin, piercing through the nonexistent flesh, scraping against the malleable bone, and surging past the decaying organs.
She wants it to just –stop. It’s over almost as soon as it began, leaving her breathless in the dark, stumbling around for an exit. Unseen forces are poking and prodding at her skin, infecting her with a strange sense of calamity, of warmth that has not been present since this night. It’s relaxing and she could almost lie down for a while, just to sleep. She hasn’t done much of that in a long time. The unfamiliar comfort drapes over her like a blanket and soft, hot hands rub over her, coaxing her into slumber.
Sleep, eat, breathe– simple things that normal people do but were so hard for her now blurs in the backdrop of the scope of nothingness that surrounds her docile body. She was dilapidating – she knew this for a fact. Everything around her was numb; she couldn’t feel her fingers, her toes, her arms, legs, or head.
Bah-boom, bah-boom, bah-boom…
A disembodied noise cooed in her ear softly. She enervated to answer back and let the languid voice befall on her once more. It sounded so saccharine to her, like a lullaby. It grew frantic when she didn’t respond – urgency ringing cutting through the dark.
“…Sweetie! Oh – God, can you hear me?”
Buzzing filled her brain, bouncing back and forth against the spongy walls. “Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”
She heard now all her had to do now was to just flex her hand slightly. She could do it – it would be easy. Just squeeze and let them know she was okay.I’m okay – I’m fine!
“I-is she okay?”
“Come on, baby…”
“You’re going to be okay.”
She could feel it deep in her marrow – in her abused body: she was going to be okay. After years of struggling, she was going to beokay.That word ignites a flame inside of the darkness and suddenly she could see everything through unveiled eyes; it was so clear to her. Whiteness seeped into the shrouded corners and filled up the vacancy with a bright light and warmth. The sand that clogged her throat for so long drains to nothing. Her lungs let out a final whoosh of the last remains of cement before it takes in helium that makes her feel weightless.
Cracked, deadened lips chip away into the fresh breeze and she smiles, her once heavy eyelids feeling like feathers. She opens them wide and takes in the beauty around her.
The final clutches of the boney hands slip away from her, dropping into the left over ashes on the ground. She watches through cloudless eyes as the smell of chocolate cake and marshmallows, and pot roast and potatoes is fresh in her mind, on her tongue.
Her smile grows bigger.
She’s finally free.