Authors: Kevin Richey
“Don’t take that tone,” she snaps. “I’m mean because I love you. It’s called being a good parent. Not that you care. You’re too busy being out all night doing who knows what.”
“I was at the mall with Sarah.”
She cringes. My mom and I used to be close when I was growing up, like sisters. But the last few years I’ve been hanging out more with Sarah. My mom hasn’t been taking it so well.
The show is interrupted with commercials, and my mom picks up the remote to mute the TV. She turns to me, the square of the TV reflecting in her glasses and blocking her eyes.
“The mall?” she says. “That sounds
. And where was I? I was here: home alone.”
I feel guilty, which I’m sure was her intention. But I can’t help it. I don’t want to go to the mall with my mother anymore. It’s just embarrassing. I’m pathetic enough as it is.
“Maybe we can see a movie this weekend,” I suggest. Movies are safe. No one can really tell we’re hanging out in a dark theater.
She laughs. “Don’t pretend you care about me. I don’t need your pity.”
I sigh. There’s no winning this one. Still, I want to make her feel bad for forgetting my birthday, which she can’t do if she forgets.
“Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?” I ask.
Her mouth twists, but she doesn’t look at me. “Happy birthday,” she grumbles.
“You could at least look away from the TV.”
She blinks, and for a moment she looks sorry. But then she picks up the remote, and clicks back on the sound. An announcer extolls the virtues of a pepperoni pizza, and I give up and go to my room.
I lock the door. I set my cupcake on my nightstand, and then collapse on the bed. My body is exhausted, but I feel awful beyond that. I look over at my journal on my desk, but it’s too far to reach and I’m too tired to get back up. I don’t want to remember today anyway.
I lay staring at the dark ceiling, listening to the sounds of the canned laughter from the TV in the next room. After a moment of blank thought, my arm reaches over to the nightstand for the cupcake, and I eat without tasting it. My stomach rumbles in protest at the additional junk food, but I'm still hungry.
* * *
I can't sleep.
I don't know if it's because of stress or my upset stomach, but normally the one thing I can do is fall asleep. It's been nearly two hours now and I have barely been able to keep my eyes closed.
If it were a different night, I might have gotten back up and watched some TV with my mom. But after our fight, I don’t want to go back out there. Even though I want to yell at her to turn it down. She’s got the volume way up tonight; every word of her show is coming through the walls. I can even hear her smacking her lips as she sips a soda.
I don't get back up. I stay in my room, pretending to be asleep, as I wait. Eventually she turns off the TV and makes her way to her bathroom. I don’t know if she has the door open or what, but she’s extra loud tonight. It must be on purpose. I listen to the sound of her brushing her teeth, going to the bathroom, even flicking off the light switch. Then the groan of her mattress as she settles into bed.
I expect it to be quiet after she’s gone to bed, but now I hear other noises.
Dogs barking. Planes flying overhead. Even ships bellowing off in the ocean, way out in the distance.
At a certain point I just can't take it anymore. I throw off the covers, and I get out of bed.
I'm wearing a nightshirt that used to be big on me, but now is barely more than a tight shirt. I try not to think of it as I creep to the door and slowly open it. I'm quite impressed with myself as I tiptoe my way to the kitchen, managing not to make the floorboards groan like I usually do.
I don't even really think about what I'm doing. That's how habits are: you just do them. I walk to the refrigerator in the kitchen the way you automatically walk on a path to work each day.
Sarah's words echo in my head: "It's your birthday. You can start your diet tomorrow."
It's still nighttime. For me, that counts as not being tomorrow yet.
I find a Sarah Lee carrot cake in the freezer. Surprisingly, it tastes too sweet and artificial, but I'm not really eating it for taste anyway. I stand eating it by the refrigerator, not bothering with a plate or the fact that it’s still frozen.
After the cake is gone, I figure I should have some "real food" so that I don't upset my stomach too much. I'm too lazy to make a sandwich, so I eat some turkey slices with some cheddar cheese on top. It's like a gourmet Lunchable, and I love Lunchables. I'm about to close the fridge after that and move onto the pantry, when just as the door is closing I spot a tube of cookie dough in the back of the bottom shelf. Someone has hidden it behind a gallon of orange juice in an attempt to hide it from me.
"Nice try, Mom."
I take out the tube and slice it down the side with the fork still covered with frosting. As I eat, I stare at the cartoon picture of Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, whose pudgy hands reach up to me. Even
seems to be thinner than I remember.
"The diet starts tomorrow," I tell him.
I eat the cookie dough, and then finish off the last half of a case of Oreos in the pantry. Then I eat three packets of oatmeal raw because I'm too afraid of waking up my mother if I start the microwave. I keep eating and eating and eating, and it feels good.
But as the sun rises, and the counters are covered with empty wrappers and cartons, I feel even emptier than before. I want to cry but I don't have the energy. The morning light filters in through the kitchen window, and my entire body feels exhausted. I look at the mess I've created, and force myself to stay awake long enough to push all the wrappers into the trashcan. Then I head back to my room.
My mom hasn’t woken up. I look at the clock, and it's nearly five in the morning. I have a little over an hour before my alarm goes off. I fall back on the bed, and spread out my arms like fat wings.
I never want to get back up.
* * *
The morning hits me like a slap in the face. My alarm goes off, and I reach out to tap it. I knock it clear off my nightstand, and it rings underneath my bed.
"Ugghhhh," I groan, and force myself to move. My body feels so heavy. The lack of sleep and my excess weight have left me feeling like I'm struggling against restraints. I slump onto the floor and find the clock, unplugging it altogether. In the darkness, I breathe in the dust under my bed, and I feel worse than I've ever felt before. My eyes feel red, and my joints ache.
I crawl to my closet, grab a loose-fitting shirt and an enormous pair of jeans from the floor, and head to the shower. It takes all my will power not to collapse onto the base of the tub and curl up back to sleep.
After the shower, I'm drying off my hair when I see the bathroom scale staring at me. I remember the diet. There’s a dry-erase marker among my combs on the counter from previous attempts to control my weight. I wipe off the condensation from the mirror, and write on the glass: DAY ONE. This will be how I’ll keep track of my progress.
Then I turn back to the scale.
I take in a deep breath, and as I step onto the scale, I let it out. The digital readout glows blue, and the numbers flicker randomly. When it stops, it blinks a number that makes me tingle with disbelief.
When I weighed myself two days ago, I was nearing 270. That means even with my binge last night, I’ve lost weight.
Or the scale is broken.
My hope vanishes. It seems more likely that I've broken the scale.
I pull on my clothes, and suck in my gut in order to squeeze the fly of my jeans together enough to button them. Normally I don't even wear jeans because they push around my weight in really unflattering ways, but I need to do laundry, and this pair was all that was clean.
I hear my Mom start to wake up in the next room, and I rush to finish getting ready. I don't want to have to explain all the missing food in the kitchen. I don't bother with makeup (nobody is checking me out anyway), and stomp back to my room to grab a sweatshirt and my messenger bag. (Backpacks don't fit anymore. Another embarrassing revelation a few months ago.) I head through the house and out the front door as I hear my mom turn on her shower. I'm early for the bus, but I don't care. I don't want to face what I did last night.
* * *
It’s in third period Chemistry that I come to the realization that something is wrong.
All day things have felt off. The bus smelled worse than usual. The morning bell made my ears ring for a full fifteen minutes. And I kept hearing things outside of the classroom: people walking in the halls, toilets flushing in the bathrooms across the school, random shouts and laughter from places I couldn’t pinpoint.
But in Chemistry the distractions are getting to be too much.
Victor Madding, the boy behind me, is chewing gum. He’s not allowed to, which isn’t what is distracting me, but the minty smell is making my nostrils burn and my eyes water. Worse though is Stephanie Rupp, who sits two chairs up and one row over.
is biting her nails. I can hear every fiber of her brittle nails crack as her teeth snap and chew into them.
Also, and I know this is gross, but I swear everyone must have had beans for breakfast, because I keep hearing (and smelling) people fart, and nobody else even seems to notice! Even Mr. O’Brien, the teacher, is farting. It’s immensely distracting.
Lunch doesn’t come soon enough. I hug my messenger bag to my stomach and walk through the hallways, my eyes darting at groups of people chattering away. I know they’re whispering, but it sounds like shouting, and I feel like I’m going mad.
I find Sarah by the cafeteria doors and we walk inside together. I don’t say anything, and she doesn’t notice my condition. But when we walk inside, the wall of sound hits me so hard that I have to back outside again, dropping my messenger bag and putting my hands over my ears.
"Kathy!" Sarah cries, following me back outside.
"It's too loud," I say.
Sarah looks at me for a moment as if coming to a decision. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" she asks. "You look really pale."
I remember the beach, and realize this might be the perfect opportunity. "I might be coming down with something."
Sarah puts an arm on my shoulder. "Maybe you should see the nurse. You look… messed up."
I nod again. "Will you be okay?" I ask. I don't want to leave her alone at lunch.
"I'll be fine. I'll sit with Darleen and her gang." She rolls her eyes. "Although you just know she's going to talk my ear off with the most dull stories about band practice. You owe me for this."
She gives me a hug, and then we part ways. I'm still jumpy. Everything is so loud, and it all smells so bad. I pass a drinking fountain and can smell the sewer through the drain. I pass by a classroom with closed doors, and I can hear pencils scribbling and scratching like fingernails on a chalkboard. It feels like after I've gotten over a bad cold, and my taste and hearing comes back again after being clogged. Except I wasn't sick, and now my senses are out of control. Maybe I really should see the nurse.
But instead I hit the vending machines, and eat in a bathroom on the far side of the school. I lock myself in a stall and eat sitting on a toilet with the lid down. It smells like stale cigarettes. I finish the food, and sit listening to the pipes rattling in the walls.
When the bell rings, I pick up my wrappers and stand up.
And my pants sag around my hips.
It feels so weird that I drop the wrappers on the floor, and feel the waist of the jeans with my fingers. I can pull the jeans away from my stomach so far that I can fit a hand through the gap. My heart races. These jeans were hell to get on this morning. I must have ripped them. That’s the only explanation. I open the stall door and check myself in the mirror.
But there is no rip. My pants have either grown since this morning—or I've started to shrink.
* * *
The bus drops me off, and I walk home in silence. I have to keep a hand on my pants because they keep sliding down as I walk. I don't usually wear a belt; there's no point, and it's hard to find belts in my size.
No one is home when I walk through the door. I plop down my messenger bag on the couch, and rush to my bathroom. It takes all my patience to strip off my clothes. I want to be sure about this: I don't want even an ounce that isn't really me to contaminate the evidence. I have to know for sure.
I step onto the scale, and the blue screen lights up. The numbers flash randomly. When they settle, I gasp.
I get off the scale, wait for it to reset, and then get back on again. The same readout is given.
"This can't be right," I whisper. "The scale is broken."
I don't believe it, but it's even harder to believe my new weight. I walk naked through the hallway to my Mom's room, and step onto the scale in her bathroom.
It gives me the same weight.
Slowly, not feeling the joy I should at my new condition, I make my way back to my bathroom. I pick up the marker, and on the mirror, under where I wrote 257 this morning, I write my new weight with a shaky hand: