The following received Honorable Mention in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2014, hosted by The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Boston Globe
Don’t you get it? I’m human. I trust the wrong people and believe lies. I say ‘yes’ when I mean ‘no.’ I look for the better good in people and find out the hard way there isn’t any. I will fall apart, tell you everything and the next day I won’t even look at you. I want you to know everything and nothing about me. I want to be alone but I feel lonely. I need you, I hate you, I want you. Words—just words.
The mirror stares at me. I don’t recognize the girl that looks back at me. Her face is shallow and withdrawn. She turns and spins to look at her bare body from different angels. It’s like she suspects the image to change. Suck air in and she’ll become skinny, but only for a moment before she has to breathe again. The girl is me. I breathe in air and exhale poison, running on fumes.
“I hope you can understand this, but I don’t feel that way anymore.” That’s what he told me when we broke up. It was stupid, sent as a text, and I cried.
The two of us were watching TV. It was a time of blindness, before I realized how his words hurt. “I’m going to work out a little more to lose some weight,” I told him. My weight is something I never bring up and I thought I could trust him. I was wrong.
“Yeah, it’s in your stomach.”
I remember those words to this day. They haunt me and repeat themselves while I look at my body in the mirror. Why would he say that? Because it’s true.
A class photo from junior high glares at me. The frozen moment keeps my body suspended in time. I’m chubby in the picture.
My hands skim my curves. I push my fingers into the flesh, judging how much fat lies between my skin and bones. Too much. My torso is short and wide. I’ve lost ten pounds since he broke up with me. The boy I thought I loved didn’t think I was perfect and he left me behind to cry until all that was left was skin and bones.
I turn to the side and look at myself in the elongated mirror. Breathe in air; pretend I’m skinny; that’s the act. It lasts for one, two, three seconds and then I have to release the air.
Months of crying over the number on the scale. Weeks spent trying to stay awake past two in the afternoon because I didn’t have the energy to live. Hours spent every day, exercising, limbs shaking, heart beating, wondering if this will offset the food I’ve been forced to eat in order to stay alive. I wait for something to give but strength is surprising; it’s like there is always just a little more left, waiting to be used. I’m able to stand until my head spins and the world slips away from my vision.
He did this to me. He said the words I never dared to say aloud. It’s in your stomach.
I stand straight and flatten myself until all that’s left are my bones. I look like a Holocaust victim.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was chubbier than the other girls. She couldn’t wear all the pretty clothes and look like them because she thought she was too fat. One day she found the will to look pretty, but it was at a price. The little monsters in her head couldn’t eat the fat away, but they could fuel her thoughts—you’re not good enough, keep trying, run! She thought exercise would extinguish the fat; she thought eating fruit and salads and meat was the only thing she needed to survive. Artificial sugar was horrible and anything over 5 grams of fat was unacceptable; she looked at a piece of bread and thought carbs. Then one day the girl broke. She cried and cried for months and nobody heard her. She stayed in her corner, but when someone wandered over and asked what was wrong, she shook her head. They walked away. The doctors poked at her, examined her, gave her medicine, but nothing helped. She gave up. She cried more. Then she woke up. The girl saw her life in front of her like a broken vase. The shards were scattered everywhere and she knew that if she tried to fix it, it would never be perfect. But she tried anyway. The girl picked up the shards, avoiding the jagged edges. Every now and then the broken vase would cut her skin, dripping blood as she cried, but she got a bandage and continued to gather all the broken pieces. Then, one by one, she glued them together again. The vase was fixed. It was a mess and ugly, but as the glue dried to a clear solid it became beautiful again. The girl smiled.
The effects? Permanent. I will never forget the months I spent obsessing over the small amount of calories I took in. It took months to be able to go to a party with food and not feel as if I was going to break down and cry. Panic attacks still sneak up on me when I exercise, always reminding me my muscles can only push so far. Tears still sting my eyes and the number on the scale will never satisfy me. I look at the boy who once said he loved me and realize just how oblivious he is to what he’s done.
Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.