“I ate a bagel with cream cheese,” Sarah muttered. “I didn’t graze on a dry salad for lunch. Instead, I had mashed potatoes and gravy. I devoured buttered corn and fried chicken–even the greasy, fat-laden skin. Later, I indulged in a slice of cherry cheesecake.”
The words tumbled off her tongue like a devout Catholic repenting sins at confession. Guilt filled her insides fuller than the day’s feast. She stood naked in front of her tormentor, prepared for the truth about her gluttony. Not opinion, just fact. A tiny part of her recognized her entrapment in an unhealthy relationship, but she didn’t have the strength to break free anymore. The day of feigning normalcy illuminated the truth that she no longer controlled her destiny.
The evening before, her doorbell rang just after seven o’clock–which rarely happened on a Wednesday night. Sarah opened the door to find her mom standing on the porch with pizza and wings.
“Mom! What are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighborhood and thought we could have dinner.” Each word produced a puff of condensation in the chilly evening air.
“I’m going to your house next week for Thanksgiving. You couldn’t wait?” Sarah didn’t believe her mom had any reason to be in town and found it odd that she would drive from Casa Grande to Wickenburg just to eat dinner.
“Life isn’t meant to be lived tomorrow.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Isn’t it your Bunco game night?”
“I cancelled it. Are you going to let me in?”
“Um, sure. I already ate, but I can visit with you while you eat.” Sarah walked away toward the kitchen.
Her mom followed, closing the door behind her, and set the boxes on the counter. She slipped off her hooded cardigan and draped it over the back of a chair.
Sarah had set a stoneware plate on the counter next to the boxes. After catching the stern look from her mom, she pulled out another for herself.
“Thank you, dear. You know I don’t like eating alone,” her mom said with a smile.
Sarah lifted the lid on the pizza box and zeroed in the smallest triangle, sliding it onto her plate. She added a buffalo wing from the other box. She felt her mom watching her, but willed herself to avoid eye contact.
Her mom filled her own plate with two slices of pizza and several wings and followed Sarah to the sofa, where they would use the coffee table as a dining table.
“Do you mind if we watch Survivor?” Sarah’s mom asked, breaking the silence.
“Sure.” Sarah turned the TV to CBS, grateful for any distraction that would divert her mom’s attention from her.
Twenty minutes later, Sarah had picked the toppings off her pizza and ate the meat of the chicken wing. The pizza crust, the wing’s saucy skin and the tiny bone looked like the remains of an animal sacrifice on her plate. Sarah’s stomach lurched, and she knew she had to get rid of it.
“Excuse me,” Sarah muttered, seeing her mom involved in the show’s latest devious plot. She stood before her mom could see the contents of her plate.
In the kitchen, Sarah buried the leftovers in the trash and left her empty plate in the sink. A quick glance over the high snack bar counter into the living room confirmed that her mom paid her no attention, so Sarah slipped away to the bathroom without saying a word.
When Sarah came out of the bathroom, she found her mom staring at the “image wall” in her bedroom–a three foot square collage of bodies that should’ve been hers. Supermodels, A-list movie stars and stick-thin musicians wearing tailored dresses, designer labels and skinny jeans were framed by pictures of obesity. Photos of women with shorts that crawled up their thighs, tight t-shirts hugging rolls of back fat and physics-defying spandex shorts that resembled sausage casing, all reinforced her belief that fat should be eliminated.
Some of the photos were torn and shredded, remnants littering the floor below as if mauled by a wild animal. The pieces evidenced Sarah’s melt-down from the night before.
“What’s this?” her mom asked when she heard Sarah’s footsteps on the carpet behind her.
“What are you doing in here?”
“You were in the bathroom a while and I got bored. What took so long?”
“I was cleaning.”
Her mom turned and gave her a long look. “I’m worried about you.”
“I wrote a letter to Dr. Phil for advice,” her mom said.
“What? How could you do that?”
Her mom stared at Sarah with tearful eyes. “You had such a pretty smile. It made everyone around you smile.”
“You’ve gotten so thin. I can see your collar bone.”
“Really?” Sarah asked, pleased that her mom overlooked her bloated belly. She was sure the daily ration of a rice cake, carrot sticks and sunflower seeds must have helped.
“It’s not a compliment.”
“Oh.” Sarah’s confidence fell again.
“I want you to come back home.”
“Mom, I’m twenty-five. I can take care of myself.”
“You don’t look well.”
“I’ve just been busy training for the marathon. When it’s over, I’ll get back to normal.”
“That’s two months away!”
“I’ll be fine.”
Her mom didn’t say anything, but just held her gaze. Sarah looked away because she couldn’t trust her eyes to not betray her.
“Your father and I talked. We’re coming back on Friday to get you.”
“That’s only two days from now. And it’s so far…”
“It’s plenty of time to pack some clothes. And two hours is nothing. I’d drive across ten states for you if I had to.”
Sarah’s throat constricted, refusing to let any words or emotions pass through. Two arms enveloped her in a hug. Hands brushed up and down her spine, scraping at nerve endings like hot razor blades. Knowing her mom’s fingers sensed the indentions between each of her vertebrae intensified Sarah’s self-consciousness.
“I love you,” she said, releasing her daughter.
Sarah stood inches away, her skin still prickling from the touch. She felt…empty. Her stomach was unburdened, her body weary, her head suspended weightless and dizzy, but her heart ached. She wondered if the anguish would follow her in death, and beyond.
“I guess I’ll go,” her mom said, breaking the silence that stretched like a deserted highway between them.
Before Sarah could ask her to stay, her mom let herself out of the apartment. The door latching seemed so final; so lonely.
Exhausted, Sara stumbled to the couch. She closed her eyes to shut out the tilting room. The ticking wall clock lulled her into a trance and the steady cadence held her captive until the next morning.
On Thursday night, Sarah learned the truth: she carried two extra pounds that she didn’t have the day before. Fighting the urge to get rid of them, she pulled on her pink fleece robe and tied it at the waist. She hoped it would calm her shivering body. With the green-hued bruises on her pale skin swallowed up in the downy fabric, she experienced a fleeting moment where she almost felt normal.
She curled up in bed, resting her head on the pillow. Tomorrow, her parents would drag her home. Her life as she knew it was breaking up. Soon, she would be turned into a child again, stripped of her dignity, pride and control. Then, she remembered control was already gone, but she could not pinpoint exactly when that had happened.
With her eyes clenched shut, Sarah hoped stillness would swallow her and silence the nightmare for good. She prayed that, unlike Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, God did exist and would end her suffering. So tomorrow, her parents would find her and take her home.