I struggle to remember how I got here. Somehow, I’ve ended up on the floor of my bathroom, the grout filled canyons between pine green tiles already paining my knees.
My head rests on the cool rim of the toilet seat, as the remains of countless candy bars and chips swirl down the drain, leaving behind only a harsh, bitter smell. It will linger for hours.
I try and remember how it began, when I first started to hoard food under my bed to eat well past when I should have gone to sleep. It started with a spoonful of peanut butter right before bed. Then it turned to two spoonfuls, then three, then four, then I added other foods, junk food mainly. The drawer under my bed cluttered with chocolate bars, chips, cereal, energy bars.
I had to hide it all: the wrappers, the stress and sugar induced acne, my fears. No one would understand that this wasn’t some desperate attempt to be sexy. I just wanted to be healthy. I didn’t come up with this idea on my own.
* * *
I’ve always been small. I grew up being called skinny, bean-pole, thin as a rail. Until recently it never bothered me. But then something changed.
It started off as a seemingly innocent conversation. She stopped me in the hallway and asked how my lunch went, if I had eaten anything good, if I finished my food. A bit strange, but then again, most librarians are a bit odd.
But the questions didn’t stop. Soon she was asking every day, the same questions, always trying to find out how much I was eating. I couldn’t understand why.
After weeks of cryptic questioning, she found me at my locker, wedged in the corner at the end of the 7th grade hallway. She handed me a book, simply saying “I think you need to read this,” before walking briskly away, frizzy red hair bouncing as she went.
The cover was black, adorned only with a lime green popsicle missing a bite, the words “SKINNY” written in white bold letters across the top. Confused, I read the back cover. This was the story of a girl with anorexia. She was so sick, but she didn’t know it until she almost died.
Somehow, I thought that this librarian was seeing me more clearly than I saw myself. She could see every bone or vein that pressed against my skin. I, in my sickness, must be blind to the truth.
I was devastated. Mom was always trying to get me to eat seconds after dinner, but I always ate until I was full. Could I have this disease and not know it? I stayed up all night reading the book. In the end, I decided she must be right. I was anorexic.
* * *
It was not until much later that I asked myself why. Why didn’t she really try and help me?
Why didn’t she talk to me about this, instead of handing me a book?
Why couldn’t she really see me? See that I was doing okay, that I was just a skinny girl, that being small doesn’t mean you’re sick.
She didn’t see me. She saw what she expected to see from a pale little girl with prominent collar bones.
Maybe she couldn’t understand. Like most of the women in my town, Mrs. McCurdy wasn’t thin. At some point maybe she had been, but she had carried her surplus weight for years. Perhaps she, like so many other women, had forgotten that it was possible to be naturally thin.
Maybe in a world that struggles to show that plus size body types are natural and beautiful, we’ve forgotten that there can be more than one desirable and healthy shape. When the radios unceasingly stream songs saying curvier is better, they don’t realize they’re saying that those of us who don’t have curves, those of us who can’t seem to get them, aren’t beautiful.
Maybe she was jealous. Unable to keep herself from tearing me down, just because she couldn’t have the thin body she desired.
Maybe I was a charity project. A task for her to complete, a cause requiring minimal effort to make her feel good. I don’t know why. And I never will, because instead of helping me understand, she handed me a book and walked away.
For some reason, women seem to think they have a universal right to critique each other’s bodies. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, friends, and strangers all seem to have an opinion about how I should look. Their voices drown out my own. No one asks how I feel; they only tell me how I should appear, how I should change.
* * *
Since people with anorexia don’t eat enough, I resolved to eat and keep eating until I wasn’t skinny anymore. I was playing three sports then and quit two so that I could put on more weight.
I stopped exercising. No change. I could see my ribs when I took a deep breath; I must still be sick, I thought. I stopped eating vegetables. Still my kneecaps seemed to stick out too much. I added more food to my bedtime snacks, all junk food. Still my vertebrae were too prominent when I bent over.
Eating became an obsession. But somehow my body was betraying me. I couldn’t seem to gain any weight.
So I forced myself to eat even when I was full. Pushing past the cramps in my side and the pounding headaches to eat one last sandwich, one last chip. Then, finally, my body had had too much. I ran to the bathroom, hand over my mouth.
Heaving over the toilet, hoping my parents wouldn’t hear. All of my hard work was gone, in just minutes my body had purged itself of what I had forced into it.
I sat sobbing, wondering how I would ever get past my anorexia.
That had been two days ago. And I was already back. Reliving the nightmare all over again.
Sitting there, my head against the grey bathroom wall, mouth filled with the acidic taste of bile, I didn’t feel like someone in recovery. I felt worse than I ever had. My stomach was in knots, I didn’t have the strength to pick myself up off the floor.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My face was paler than I’d ever seen it. Like I was some kind of ghostly version of who I’d been. I looked for protruding bones, trying to find the signs that I was too skinny and realized they weren’t there. Maybe they never had been.
I missed softball, volleyball. I missed eating broccoli. I missed sleeping without pain in my stomach.
Standing up shakily, I went quietly to my room, grabbed the book from my desk and tucked it under my arm. It was a warm night for March, so when I snuck quietly out the back door there was no chill to deter me from going out into the dark.
I only had to walk a block before I reached the lake at the center of my neighborhood. Walking the familiar path between my neighbors’ fences I heard a dog start barking somewhere down the street. But it was late and the only other signs of life were the moths circling the street lamps.
When I threw the book into the lake, it sank quickly, anticlimactically. The green popsicle on the front seemed to glow for a moment, the only part visible as it sank into the water.
Then it was gone.
* * *
A month later a letter arrived. It announced to the whole family that I had a late fee. Some book called Skinny. When I went to pay for the lost book, the librarian wasn’t there. Her absence a blessing, I didn’t need to face her.
Instead of leaving the envelope on her desk I left her a note. Simply saying, “I didn’t ask for this, pay the fee yourself.” The letters stopped coming, and I told my mom it had just been a misunderstanding. The librarian was wrong.
Victoria Endres was born and raised in southern West Virginia. Currently an undergraduate student at Marshall University, Victoria is a Yeager Scholar, majoring in Literary Studies, Creative Writing, and Spanish Language and Culture. As an avid reader and lover of languages, Victoria hopes to teach English to non-native speakers around the world. “Skinny” is her first published work, but her poem “Tattoo” will be published in The Underscore Review in January 2018.