You always want to be skinnier, always smaller, than your friends. You envy slender people – it just looks so natural, so good, so right. You measure yourself against them in your mind, forever comparing.
When you are the smallest in the group, you’re relaxed. You think you have it all. Then you run into a girl from your school at the theater. A girl who is skinnier than you. And prettier. From then on, your smile is faked, and you go home to cry yourself asleep, because you feel fat and ugly.
In the morning you skip breakfast, have nothing but a low fat latte for lunch, and then an apple for dinner, and you think that because you ate so little you are higher than everyone.
You look in the mirror and imagine your belly has shrunk and your legs are thinner, and scoff at the girl in the theater, thinking, just you wait until you see me in a bikini. You’ve got nothing on me.
But the next day you go to a party, and you drink soda and eat a hot dog. You try to pace yourself, and take pride in the fact that you’re at least eating less than the girl.
You find an excuse to throw away your cake. You suck in your stomach. You mope. You can’t help but stare at the skinnier girl, envying her for her body, and you accidentally make eye contact.
She goes home and looks at herself in the mirror, checking from all angles. Then she turns to the toilet and gets rid of all the food she’d ingested at the party. She had noticed the one girl staring at her. Maybe she was disgusted by how fat she is. Maybe she was sneering at her, showing off her naturally skinny self, begging her to be jealous.
The girl wipes her mouth and pops in some mint gum. I’ll show her, she thinks. She skips dinner, but at midnight is drawn to the kitchen, her stomach on fire. She opens the freezer, wanting something with chocolate.
She pulls out the ice cream and goes to her room with it. Every last spoonful goes down her throat, the throat that is raw and sore from throwing up the acids inside of her.
Then she tosses the empty carton in the trash, horrified at what she has done. Panicking, she runs to the bathroom and sticks her finger down her throat, bending once more over the toilet. Satisfied, she slumps down on the wall behind her, exhausted from the endless cycle.
The woman is finished with college. She is a little unsteady on her feet as she walks to the local YMCA. She signs in and heads to the first open treadmill that she sees.
Someone whistles at her as she begins to jog. In a way, this makes her happy. She was rarely whistled at before she lost her whopping twenty pounds.
After five minutes her head hurts as though it might split. She had eaten a carrot and some lettuce before coming, feeling like a rabbit all the while. But it’s good for you, right? Although, she couldn’t help but crave a steak afterwards.
She shakes her head, gasping at the pain it causes her. It’s getting harder to breathe, and her legs are burning. But she pushes herself, like always.
When she steps off the treadmill after a good six miles, she is shaking and her eyes keep clouding over. And old woman asks if she’s alright.
“I’m fine,” she say, “I just need some water.”
The old woman hands her a bottle of water and starts rambling off about how one time she got dehydrated and had to get an IV stuck in her arm.
“You should really make certain you get enough water to drink, especially in the summer and when you work out.”
She nods, still shaking, but not as badly.
“Thanks,” she says, handing back the bottle.
She stands up and takes one step before passing out
When she comes to she’s in a hospital bed. She hears voices near her and she strains to listen in.
“…malnourished and exhausted. I know a psychiatrist that could help. He specializes in these cases. I’ll find you his number, if you’d like.”
“You mean, she’s done this to herself?”
“She was on brink of starvation when we got to her. If she has money for a membership at the gym, then she has the money to buy herself food. I’m sorry, but your daughter has a serious eating disorder.”
It’s a week after the party. You haven’t seen the one girl since then. You hope she is out of your life for good. Maybe she’ll transfer to another school so that next month I won’t have to see her again, you think.
You decide to take your new car to the mall and shop for clothes. You think the ones you have make you look fat.
You try on a dress, size extra small, thank you very much. But as soon as you see yourself in that fitted thing, your mind begins to look for nonexistent folds of skin, and when you look at it from the back, it’s not as slender as you’d thought it would be.
You yank it off and throw it on the ground.
“You lie!” You whisper to the mirror, “I’m not fat! I will never be fat!”
Two seconds later and you’re thinking, I’m fat. I’m a pig. I’m disgusting and everyone knows it. You start crying on the floor of the dressing room.
“Oh, God! Why can’t you do a miracle and make me skinny like her? Why did you make me like this? Do you hate me? Is this punishment? What have I done for you to make me like this?”
You calm yourself down when you remember where you are and you wipe your tears. The attendant looks at you funny as you hand her the dress.
You realize your makeup has probably smeared, but you don’t really care. You exit the building and get in your car. Driving on the highway, you find yourself going over the speed limit. In a way, it’s thrilling, and for a moment you see yourself going as fast as you can, windows down and your hair whipping behind you.
You press down on the pedal. There are hardly any cars on the road, so there is no stopping you. You are flying.
The first day of school is a silent one. People are still in shock over what happened the month before. The girl has almost nothing to say to her friends.
She was my rival, she thinks. I have killed her. It’s my fault . I wished her dead so many times, she didn’t stand a chance. But she knows she’s lying to herself.
She remembers attending the memorial service. The whole time she had sat without a word. A choir had sung, and the pastor had spoken of the sweet, young life that had been taken, and how he had known the girl from her attendance at the church. I didn’t know she went to church, the girl had thought.
She remembers how she, upon returning home, had sat down to a normal meal. And when she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, she hadn’t even glanced at the toilet.
That night when she went to bed, she had cried. Not for herself, but for the life that was gone from the world, snapped up just like that. She had cried for the family that had lost their daughter, and for those who had lost a friend. She had cried because she wished she could have been nice to her, instead of envying her for petty things.
“I’m sorry,” she had said out loud. She wasn’t exactly sure who she’d meant it for.
She walks through the hallway with her friends. They talk about boys and little siblings. She asks if they want to go to pizza on Saturday.
“Seriously?” One girl asks her, “Think of the carbs!”
“Yeah, I know. But just for once, could we forget carbohydrates and simply enjoy some good food?”
They look at her likes she’s crazy, but one after the other they nod their heads yes. She smiles, truly proud of herself for what she has done.
The woman is walking past the school. She looks at the teenagers in their various circles and prays that they will make it through every hardship that comes their way. One girl sees her, still laughing at something her friend has said. The girl catches her eye and waves a little.
“Do you know that lady?” Her friend asks.
“No,” the girl says, “but I feel as though she knows me.”
The woman continues on, lighthearted and happy, feeling as though, for the first time in her life, she is alive.