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Behind Closed Doors
“According to US estimates from The National Institute of Mental Health, between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of girls and women and 1 million boys and men suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or other associated dietary conditions.” The speaker glances around the room swiftly, pausing for breath. “Estimates suggest that as many as 15 percent of young women adopt unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about food.”
A small groan sweeps through the crowd of teenage girls. I hold my breath, unable to speak. My best friend, Natasha, nudges me, smiling. I try to smile back, but the corners of my mouth won’t budge. I feel sick to the stomach.
“God, this person is such a bore.”
“It’s not like we’ve heard about these problems a hundred times already.”
“Nah. Mr. Lowell would probably make me serve a month of detention.”
The room slowly turns into a blur as I flash back two years ago.
“Abby, what are you doing?”
I dropped the pie plate, startled. I did not hear her come in. My mother looked at me disappointedly.
“I thought you were on a diet, honey.”
I looked down at the floor. “I am.”
My mother looked around the room, hands on her hips. Her lipstick was smudged and her mascara was bleeding around her eyes. Pieces of her hair had slipped out of the tight knot at the back of her head. She looked weary, and disheveled.
“Mom…I…” I tried to explain helplessly.
“No, Abby. Either you get back on that diet or I’m calling Dr. Evans.”
I grimaced in horror.
“You promised you’d stick to it, Abby.”
“Abby,” My mother said softly. “You have no choice.” She frowned and walked away, her heels clicking sharply upon the wooden floor.
I rushed to my room and threw myself down onto the bed. The bed gave a loud creak and the springs groaned. Wet, salty tears slid down my face as I thought of the countless diets, pills, and laxatives I had been on.
They never seemed to work.
Slowly, I got in front of my full-length mirror. Without a moment of hesitation, I stripped down to nothing. Hot tears came rushing forth as I counted the many rolls growing in deformed lumps around my waist, thighs, arms, and face. I touched the pimply, bulging sacks of fat, willing it to disappear so I could become skinny and pretty like the girls on MTV.
My eyes had become slits; fat piling up on my face like doughy pizza crust. My mouth was covered in unidentified sores and cuts while my large nose was home to oversized nostril holes.
Hands shaking, I grabbed a red Magic Marker and slowly drew neat crosses over the countless plains of grease. Once my body was covered in large blood-red crosses, I vowed never again to let food pass my lips.
I ate two white cakes the next day. The sweet cake was covered in wet, salty liquid. My lips trembled as I pushed another forkful of buttery deliciousness into my mouth. The door opened and before I could cover the evidence, a petite figure walked into the kitchen.
My best friend stopped suddenly, as she looked at the messy plate of cake in front of me. A soft look overcame her ice blue eyes.
“Hanna…I can explain…I just…”I stared shamefully at my sausage-like hands.
Hanna came over to me, quietly and reassuringly. She slowly put her hands over my wet, shaking ones and looked deep into my eyes.
“I understand. I really do.”
I laughed mirthlessly. “What do you know? You’re perfect.” I quickly slid my eyes over her perfect shape and slim waist. Her gorgeous ringlets of blond encircled her heart-shaped face like a golden halo.
Hanna sighed. “In many ways, yes, I am perfect.” She continued coolly. “But, not in all ways.”
“You’re perfect in all—”
She cut me off. “No. I’m not.” Her eyes flickered with something like regret or fear. I couldn’t place the expression at the time. I wish I did. Hanna gazed at me evenly.
“Who doesn’t want to be perfect? No one can, Abby. You have to understand that. But, we can be close to perfect. Almost too close…” Her voice drifted as she looked up into the distance. A flash of indecision flitted through her eyes. Then, she straightened and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“Abby, you want to be perfect right? Or, at least, come close to perfect?”
I looked up with big brown eyes, a sudden hope surging through my heart.
“Yes.” I whispered. “I do. I really, really do.”
She smoothed down a single flyway hair, flashing the perfect pearls she calls her teeth.
“You can be skinny. There is a way. You just have to trust me.”
“I do. I trust you.”
“Abby… I knew you’d do the right thing.”
I took her outstretched hand and followed her to the bathroom.
“Abby? Abby? Earth to Abby Montgomery.” Natasha elbows me in my shoulder. I wince.
“Sorry.” She mutters under her breath.
Reality…stay in reality. The past is the past, Abby. There’s nothing you can do. I think, willing myself to listen to the speaker.
“Many teenagers are hooked on binge eating, then throwing up. It’s like an addiction. Those are the ones that are trying to cry out for help. They are the ones in real danger. They need our help.” The speaker searches the faces of the young adults in the classroom. Her piercing blue eyes catch mine, painfully reminding me of Hanna.
“Now here are the signs of an anorexic…”
I gather my bags as the lecture closes. Many students get up and stretch their legs; their smiling faces searching for their friends. We rush out in one big mass of bodies. Everybody talks and laughs, not caring about the lecture they had attended. I walk by myself, away from the others, shouldering my bag.
I see a flash of blond hair and I cry out for Hanna, only to see that it was not she.
“I can’t do this anymore, Han. My parents…they’re—”
“They’re what?” Hanna said sharply. “You said you trusted me. You said you would do it. Abby, I trusted you too.”
I looked up, guilt etched across my face. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to meet those accusing blue eyes.
“Sorry.” I whispered. I quickly scrubbed the acid off my teeth and inhaled the scent of mint toothpaste. All is well. Again.
“Cheese enchiladas, Abby. Your favorite.” My mother says as she breezes into the room, carrying bags of groceries and a take-out box. I try to fake a smile.
“Yum.” I say unenthusiastically. My mother stops for a moment, studying me with intensity.
“You go to extremes, Abby.”
I am shocked into silence, afraid that she had found out.
“What do you mean?” I ask tentatively.
“Oh, nothing.” My mother smiles and looks down at her hands. “It’s just something I’ve noticed about you. Don’t do anything harmful…okay, honey? Dad and I are here for you…you know that. We love you, Abby.” My mother smiles her reassuring smile and returns to the groceries.
I breathe a sigh of pure relief.
“Honey…I have some bad news. Abby?” The mother woke me up at four in the morning. It was still pitch black outside. I groggily rubbed my eyes, yawning.
“What…mom…?” I said thickly, still half asleep.
I sat up, suddenly alert and wary. “What about her?”
My mother stared at the carpet, her lips moving wordlessly. She cleared her throat, tears in her eyes.
“They…the police found Hanna in her room…last night. They found her…dead. She had overdosed on drugs and they found out about her…problem...”
I screamed and ran from the room. I vaguely felt my mother trying to old me down. But, my spirit soared. I had to get out of there if not physically, then spiritually. I felt like I had no soul left. It was as if Hanna had taken it with her.
“Problem? What problem?”
“She was bulimic. I suppose you know what that is. Honey, are you okay?”
I was terrified. Hanna…Hanna…my best friend…she helped me…
“Now she’s gone.” I whispered to nobody in particular.
I poked at the doughy lump of grease sitting in front of me. My father and mother watched me carefully as I shoved reluctant forkfuls into my mouth. My older sister chatted about school and boyfriends, oblivious to the quiet tension.
“Is something wrong, Abby?”
I smile. “No. Why would there be?”
My mother looks taken aback.
My mother throws a worried glance at my father. He munches his food and looks down.
“Mom, I have a lot of homework, tonight. May I please be excused?”
“Sure you may, Abby.” My father says quickly. Before my mother could object, I hastily ran from the table and slammed the bathroom door. I can feel the enchilada climbing up my throat again.
With only two heaves, I manage to empty my stomach of the invading food. Tears gush from my eyes and a slow trickle of blood flows from the corner of my mouth.
I cry in alarm and I hear the rush of footsteps. They pound on the door, shouting. The world spins around me as I collapse to the floor. I reach out and only grab air. I hear a scream and I realize that it is mine.
They shout and pound but it sounds like they are under water. My ears are muffled and all I hear is a strange ringing sound. The sound is sweet at first, but then it becomes demandingly haunting. I suddenly remember something I could not remember before.
“Abby…before I go…promise me to take care of yourself.”
“Where are you going?”
The signature far-away look came over my dearest friend’s eyes as she leaned over her balcony. The soft summer breeze ruffled her gorgeous locks of gold. Her blue eyes were misty and clouded.
“Just…somewhere I need to be soon.” Hanna turned to me and took both of my hands in hers. She searched my eyes, pleading.
“Abby, I love you. Take care of yourself.” Hanna smiled her breath-taking smile and my mother came to pick me up from her house.
It was the afternoon before her suicide.
I woke up to Dr. Evans smiling face.
“Abby. You’re finally awake.”
I look out the window as the sun rises over the treetops. Birds titter and the sounds of morning greet my ears. I love you too, Hanna.
“I have a problem.”