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Authors: Ibi Kaslik

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary


BOOK: Skinny
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ibi kaslik


Copyright © 2004 by Ibi Kaslik

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.

First published in Canada in 2004 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Published in the U.S.A. in 2006 by Walker Publishing Company, Inc.

Paperback edition published in 2008

Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Walker & Company, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, New York 10010

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

Kaslik, Ibi.

Skinny / Ibi Kaslik.

p. cm.

Summary: After the death of their father, two sisters struggle with various issues, including their family history, personal
relationships, and an extreme eating disorder.

[1. Eating disorders—Fiction. 2. Anorexia nervosa—Fiction. 3. Emotional problems—Fiction. 4. Sisters—Fiction. 5. Fathers and
daughters—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.K1542 Ski 2006 [Fic]—dc22 2006042140

eISBN: 978-0-802-78460-5

Visit Walker & Company's Web site at

Printed in the U.S.A. by Quebecor World Fairfield

4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3

All papers used by Walker & Company are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing
processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

History, like trauma, is never simply one's own.

History is precisely the way we are implicated

in each other's traumas.

—Cathy Caruth,
Unclaimed Experience:

Trauma, Narrative, and History

Once, Dad stuck Holly in a tree.

We were all in the backyard, just after dinner, eating pears. Mom was sitting on the porch, barefoot, her thin red skirt folded
between her knees as she skinned pears and cut them into wedges and then passed them on to me and Dad. They were warm and
juicy and required hardly any chewing.

Holly was playing with sticks in the garden. She was wearing a pale blue dress. I used to like to watch her play in the garden.
She always looked so calm and complete, a little lady, as she bent down to sniff lilies. Mom and I were sitting on the top
step. Dad was on the bottom, shirtless and smoking a cigarette. Muscles flickered in his dark back in sculpted waves as he
turned around to accept slices of pear from Mom. We were full from dinner and I was planning how I would escape to the park
to ride the new ten-speed I'd received for my twelfth birthday without Holly trying to follow me on her bike. But the thought
was uncomplicated and faded quickly; I decided I would ride around the street with her that night, if she wanted.

We watched Holly going from flower to flower. Her small hands were folded behind her back and she moved with the patience
of someone much older. Then she stopped and stared at the oak tree at the edge of the garden.

She pointed up and then looked back at us, insistently. Dad's cigarette dangled from his mouth as he walked over and said
something to her. Holly nodded, mouthed something back to him, and grinned.

Mom and I watched his thin, tanned body framing Holly's small figure as he lifted her over his head so she could grasp a branch.
He held her there until he was certain she had established a firm hold. Then he let her go.

As he strode towards us through the grass, the sound of crickets became louder. He took the porch steps two at a time and
didn't turn back once. I watched his face as he pitched his cigarette into a tin can by the door and wondered if he would
look back at her. He didn't.

Mom and I sat there sealed together by the warm August wind, watching the little slip of blue hanging six feet from the ground,
swaying back and forth.

Holly's plaintive moan was a curious sound, not a cry of pain or worry, merely the sound of something buried, or nearly lost,
and it caused Mom to snap out of the spell. She rushed across the grass and grabbed Holly by the waist. Holly fell into her
embrace and giggled, as if she were the only one who understood Dad's idea of a joke.

chapter 1

Innate immunity: The human body has the ability to resist all types of organisms or toxins that tend to damage the tissues
and organs. This capacity is called immunity.

Holly will always be immune from the damage that infects me so easily. She comes to visit me today at the clinic, smelling
of lilacs and peanut butter.

"Where did you go?" she asks me, her clear, pale grey eyes blinking from the sun slanting through the room. She kicks up her
skateboard and pulls her headband down over her eyes.

Hello, My Name Is: Giselle Vasco. I am a twenty-two-year-old recovering anorexic. Hello, My Name Is: Taking-One-Year-Out-of-Med-School-and-Starting-Again.
Hello, My Name Is.

"They say you can come home now."

"I know, but do a cartwheel."

"Here?" she asks in mock surprise.

Here? In this waste of a place you call home?

"Do one, and I'm yours."

I follow her to the hallway, where Mom and a couple of other nurses are standing around waiting for the elevator. I lock eyes
with Mom, whose gaze is pleading but fierce.

Holly does three perfect cartwheels: arms arched and nearly straight, her body star-shaped, her mismatched socks folded over
her high-top basketball sneakers, the kind all her fourteen-year-old friends are wearing.

"So, what's it gonna be?" Holly asks, wiping her nose on her wristband, her grey eyes daring me. I look down at my skinny,
knobby legs that are so unlike Holly's; hers are tanned and covered in fine blond hairs, while mine are pale and stubbly and
covered by razor nicks. Holly's legs are strong, muscled, a set of powerhouse tree trunks, and, if I hold on to them firmly
enough, they can cartwheel me out of here.

I look back at Mom's glistening eyes.

Here, in this waste of a place you call

"Let's go home."

Medical students will be able to perform the following routine procedures: Ace bandaging, insertion and placement of venous
catheters, scrubbing, sterile preparation, finger splints, radial and ulnar gutter slab, draping, and suturing of simple laceration.

Ah yes, I learned it all, immediate attention to cuts, needles, breaks, the general wear and tear of the human body, only
to promptly wind up in a hospital unit myself.

Vesla, my mother, drives the car like a maniac, as if she's afraid I'll change my mind about leaving. Her speeding makes me
nauseous and the wide pink and blue suburban houses of our neighbourhood blur by as I try to count them. Holly is excited,
telling me all the things we'll do together, like play tennis and eat blue slurpies and camp out in a tent in our backyard.

We don't go straight home; instead, Mom pulls into the cemetery where our father is buried. When she takes the key from the
car, she turns and surveys us like she used to do when we were kids, fighting in the back seat.

"You know, Giselle, your father and I came to this country so you could eat, so you could have choices. And look at you now,
you look like a prisoner. You have to promise me you're going to eat with us and be good. Because this, my darlink, this is
not fooling around anymore. This is nothing."

This is Mom's good English.
Sometimes she mixes up expressions in times of crisis. I lean over the seat to hug her head.

Mom crosses herself and gets out of the car.

We walk to the grave silently, all three of us holding hands, with me in the middle. Both Holly and I are about half a foot
taller than Mom, and lighter skinned, like our father was. Mom's olive skinned, with wide cheekbones and dark Eurasian eyes.
Her eyes betray her Hungarian—Romanian ancestors, from Erdély. Erdély Hungarians are famous for their remote resemblance to
Asians, and for their unflagging sense of humour in the face of disaster. Though my eyes are blue, I like to think I've inherited
Mom's distinct, almond-shaped eyes.

When we get to Dad's grave, Holly goes down on her knees and pats the soft earth with her hands. I look at the crucifix over
my father's grave. Jesus' eternally baleful eyes are locked on a spot on the ground where Holly's hands play.

Before Holly was born I used to kneel in the dirt and pray under the soulless sunflower heads that lined the back of our garden.
The balls of my feet dug into the ground and the soil yielded beneath my knees as I prayed for a dog or a brother.

I'd do twenty Hail Marys, a couple of Our Fathers, and then try to draw a picture of my future brother in my head. My mother,
her long dark hair pulled back in a neat bun, would scowl at me as I came in dragging my feet and combing the black and white
seeds out of my hair. She was alarmed in those days by my religious fervour.

"Please don't drag your dirty feet on the floor, Mother Teresa," she would tease, half smiling, holding her round belly. Now,
at my father's graveside, looking at Jesus' down-turned eyes brings back those old feelings, but it's like seeing someone
you used to be in love with and being with a bunch of people making fun of him. I understand his terror at being up there
all alone, watching the perpetual unfolding drama—the way our lives get cut up by seasons and weakness and change without
our noticing.

Most of all, though, I feel shame for putting my mom through this two-month ordeal at the clinic, for my shaking, sweaty hand
that I have to pull away from hers to steady myself on a nearby tree. Shame for the sudden clenching in my bowels.

The macaroni-and-cheese lunch I had somersaults in my tiny gut. It's only been two weeks that I've started eating normally,
so my stomach's not used to being full.

—What's this!?

And then I'm on my knees, and she's in my throat, churning the food into bile, interrogating, the endless interrogating.

Tell me, what does it feel like to almost die?

The trend of metabolic changes occurring in starvation is similar to that after shock.

Almost, almost but not quite, you can function while starving.

I saw her in public today. It had been weeks since my last sighting. She was walking towards me on a busy downtown street:
a sickly girl, pale and shivering but kind of pretty, if you like that ravaged look. Her hair was sticking out at odd angles,
dry blond dreadlocks tied willy-nilly with pieces of string. I almost didn't recognize her.

She wore a leather jacket and her boys' jeans were sutured to her hips with a leather belt. Her black army boots were scuffed
and she carried a thick, worn medical dictionary under her arm.

I tried to avoid her but she turned and spoke. She's always talking at me, it seems:

So, you never answered my question.


What does it feel like?


Caught in a beam of sunlight, we both stopped walking and stared at each other through the reflective building windows. I
was stunned by the image of this wasted woman before me. Myself.

Demonstrating resolve to be a well-adjusted person is a positive signal to yourself that the strain of medical school will
not compromise your individuality.

Before the end of term, before I got really sick, med school was actually amazing. I kick-started out of the gate rising,
like Holly. I wanted to jump into my life, one outside the drab aluminium-siding world of green lawns and moody women. I needed
to get lost in the world, to pound out the thoughts of Eve, my ex, who had left for Germany that summer without promising
me anything except postcards.

I'd just finished a fast-track B.Sc. in biology and wanted what I had seen in movies: friends, classes, a second degree at
the end of it, a career. The image I had of my future was all straight as a Hollywood film—melancholy little suburban girl
goes to university, finds herself, gets a life, a boy, a degree. Start nostalgic music, cut to me inside my tiny shared student
apartment, watching the yellow-and-brown polyester curtains blowing stiffly, looking at biology books, listening to the bleached-blond
girl upstairs ride her long-haired boyfriend. I am twirling my hair, am deliriously happy, grooving on this egghead high.
She is me, this girl, she is Hello-My-Name-Is . ..

It was enough to hang out of the windows smoking my roommate's cigarettes, to laugh at drunken frat boys running around the
street in their underwear. I was absorbing everything, and for a couple of months I got it, I was doing it. I was doing it
right, all right. The classic-rock music from the frat house nearby was the soundtrack to my life.

Then, halfway through the second semester, I'd find myself walking around the campus, lost.

"Excuse me, um, could you tell me where the, ah, building with the, you know, the tower thingy . . ."

Aphasia: Muteness, loss of speech, due to the brain's malfunction.

"The library? Sweetheart, it's right in front of you."

I'd get flashes of hot-and-cold panic that made my body shake. I'd have to go to my room, lie down with the covers pulled
over my face and wait for my body to stop trembling. Panic attacks, I guess, where I'd walk around for hours counting bones,
naming body parts, muscles, diseases, doing anything to stave off the naked fear that whirled in my gut like a snake's tail,
that threatened to lash out at any second and ensnare some poor unsuspecting student or professor.

Incredibly, I could still study. AH I could do, it seemed, was write tests, cram every spare moment with books, notes, labs,
lectures. But at night, when the girl upstairs had long since pleasured her hippie-boyfriend and the curtains looked harsh
and cheap, I couldn't stay within those walls. I'd learned too much, my head was full, and the part that wasn't full would
wonder about Eve. I started skipping meals now and then and had lost a bit of weight from worrying about marks. One night,
bored with studying, I started prowling the bars.

"Giselle! Bloody hell! Miss Bookbrains finally got her arse out of jail!"

It was Susan, my Scottish roommate. Susan was a tall, ever-smiling, red-headed psychology major. She had a bad case of eczema
on her arms, which I tried to treat with creams and poultices. Since nothing ever seemed to work, she wore long, satin gloves
up to her elbows to hide what she called her "bloody leprosy."

"Hey, Suze. Whatcha drinkin'?" I asked, standing awkwardly at the edge of the table, shy about being the centre of attention.
That night at the bar, Susan was sitting at a large table, surrounded by friends. It was somebody's birthday and there were
pretty little gift bags stacked on one side of the table. Susan was sitting between two collegiate-looking guys, and the girls
at the other end of the table were wearing little black dresses. I felt self-conscious suddenly; I pulled up my sagging jeans
and pushed out my chest, trying to hide the stains on my worn tank top.

"There's a special on screwdrivers," she told me. "And we've got loads of beer, but I'm drinking whisky."

"Whisky it is then." I ordered a screwdriver for myself, and a whisky for Susan, who finagled me a seat near her next to an
all-American-looking guy who introduced himself as Greg.

"Giselle's my roommate, guys . . . the one I was telling you about before. Killer marks, doesn't get out much though." Everyone
at the table laughed and bobbed their heads at me as we raised our glasses.

Susan was what people call a party animal, and her lifestyle suited me fine as she usually came home about the time I left
for classes with "a hangover that could make your gnarly toenails crackle." She always left a mess in her tears through the
place, which I picked up after without complaint because she kept the fridge stocked with the essentials: a pack of Benson
Hedges Special Lights, Clamato, a fifth of vodka, lemon wedges, and crackers—for guests, she explained.

When Susan put her arms around me in the bar, surrounded by her friends, I rested my head on her shoulder for a second and
realized that I hadn't been touched in months. I felt starved for affection, for human interaction, as Susan pulled me to
her to whisper secrets.

"What do you think of our all-American golden boy?"

"I think you like him."

Starved. For salty peanuts, for beer poured in chilled mugs, for music blaring through conversations punctured by laughter
and smoke. I sat next to Susan that night, trying to follow her conversations, trying to read the significance of her hand
on Greg's knee.

'You're right. I want to lick him," she told me through sips of whisky as my eyes caught Greg's briefly and he winked at me.

I looked over at the girls and laughed when they threw popcorn at us. I had never tasted beer this good, heard music so sweet
and true. All of my preoccupations about marks, school, main arteries, veins, lymph nodes, diagnostic methods, and the memory
of Eve's kisses on my mouth slipped away for a couple of hours. I was free; this was what I had come for. The confusing mass
of impulses and emotions: the wandering, the shaking and the panic, the hours I'd spent cradling huge textbooks in my arms
. . . all of it suddenly seemed ridiculous. Was that me?

You betcher skinny white ass that was us

we were amazing!

BOOK: Skinny
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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