A story inspired by personal experience.
The alarm goes off, but I’m still exhausted. In my mind, I tell myself to reach over and push the snooze, but my arms feel too heavy to lift. I sigh heavily, willing myself to sink deeper into my pillows to drown out the relentless and dreadful blaring.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP…
The racket becomes too much to bear, and I grumpily realize that the time for sleep has passed. Scowling, I drag my weak and achy bones out of bed. A wave of intense dizziness overcomes me as soon as I stand up, causing my blurry morning vision to go black. I brace myself on the desk and shut my eyes tightly until the moment passes.
I groggily grab whatever clothes are at the tops of my drawers and start getting dressed. As I do, I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror across the room. My green eyes are rimmed with red and my tangly brown hair resembles a rat’s nest. My hips and lower body fill out my jeans just a bit too much, and despite the muscle definition in my abs, my waist isn’t as small as I’d like. My thighs rub together in a way that is almost gruesome, and I pick out little pinches of unnecessary fat here and there on my neck and upper arms. I frown, seeing a body that makes me feel hopeless.
After washing my face and running a brush through my long messy hair, I meander downstairs, where I can hear my parents in their room getting ready for work.
“There’s some freshly cut fruit in the fridge, Honey!” my mom calls down the hallway as I walk into the kitchen. “And serve yourself some scrambled eggs from the stove!”
“Thanks, Mom!” I shout back, scooping up my backpack and slinging it over my shoulder. “I’ll see you guys tonight!”
I’m not hungry, so all I grab is a plastic bottle of water before heading out the door. Even though I got my driver’s license last year, I prefer to walk to school. The fresh air always helps to clear my head, preparing me for a long day of arduous classes.
As usual, the school day passes by awfully slowly. I manage to make it through Economics, but fall asleep taking notes in Calculus and Psychology. It’s been getting harder and harder to concentrate in my classes. For some reason, my mind and body wake up each day even more utterly weak and exhausted than the last. With my high school graduation coming up this spring, I chalk it all up to a bad case of Senioritis. All I have to do is survive this semester, and then I’ll be free…or out of this funk, at least.
Finally, the bell rings to graciously release us for lunch. The hallways are suddenly bustling with chatty students, all making their way towards the crowded cafeteria. I spot my three friends sitting down at our usual table in the back corner and quicken my pace to meet them. Time to put on a smile and act like I don’t feel like a total zombie.
“Hey guys!” I say, plopping down into my seat with a grin. The girls respond with energetic greetings and smiles. My best friend Gwen is sitting to my right, very tall and lean, with an athletic build from all her years on the track team. She has warm tan skin and friendly almond-shaped eyes. Sitting on the other side of the table, Melia is the exact opposite of Gwen. Short and pale, her body is shaped with luscious curves that draw everyone’s eyes, boy and girl alike. Summer sits beside her, averaging the two of them with her long curly hair, dimples, and usual blue mascara. They are a perfect little trio.
I don’t know where I fit in.
As Melia catches us up on the latest drama, Summer pulls out her lunch box and a huge carton of goldfish crackers. No one questions it; that’s just Summer. Madeline also retrieves her lunch box, Melia makes some comment about the line being too long, and I just sit with that same plastered smile. We transition between topics of boys, girls we don’t like, homework, teacher’s we don’t like, and more boys. This is how lunch always goes.
“Anyone want some grapes?” Gwen asks. “I packed a ton.”
Summer giddily stretches out her palm to receive a handful. Melia declines the offer, but I take one because I know my best friend will give me crap about it if I don’t.
“Suit yourself, Melia,” Gwen says with a shrug. “I really need to fuel up for track practice today, anyway. We’re running a mile or two and hitting the gym.”
My mouth explodes with the sweet flavor and juicy texture of the grape. Immediately, I feel energy seeping into my muscles. Nobody seems to notice the immense impact the tiny bit of food has on my weakened body, as Summer casually munches on her goldfish.
I survive my last three classes and am finally home. For the first time all day, my stomach twinges with hunger. I brush it off and run up to my room to change into my workout clothes. Usually, I run about six or seven miles after school every day, then do some extra cardio and abs exercises in my dad’s small gym in the garage. It sets me up for a pretty rigorous afternoon, but I depend on the exercise to ease my stress.
I pore over my reflection again as I change, zeroing in on every small detail of my body that isn’t up to par. I hate being chubby.
My feet ache as I step into my tennis shoes. Running long distances every day is torture for my poor feet. My toes have grown to resemble squashed cherry tomatoes—red, smashed, and awkward-looking. Some of the toenails have even fallen off. But I can’t stop running. I need it like a drug.
I endure through the run and start my gym exercises. Although I am absolutely exhausted, anytime I think of giving up, the image of myself in the mirror flashes through my mind and pushes me onward. With no energy to keep my body going, my strength comes from sheer willpower. Finally finished, I drag my trembling body inside the house to find both my parents already home from work and sitting on the living room couch…waiting for me.
It’s odd that they are home early. I usually try to finish my workout before their arrival to keep them from worrying.
“Workin’ out?” Dad asks.
“Yeah, I better shower.” Why is he suddenly interested?
“Well, Sweetie, your mother and I were wondering if we could talk to you about something really quick.”
My blood runs cold. “Sure,” I mumble, very reluctantly. What is going on?
“Have you been doing okay? Anything going on at school?” Dad asks hesitantly. “You know we are here for you, and you can always talk to us.”
“I’m fine, guys, really,” I say, feeling my insides begin to knot together. I could tell they were concerned about something, and it made me anxious.
“Well, we noticed that you haven’t been hanging out with your friends as much, and you spend a lot of time working out in the garage.”
To myself, I think of all the times the girls ask to hang out with me, but I make up some excuse. It means they usually want to go out to eat, and I’m just not up for fast food. Way too many calories. “We’ve all been busy,” I respond.
“You never eat the food I leave out for you,” Mom adds gently. “It always ends up wasted in the trash, or I see that you’ve hidden it in the fridge with the other leftovers.”
“I’m just not that hungry. And there’s plenty of meat on these bones.”
Mom and Dad look at each other with suppressed alarm. “Well, Honey, it appears that you have some symptoms of an eating disorder, and we’d really like it if you would consider seeing someone about it.”
Dad’s words make my heart pound, and feelings of dread immediately seep into my gut. “You think there’s something wrong with me?” My voice trembles, and I notice that my hands are shaking uncontrollably.
“No, of course not,” Mom says quickly. “You’re a wonderfully talented and beautiful girl, but we’ve found someone who’s an expert in this area and we think they could really help you—”
“I’m not going to see anyone, okay, I’m fine!” I burst, before running up to my room. Another dizzy spout washes over me on the stairs, but I push past it and somehow find myself on my bed.
Then the tears come.
I think of how it all started. Seeing the girls on Instagram with their perfectly shaped bodies, my friends all wearing their size 2 and size 4 jeans. I hated pictures of myself. I hated clothes-shopping. I hated being just a regular sized girl. Although most would consider me very thin, healthy, and athletic, it wasn’t enough. I started exercising vigorously every day, eating less and less until I ate almost nothing at all. The pounds were dropping, but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know when, what, or even how to eat anymore. Rather than a life force, food had become something horrendous to be avoided at all costs. Yet, there were some days when I couldn’t stop myself from consuming everything in sight. There was no balance. When I took showers, I’d find huge chunks of my dying hair on the floor, swept down the drain just like my miserable life.
I sit up on my bed, and this time when I look into the mirror, I see the girl that everyone else sees. A girl with dark bags under her puffy lifeless eyes. Her once beautifully thick hair is thinning and raggedy. Her ribs show through her sides and her limbs resemble sharply defined twigs. Her shoulder blades protrude from her skin, and her bra lays flat on her small chest, with nothing to support. Even the bones in her face are sharp, having none of the softness and beauty that had once filled her cheeks.
And that’s when I finally realize how desperately I need help.
The following morning, Mom drives me to the building where I will meet with a specialist. From the car, it looks large and intimidating, and I anxiously wonder what fate awaits me inside. The landscaping is beautiful, with many colorful flowerbeds and freshly cut grass. As I follow my mom up the brick pathway, my eyes are drawn to a small patch of marigolds.
They are as colorful as a sunset, radiating shades of bright yellow, orange, and gold, and they happily grow up towards the brilliant blue sky. The marigold that catches my attention is one that grows a few inches outside of the patch, wearily shirking away from the sun. Its petals are dull and dried out, slowly withering away. It looks so sad and lonely, as if it just wants to be happy like its bright breaming friends.
Suddenly, I realize that there is a large stone blocking the drip system water from reaching the little marigold. I quickly kneel down and move the stone out of the way, and water instantly begins to splash toward the poor lonely marigold. It absorbs the water into its tiny roots gratefully, and I can almost feel the warmth and joy radiating from its dull petals, now glistening with moisture.
I smile, feeling truly energized for the first time in months. “We’ll get better together,” I whisper to my little marigold. And with that, I stand up and follow Mom into the specialist’s office.