The sound of the alarm pierces my eardrums. I had been muting out her yelling the night before by swiveling the volume knob to “max” on the portable CD player. I had chosen something intense like Nirvana. Her voice is still in my head, and I can’t recall how I had angered her last night. Maybe I accidently used a possessive pronoun again. She can’t stand it when I say I’m going to my room. Or maybe she misjudged a glance. She looses it when she thinks I looked at her forehead wrinkles. She now sleeps soundly on the couch. She hasn’t been there long, because she was fuming with insults from 1:00-3:00. Background arguments on Jerry Springer sound like calm discussion.
Time for lunges, crunches, and push-ups. My body runs on nothing but the adrenaline given from the drum beats in my headphones. I have become an expert at working like this. My energy looks strong. It’s not natural.
There’s no time for breaks. It’s time to run. I creep past the couch where she snores with an open mouth, her face fully made-up, and slip out the back door. I’ll see how much I can run until 6:30.
I’m on my final sprint back to the house. I know she is awake, because when I arrive back, I’m locked out of the house. One of her few investments is changing the locks. Among others is her unworn $2,000 fox coat and her $3,000 persian rug, both which are hidden upstairs in the attic. Neither will ever be used. I decide to use an alternative entry she doesn’t know about yet– the shed. There’s no light, even from the outside. I scale the walls, praying I don’t stick my hands in an insect nest. I make it to the roofing area and step along the thin, vertical planks, trying to avoid the itchy cotton insulation. I move skillfully through the darkness, but I’m still wary of what I cannot see. After squeezing through that familiar, yet mysterious tunnel, I get to the attic and push my way through the soft furs and fabrics until I can feel the doorknob.
I listen against the walls to know exactly where she is. When the timing is right, I slip into the kitchen to grab my pre-made faux lunch and my backpack and quickly escape back through the darkness unnoticed. I rush for school.
The smell of grass on my walk to school is therapeutic to my troubled pre-teen mind. My breath, however, smells rank. I was able to clean my teeth with what she said I “should be grateful to use since it is what celebrities use”– baking soda and with a rinse of peroxide–but it wasn’t enough. The cleaning mixture was eating my enamel. I hadn’t consumed anything that morning, or the night before, or the 3 days before that, so I couldn’t rid my breath of its sickly stench.
Half way through the school day.
After being weighed down by the eyes of every person in the cafeteria, I am finally engaged by one person- the principal. As if making a public announcement, he tells me the counselor wants to meet with me now. I grab the plastic sack that is filled with my hardly touched lunch– one slice of imitation crab meat and three carrots. It stood out among the paper brown lunch bags at those long, endless rectangular lunch tables. I could stare down and see classmates embarrassed to discover napkin-notes written to them by their parents. Sometimes I would cry, knowing I would never receive one written from anyone other than myself. But I have expertly trained my mind how to quickly block out thoughts like these, and I’m already calculating how many calories I consumed from that bite of crab. I’m achingly pulling myself up from my seat, conscious that every eye, young and old, is still on me.
I arrive at the office of the middle school counselor.
“Jessica, you’ve lost a lot of weight rather quickly, and you were already so small. What happened?”
“Oh, I just cut out junk food,” I lie, tears emerging.
“Everyone is talking about you. They’re concerned.”
When I get upset I become mute, and thoughts become chaotic.
The only thing I am able to force myself to say before leaving is, “Well, no one has mentioned anything to me“.
Cheer Practice. Gymnastics drills. Standing back-handsprings and toe-touches, my old fortes. With comparatively great force and no strength, I hurl my frail body into the air and into a bridge. It crumbles to the ground, neck first. Frankie, the three-hundred plus pound owner of the gym and coach of the teams yells across the gym, “Did you eat anything today? What the hell did you eat?”. Again, everyone stares and awaits my reply. While I pray to fall victim to my emerging faint, I am able to utter, “Baked potatoes, sir”. Everyone’s whispering.
Now that I’ve returned to the house she wants to exercise, so she brings me along for encouragement. I emit fake eagerness. I grab a single strawberry for the twenty minute ride to the free gym in Bartlett, TN. I nurse on half of its sweet fruity nectar, consuming more saliva than anything else. I put the other half in the car drink holder so when I finish exercising, I can eat the rest, if I’m feeling up to it. While running on the treadmill, I glance over and become encompassed by her glare. I’m struggling to breathe. I get home and put the other half of the strawberry in the fridge.
She has replanted herself on the couch. I sneak next door into the kitchen to satisfy my cravings with the sweet and salty smell of peanut-butter. She hears the untwisting of the jar, uproots herself, and clomps toward the kitchen in her dirty, white high-heels to make sure I’m not about to eat the food the she bought. I flee for the bedroom.
I am again struggling to open my eyes, but when I finally succeed, I see the hand of the scale reach up to the 79 pound mark. I drop my towel and do my daily examination of my undeveloped twelve year-old body. My once famously strong legs have morphed into a life size anatomy and physiology skeletal study guide. I rub my hands down my ribs and feel a perfect wash-board; a strong six-pack cannot compete with this. My face sinks into my cheeks, creating shadows. I check my backside. My butt is more than gone, it has caved in completely to resemble something astonishingly frightening like the drop-offs of the grand canyon. She used to be embarrassed that I had curves.
The thermostat in the shower works, but my internal body temperature can not regulate itself well enough to deal with neither the hot nor the cold. Chills and sweats. I gently put my hand to my head and pull it away to find it laced in a glove of hair. The drain, clogged.
I do all the house cleaning without being asked. Then homework, extra credit, and studying. Anything to be the best. Maybe one day she will know that I make straight A’s.
I finally collapse into the bed, but my body is weak and restless. My stomach growls so violently that I can feel it eating itself, but I’m more afraid that the sound is going to wake her up.
She bursts in, grabs the first thing she sees- my backpack- and in rage skillfully transforms my papers into insignificant confetti.
“How dare you get into bed without wishing your own Mother good-night. You’re disgusting and anything but a daughter. I pray you burn in hell.”
“I just thought you were already…”
But she can’t even hear herself.
I get out through the back door. Her voice permeates through the walls of the house and pollutes the outdoors. I’ll sleep on the trampoline again tonight. I’ll search for star formations. I’ll escape.