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Watch Me Rain Til' I Pour
It is a dismal and ominous world when one’s own reflection is his/her worst enemy. In a world of deception and betrayal, who can be trusted if not one’s own sense of being? My world spun around this self afflicted revulsion and it consumed my every waking moment, dictating the disposition and demeanor of my days.
It was set into motion by a headache, a slight throb just left of my right temple. Nothing of particular significance, a mere blemish in an otherwise typical day. But as the numbing effects of Tylenol faded, the slight throb had turned to a raging migraine, now accompanied by a dull aching throughout my body. Days passed and I quickly noted the consequences of consuming my everyday meals, nutritious and well balanced meals for which I had a normally healthy appetite. A nauseating queasiness would devour my insides, and I dreaded each spoonful more than the last, an unexplainable fatigue meanwhile plaguing my bones. Doctor visits revealed very little, only that whatever it was that was afflicting me was not anything they had expected it to be. I winced as they poked and prodded with needles at the nearest hospital later that evening, a bare, icy confinement, much resembling the wintry night just beyond the automatic doors. I allowed my eyes to follow the crimson fluid through the sterilized tubes, a mere shadow of my former self: anemic, exhausted, and fifteen pounds lighter than before. The diagnosis was unsettling, but a relief: a severe case of mononucleosis, one that I would not fully recover from for more than two years.
It is a queer thing how the opinions and commentary of others, particularly those of importance, affect one’s existence. For when I returned to the familiar tempo of my ordinary life, I found I was somehow different than before in the eyes of those around me.
“Why, Bridgette!” they’d exclaim giddily, “Just look at that figure of yours! I do believe you are coming into your own! How thin you’ve become.”
Never before in my life had I paid particular attention to the rise and fall of the numbers upon the scale, nor had I questioned my appearance. I was by no means ever heavy, but then again, I was no waif of a girl either. These compliments were a bit disheartening, as well meant as they may have been. Their comments spun through my mind, and I poked and prodded my life just as the needles had done to my veins, imploring, “Had I really been so bad before?”
I don’t quite know how or what day it happened. Whether it was in the heat of August or in a late spring shower of April is beyond my recollection, however; something vile and greedy was consuming me, a dark, ugly creature taking up residence inside of my life. If I had only seen this bane of existence approaching, perhaps I might have put an end to it, but its arrival was slow and furtive, so that only when its true hideous nature appeared would I begin to recognize it.
It began with my midday meals, and that filthy creature would whisper in my ear.
“Why so much?” Its steely voice would hiss as I pulled a turkey sandwich from my brown bag.
“I’m hungry,” I would reply, “my stomach is growling so loud I think everyone can hear it.”
My stealthy friend would explain that these grumbles of my abdomen were a good sign and would scold against indulgence, although I rarely had enough to satisfy. Once my lunches were small enough, the monster moved on to my morning meals, berating me with every morsel I took in.
“Look at yourself!” It would lament, “And look at the girl sitting next to you. She is delicate and thin. She is beautiful. Don’t you want to look like her?”
Try as I might, I couldn’t resist. I told myself I wanted that beauty, and in my eyes that image of beauty became increasingly skeletal as the weeks flew by. So thin was she that it was nearly impossible for my own frame to encompass her. It became like trying to constrict a size seven foot into a size two shoe. The bitter truth was, however, I wanted the control this horrid beast seemed to grant me. At a time in my life when I was between the innocence of a child and the reflection of a woman, I needed some authority over who I was and what I was becoming.
Only the honesty of my dearest friend, Rachel, would awaken my senses to the harsh reality. Now, Rachel was of a precocious sort, never one to enter into my current state. But then again, five years ago I would’ve believed the same about myself. She was the classic definition of beauty, tall and slim with the elegant posture and physique of a dancer. Her golden locks, always neatly set on her delicate shoulders, were the perfect compliment to her sun kissed complexion. We were an odd pairing, to say the least. I was short, never surpassing an inch over five feet. My hair was blonde as well, but resembled the murky dullness of dishwater. I had acne, although noting severe, and an obnoxious mouthful of braces, all framed by a large pair of heavy prescription glasses, illuminating my increasingly gaunt cheeks with the glare of the fluorescent lighting of the cafeteria.
One day we sat on either side of the corner cafeteria table, as was our custom, recounting my humorous dissection of Freddy the Frog in my previous class. I observed Rachel was not listening as she normally did. She was not rude, and had I not known Rachel since our first week of kindergarten, I might not have taken notice. She looked at me, but her gaze was not comprehensive and I could tell Freddy the Frog had not had his full comedic affect; instead her gaze was inquisitive. I went on in my tale, becoming evermore aware of my current state. I was wrapped inside a hoodie, size small, and two t-shirts beneath, one size small and the other a medium, but only because I was wearing it over top of another and another small would’ve been uncomfortable. Over that I was zipped inside a fleece jacket, it was a size large, but only because the jacket ran small at the store. I was becoming increasingly aware of the sizes of my wardrobe, an aspect of my life which held no particular importance prior to this time. I was so cold; donning three or four layers became habitual for me. I shivered, and pulled my bony hands inside my sleeves after nudging my untouched lunch bag a little further to the side. Continuing on in my tale, I was interrupted as she reached across the table to touch her hand to mine.
“Bridgette…” she began, her eyes wandering to my unopened lunch sack. “Are you feeling alright? You’re so…skinny…”
I was stunned. It was true; I was beginning to notice changes in my appearance. As little as I really wanted to admit it, I was occupying the space in front of my mirror a little more each day, pinching my stomach in disgust at the “fat” oozing off my body. But Rachel was noticing changes of a whole different sort.
“What do you mean?” I answered coolly. “I’m fine.”
Her eyes were sad, and she cleverly attempted to direct the conversation her way.
“Aren’t you hungry? You used to always eat all of your lunch before and…”
This enraged me. The little monster in my ear was shrieking, pointing his gnarly finger at my closest friend, a girl who had nothing but my best interest at heart. How dare she accuse you? How dare she question you? What business was it of hers? Hot tears taunted the corners of my eyes and I pushed them away with a deliberate sense of rage.
“What are you trying to say?” I cut her off, hardly recognizing the voice coming from within me. “Are you saying I’m fat? Is that what it is?”
Helplessly she gripped my hand harder as I pulled away from her in a nearly unconscious fit of fury.
“No, Bee!” She pleaded, using my longtime nickname, her last resort. “I’m saying you’re a rail! Look at you!”
I glared, suddenly noticing the tears gracing her soft lashes. “I am not!” I returned. “I’m disgusting…I’m sorry I can’t be as pretty as you, ok? But that doesn’t mean you need to barge in on my business!”
She released her grasp, as quickly as one would retreat from a hot stove. Even I was alarmed by my sudden outburst.
“What?” she mustered.
“Just stay out of my life, okay?” I threw at her, regretting every syllable as it left my lips, but realizing it was too late to take any of it back. I stood and turned to walk away, leaving my brown bag lunch of four saltine crackers, sandwiched with a layer of cheese I would have thrown away, resting on the table, trying to ignore the incessant cries from my empty stomach, and the mournful moans of my empty heart.
Thoroughly disgusted with my deeds, I muddled down the empty hallway towards the girls restroom, loathing my exterior the more I despised my interior. Humiliated by my grand display of emotions, I flung myself at a sink basin, letting my tears fall through the drain in place of water. My hands quivered, thin pieces of flesh stretched across bone, and I lifted my chin to gaze at my reflection in the mirror. My face was a mere resemblance of what I once was, and I noted the deep indentations at my temples, made evermore noticeable if I was to chew or yawn. My dimples, too, had faded from my face. It seemed my whole body was disproportionate, particularly my skull itself, which sat on my small frame so that I appeared only a caricature of the Bridgette I once was. I was thin, just as she had said, but this brought me pleasure, for in some slight way I had gained an upper hand in my ever changing life. Somehow the 85 on my last math test and the mortifying failure of a solo audition in chorus class was all the more bearable because at least I was losing weight. A comatose smile rose to my pasty lips and I rubbed away the mascara stains on my cheeks, trying to forget that I had lost my strongest weapon against my disease in the cafeteria a moment earlier. My one true friend, who was willing to fight for me even if I was unwilling to fight for myself.
I would not speak to Rachel for the rest of the following week, although she would attempt to reach out to me in multiple forms. Notes slipped into my books and messages from friends were all useless to me. With each breath I took I was falling deeper and deeper into the wrath of my troubles. Home life, too, was a source of problems for me, although here my problems were met with another reaction altogether.
I could survive the anger my mother shot at me. I was a teenager, after all, and quarrels were quite common, making it easy to ignore her quips at dinnertime about my small portion sizes or refusal to eat all of my meal. What was most disheartening was the look in my father’s eyes as he watched his little girl fade away, devoid of the brilliance and life she once embodied. He couldn’t understand it, nor did I expect him to. We no longer talked as we used to, because talking might lead to questions. Questions about why my hair was falling out on my pillow each night, or why I had refused my favorite dessert the evening before last, or why I had recently acquired a penchant for recipes, but no appetite for their results. I was dying in every sense of the word. A mere shell of the girl I once was.
No reality of my predicament seemed to strike me at the time. I had been without a menstrual cycle for nearly six months, a peach-fuzz like hair coated my aching body, every virus and illness that ran the halls of my middle school took up residence in my body, and worst of all, I stopped feeling hunger, yet I believed the downward spiral my life was on was a natural part of the teenage experience. Until one morning as I hurriedly changed out of my pajamas for school I caught my reflection over my shoulder in the mirror. Every bone in my body stood clearly visible to me. With a frail hand I traced each rib through my skin and took in the protruding hip bones with disgust. A pair of sunken eyes stared back at me through the smooth glass, eyes I no longer recognized. This was not beauty; I had missed beauty a long time ago. Beauty was eight months behind me in the eyes of the girl I once was. The girl everyone had loved, but now avoided. The girl with good grades and a beautiful voice, who now struggled to stay awake and hear the music. Now she was friendless, alone, and a living skeleton. Exhausted, malnourished physically and emotionally, I collapsed to my bedroom floor, a pile of bones in a bag of thin bluish flesh, sobs rattling my frame in gasps of despair. Faintly from within my brittle tomb I felt a quickening flutter. My heart sped at a frightening rate and I clutched my hand to my chest, clenching my eyes as tears spouted from them, terrified, and finally realizing…completely out of control. My breathing quickened to the tempo of the racing beats, so unreal to me. I was going to die on the floor of my bedroom. I didn’t want to die, and worst of all I didn’t want my family to find me the way I was, a heap of carcass. I didn’t want them to have to explain to my younger sister that I had cared too much about what I weighed to be with her while she built a snowman this winter. I wanted to be there, all of me. As quickly as it had begun my breathing and the pounding of my heart slowed to their normal patterns and I sobbed even harder now, thanking God that I would get to build a snowman.
In time I gathered myself to my feet and managed to dress myself, now completely in size extra small shirts and size zero pants, a fact which on any other day I would’ve taken pride in. Today, however; I felt enlightened. I couldn’t live like this anymore and wasn’t going to try. With a shaking hand I fed myself a piece of toast that morning, and nervously left a note in blue ink on a paper towel, leaving it on my mother’s coffee pot where she would be sure to spot it when she woke. It read, “Mom, I’m sorry and I love you. Call the doctor. Love Bridgette” I contemplated throwing it away at least six times before I left the house that morning, my little gremlin shrieking as I walked out the door, but I couldn’t get the memory of my pounding heart out of my mind, and it remained a stark clean white against the black of the machine.
As I entered the school building that April morning, I felt an aura of hope surround my being, and was surprised at the celerity with which I found Rachel. She was at her locker, organizing a neat stack of books on the tiled floor beneath us and did not notice my approach. I reached out to her with a trembling hand to touch her arm. Her eyes first met mine with resentment, but soon focused to a sympathetic calm.
“I need help.” I said, “And I’m sorry.”
Her reply was brief, but full of conviction.
“I know.” she smiled. “And I’m here.”