Fading Away

 

  

 

 

My cousin Coralee started it all.

This was during my sophomore year, when Coralee still lived down the street from us and I still had to endure her presence in school each day. She really could be quite annoying.

She was always jumping into something or other. First, when she was younger, it was ballet. Then it was martial arts. Then rock collecting…. No sooner did she get involved in some interest or hobby than she grew bored and jumped to something new. I often suspected she had the attention span of a fruit fly.

Starting sophomore year, she was just recovering from her interest in skateboarding, when she became obsessed with nutrition and fitness.

I was sitting with her in the lunchroom one day, and it was poof, like magic, she was suddenly a health nut. All she had in front of her was a garden salad, with no dressing, and a carton of skim milk, and the attitude that anybody who ate anything more than that was violating the sacred temple of their body.

“What’s that supposed to be?” I asked her.

“My lunch?”

“Yeah, is that what that is?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Where’s the pizza?” I asked.

“No pizza.”

“There’s always pizza.”

“Not anymore,” she said.

“No? What happened?”

“I found out what was in it,” she said. “I found out what was in a lot of things.”

She ate her salad. I ate my enchiladas. I waiting for it, knowing it would come, and sure enough it did.

“You wanna know what’s in those enchiladas?” she asked.

I thought about it for a microsecond, before I said, “No.”

She stared at me, her eyes almost begging me to let her tell me.

“I don’t want to know,” I said, and continued eating.

Finally she could hold it back. She blurted out, “MGA.”

“What?”

“MGA.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s what’s in your enchiladas.”

“Did I tell you I didn’t want to know?”

“Oh, I thought you were just saying that, but secretly you really wanted to know.”

“No,” I said carefully, as though talking to a three-year-old, which wasn’t far from the truth, “when I say I don’t want to know something I always mean I don’t want to know something.”

“Well, I just had to tell you,” she said.

“No, you did not.”

“Yeah, I did,” she insisted. “It was just too important. It was critical. If you were about to step on a land mine and blow yourself into bloody little bits, I’d have to warn you. I mean, I could never just sit there and say nothing.”

“What land mine?” I asked.

“That enchilada is like a land mine.”

“It is?”

“Sure.”

I paused to look at my enchilada, and said, “It doesn’t look like a land mine.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Coralee I almost never do know what you mean. Can I please just eat my lunch?”

“No, no, you can’t,” she said, getting all pushy now. “They put MGA in so it tastes better. My point is, you really don’t know what it tastes like, and the MGA is really bad for you.”

“I don’t feel bad,” I said.

She rolled her eyes, as though she were the one talking to a moron and not the other way around. “Not now. But if you keep eating stuff with MGA in it– you know, in the long run– well, it’s just not good for you.”

“Yeah?”

“Lisa, trust me on this. I did the research.”

I eyed my enchilada, maybe just a bit suspicious now.

“Why? What could happen?”

“Well…” she started, and got flustered. It was obvious that she didn’t have a clue. “Well, nothing good.”

“For example.”

“I don’t know. That’s the scariest part; nobody knows for sure what could happen. Maybe your uterus will drop out one day. Who knows?”

“What happens to guys, then?” I asked.

“I’m just saying, why take a chance,” she said, getting irritated. “Hey, if you wanna eat the junk, go ahead– what do I care?”

She tried hard to ignore me, then, but I caught her taking sneaky looks at me now and then.

After she finished her salad, she started digging through her purse. She pulled out a small clear plastic pouch that was filled with different pills.

I lunged across the table, trying to cover the tiny pouch with my hand before anybody could see it.

She started at me, wide-eyed with shock.

“What?” she said.

“What are those?”

“Vitamins,” she said. “What do they look like?”

“They look like a whole mess of pills you shouldn’t be carrying around in school.”

“They’re just vitamins,” she scoffed, shoving my hand away. “Nobody can say anything about my taking vitamins.”

I looked around the lunchroom. Everybody was too busy eating or talking or playing with their cubes of green jello to notice Coralee. Really that was one of the good things about her: she was easily over-looked. She could probably strip naked and run up and down the lunch line and hardly anybody would realize what was happening.

Still I couldn’t help being unnerved.

“Look,” she said, and dug out a pill. “This is B-complex. It’s good for infections and your skin.” She set it on the tabletop and dug out another pill. “Vitamin C– good for colds… Vitamin D– good for bones….”

“You got anything that’s good for insanity, because I think you need to pop a few of those. What that one there?” I asked, fascinated because one of the pills was incredibly large. “That humongous white,” I said, pointing at it.

“Amino Acids,” she said.

“You actually swallow that?”

“Yeah, sure, it’ll make me feel better.”

“Not if it gets caught in your throat, I won’t.”

I watched in amazement, as she swallowed the pills one by one.

“And those make you feel better?” I asked.

“Well, not yet, but they will,” she said. “I’m still waiting for the accumulative effect. You wanna try some?” she asked eagerly, again digging to the bottom of her purse.

“Uh, no,” I said.

“It’s no problem. I always have extras.”

“That’s not the point,” I said. The point was that I never involved myself in any of Coralee’s interests, not after the last time. She’d been all enthused about hiking, and talked me into going with her once. It had seemed safe enough, but I ended up stepping in a gopher hole and breaking my ankle. Of course, it wasn’t really her fault, but I’d always taken the experience as a warning. “I just hate taking pills,” I lied, hoping she would accept the lame excuse.

But she just ignored me, as usual, and slid a packet of vitamins at me.

Before I could get her to take them back, she grabbed her lunch tray, muttered something about having to go somewhere before her next class, and left me sitting there, with a small extremely suspicious little baggie in front of me. I was forced to put it in my pocket before anybody noticed and I had to explain everything about how they were just vitamins, vitamins I had never wanted, and how my cousin Coralee was an incredible airhead who, for the most part, was harmless. I doubted that I could make it all sound very convincing.

 

 

So, yeah, in the end, I took the vitamins. I was even a little proud that I somehow managed to swallow the gynormous amino acid pill without choking to death on it.

The whole vitamin experience left me feeling rather stupid, though.

I took the pills after I got home that day. I’d completely forget I had them in the pocket of my jeans, when I pulled them out, I almost threw them out. But I was afraid my parents might discover them, and end of thinking that one of their kids was a turning into a pill-popping degenerate. Also, I was somewhat curious. Would these things actually make me feel better? And how? I really didn’t think I needed them. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way I felt normally. Still I wondered.

I figured it couldn’t do any harm, so I took them.

And absolutely nothing happened.

I waited for a while. I couldn’t say exactly what I expected, but I didn’t feel any different.

So I did my homework, after which I paused for a long moment to try to detect some subtle change in my physical well-being. But nothing.

For the rest of the day, until I finally went to bed, I stopped to assess myself, only to determine that everything was normal.

I fell asleep feeling as stupid as I had ever felt in my life.

 

 

The next day, Fate itself seemed to be conspiring with Coralee against me.

I met her as I did every day outside the lunchroom.

As we took our places at the end of the lunch line, I told her straight out, “Look, I don’t want to hear anything about vitamins today, okay?”

“Why, what happened?” she asked.

“Nothing– unless you count me waking up in the middle of the night because I’m belching these nasty belches that smell like rotten eggs.”

“That’s from the B-complex,” she said.

“I don’t care what it’s from. Just– just not a word about vitamins.”

She seemed vaguely hurt, and nodded meekly.

As we started to slide our lunch trays down the stainless steel bars before the lunch counter, Coralee said, “I read somewhere that certain imbalances can cause a person to be grumpy.”

“Yeah,” I snarled, “and so can having an idiot for a cousin.”

I peered through the glass of the counter to see what was being served today. We always had the choice of three entrees. The first large stainless steel tub in the steam table contained some kind of creamy chicken casserole dish that look a lot like vomit. The next tub… a creamy beef dish that looked like vomit. The third tub… charred pieces of some type of meat that actually made the stuff in the first two tubs look good.

I paused for too long as I tried to figure with entrée looked the least gross, because somebody down the line started carping about the detail– some hungry person who didn’t have a clue they were about to lose their appetite.

“That’s all you have?” I asked the white-clad woman behind the counter.

She shrugged and nodded as though she couldn’t care less.

“Pass,” I mumbled, and continued down the line.

“First sensible choice you’ve made,” Coralee said.

“Shut up,” I told her, and grabbed a salad, a piece of corn bread, and a cube of green jello that probably would have bounced like a rubber ball if I dropped it.

I sat across from her at our usual table, and ate my salad. Everything I looked up at her, she appeared satisfied, which I found very annoying.

“Don’t say a word,” I warned her.

“Hey, I didn’t say anything,” she said.

“Keep it that way.”

But in the end she couldn’t. “It’s not a bad thing, you know. Did you really wanna eat any of that– stuff?”

“What was it, anyway?” I had to ask.

“It’s the end of the month. Probably whatever they had left over. No doubt saturated with MGA.”

“Hey, you know, I checked on that,” I said. “The school district forbids the use of MGA in school meals.”

“You think they know?” she asked. “You just don’t understand how the world works.”

“Okay, tell me– tell me how you think the world works.”

“You really wanna know?”

“You’re going to tell me anyway, no matter what I want. So, go ahead, get it over with.”

“Well,” she said, and leaned forward as though about to tell me some dark secret. “The school district gives a contract to a company to provide all the meals. It’s all business. The district doesn’t have actual control over what goes into the food– the company does.”

“And they’re the ones breaking the rules, and putting MGA in all the meals?”

“Sure, so everything tastes better,” Coralee said. “If everything tasted as bad as it looked, nobody would eat anything, and the company would lose its contract.”

“And you know this how?”

“It’s all common sense,” she said. “It’s all about money and cutting cost. Of course the food is going to be bad; the contract went to the lowest bidder.”

For once I though Coralee might actually have a point.

“Believe me,” she went on. “You’re better off with a salad. There’s no reason to put anything in salads, because nobody’s expecting anybody to like them anyway.”

I thought I might be losing my mind, because what she was saying actually seemed to make sense to me.

“Besides,” she said, in an off hand way, “you could stand to lose a few pounds.”

“Huh?” I wasn’t offended; I was genuinely surprised at her remark. My weight wasn’t something I thought about much.

“I’m not saying your fat– exactly,” she said. “But you’re not slim, either.”

“ ‘Slim’ doesn’t run on my side of the family, if you haven’t noticed,” I said stiffly. Every one in my immediate family was not slender. My older brother was stocky, my younger two sisters with chubby, and my parents were– well, I had to admit they were downright fat. I always liked to think of myself as a little chucky, not horribly so, just an little extra weight that really didn’t matter; after all, guys still looked at me in an interested kind of way– well, some guys, anyway.

“How much do you weight?” Coralee asked. She had always been pole thin.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never weight myself.”

She looked at me as though she couldn’t believe it. “Never?”

“Mom threw out our scale. I get weight at the doctor’s.”

“The same doctor who probably told you it all runs in the family, and you can’t do anything about it.”

“No, he never said that– oh, he might have said that, too.”

“What else did he say?”

“He told me, maybe, if I drink more water.”

“More water!” she snorted. “Just like a doctor. You know what doctors know about nutrition?”

“No.”

She made a circle with her thumb and finger. “That much– zero, nada. They don’t even teach it in medical school. And, by the way, when a doctor says anything is because of genetics, that means he doesn’t know the real reason.”

“Really?”

“Really,” she promised. “Doctors aren’t as smart as they lead everybody to believe. If they were, nobody would ever get sick. Why do you think they call it a ‘medical practice.’? Doctors practice medicine. They never perform medicine.”

“Yeah,” I said with awe, realizing she was absolutely right.

“How much do you think you weigh?”

“One twenty…five…maybe.”

“And you’re what?– five foot three?” She shook her head. “Too much. And you have to fix that now. If you wait, it’ll just get worse. One day you’ll have to butter your hips to fit through doorways.”

That was a horrifying thought, and in that instant, before I even realized it, I committed myself to one of Coralee’s interests. I promised myself that I would eat better, that I would exercise, and that I would drink more water. It would all be so simple, and how could it ever be a bad thing?

 

 

Two weeks later:

I was always tired, from exercising.

I was always hungry, from not eating enough.

I was always running to the bathroom, from all the water I was drinking.

And as far as I could tell, I hadn’t lost a single ounce of weight.

 

“Well, you know, it might take a little longer,” Coralee suggested.

“I don’t that I have much time,” I said. “Today I fell asleep during an English test, and last week I nearly got run down by a truck while I was jogging. You know, it was a lt safer when I didn’t care what I weighed.’

But Coralee wasn’t listening. She seemed lost in though, as we sat at the lunch table.

“I wonder if you have an inhibited metabolism,” she said.

“Is that something I’m likely to have?” I asked.

“I read somewhere that some people are overweight because they don’t eat enough.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, really.”

“So I can eat again?”

“Well, I wouldn’t pig out. Just eat a lot more vegetables. See what happens.”

“With my luck, I still wont lose weight, and I’ll start looking like the Green Giant.”

 

But it turned out to be good advice. As soon as I started stuffing my face with vegetables, my weight started to ease down. I had discovered I actually weighed 142 pounds– much higher than I had believed– but within a month I was down to 125. Everything from my waist down slimmed out so much I needed new jeans. And I did feel better, which was the main reason I’d started to watch my diet.

It was all good.

Of course, my parents were a bit mystified. They weren’t used to some one in our house losing weight. But they figured that my new, healthy life-style agreed with me, and that it was for the better.

Coralee, by now, didn’t even care much. Like her previous interests, nutrition and fitness had already given way to a new hobby, rock-climbing.

“We’re in Illinois,” I pointed out to her one day at lunch. “We’re do you go rock climbing in Illinois?– it’s all flat.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said, and rattled off about a dozen nearby locations, before wolfing down a couple beef tacos and a non-diet soda.

“What happened to the nutrition thing?” I asked.

“Didn’t work for me,” she said, chewing her food. “I’m naturally skinny, anyway. But you– wow! Guys are actually looking at you.”

“Guys looked at me before,” I said, somewhat defensive.

“Yeah, the guys nobody wants. Now it’s, like, the hot guys are looking.”

“Go on,” I scoffed.

“No, really, girl. Just keep up whatever you’re doing– seriously. By spring, you’re gonna be smoking. You should get on of those teeny bikinis and started going to the tanning salon. You’re gonna have guys drooling over you.”

“Please, that’s not why I started this,” I said. “I just wanted to feel better, really.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better with a bunch a guy chasing you around.”

I found the thought embarrassing, but kind of nice, too. Everybody wants to be wanted, maybe that more than anything else in life.

“Actually,” I said, “I was thinking, maybe, of going out for a team.”

She stopped eating and stared at me.

“A team?” she said dully. “You’re kidding.”

“Maybe soccer or volleyball or maybe even cross-country. I kind of like running. It makes me feel good.”

“You’re sick, you know that,” she said. “I send you on the path to gain these new powers, and you’re gonna waste them on sports? You don’t even care about the guys and whether your favorite cousin picks up your leftovers? That’s gratitude for you,” she said, and stood and grabbed her tray. Before she left, she said, “You know, I don’t even know you.”

I couldn’t believe that she was getting all snarky on me. She was actually mad at me. What was with that? It was bizarre. She never got mad at me.

Well, let her be mad, then, I figured. It didn’t make any sense, anyway; she’d been the one who encouraged me. What did she have to be mad about?

 

Over the following weeks, my weight slowly decreased. As I physically faded away, so did my old life, only to be replaced by a strange new life that I could never feel was really mine.

Half the time when I awoke in the morning, I didn’t feel like myself, the good old Lisa Beaumont, but some stranger into whose skin I had somehow slipped.

Coralee avoided me like the plague. At first, it didn’t seem like a terrible thing, but after a while it didn’t seem natural for her not to be around, jabbering on and on about this or that. I missed her babbling. She could be annoying, sure, but annoying in a comforting way. Now I sit alone in the lunchroom every day, left to realized how few friends I had always had.

Guys who had never before noticed me now began to drift in my direction, sitting at the opposite end of the lunch table. Lose a few pounds and all of a sudden you are visible to people who had never really seen you. How incredibly shallow. Inside I was exactly the same person I had always been, but it seemed people, especially guys, were interested in outsides. I just ignored them and their hedging attempts to talk to me. They probably thought I was stuck-up, but I didn’t care what they thought. Oddly they more I ignored them, the more the tried to talk to me, which annoyed me in a much more annoying way than Coralee had ever been, and that made me miss her even more.

By Christmas vacation, I was down to 109 pounds. The clothes I had worn were all now baggy. My waist was so slim I could see the abdominal muscles I never knew I had. My wrists and ankles seemed too bony, and veins looked like tiny blue worms under the skin of my hands and feet. To me it was pretty gross, but everybody seemed to like the way I looked now– as though before there had been something wrong with me, and nobody had had the heart to mention it.

On Christmas Eve, my aunt and uncle visited my house, as they always did. For them it was a short walk down the street. They brought gifts, but they also brought Coralee. I had no doubt she had made a fuss about even being in the same house with me. It appeared as though she would rather be anywhere else on earth, maybe even in the simmering cone of some active volcano.

After all the food was eaten and the gifts opened, I found myself sitting alone in the living room. The Christmas tree was lit up, with some strings of lights pulsing. The television was showing some sappy old Christmas movie, but thankfully somebody had turned off the sound.

Then Coralee wandered in from the kitchen, where the adults sat drinking coffee and exchanging family gossip.

She flopped down at the opposite end of the sofa. She didn’t say anything. She just sat there, pretending to be interested in the movie, which she couldn’t even hear.

Finally she said, “Hey.”

“Hey,” I said.

“You still mad at me?” she asked.

I looked over at her. “I never was mad at you. You were mad at me.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Were so,” I said.

And we ended up almost getting into an argument over who had been mad at whom. We stopped and looked at each other, and then broke out laughing. It was so ridiculous.

After our laughter died down, Coralee sat close to me.

“Girl, you’re looking good,” she said.

“I never started it to look good,” I said. “I just wanted to feel better.”

“Whatever, you still look great. I always thought you just had a fat face, but you actually have high cheek bones.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Who knew?”

After a thoughtful pause, she muttered, “I hate you, bitch, an gave me a playful shove, and we cracked up all over again.

“But, seriously,” Coralee said, then, “I don’t think you should push it too far.”

“Oh, I’m not,” I said.

“Because– now don’t get me wrong; I think you’re smokin’– but you look a bit pale.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but just a bit.”

“I’m not even down to my ideal weigh,” I pointed out.

“Ideal weight? Listen to you,” she said, and sighed. “I shouldn’t have pushed you into all of it. I think I ruined you somehow. Ideal weight. You wouldn’t have ever said anything like that before.”

“It’s all right,” I told her. “It feels great. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“You were happier before I opened my big mouth.”

“I’m still happy.”

“Are you? You seemed pretty miserable.”

“Only because you weren’t talking to me,” I said.

“Really?”

“Sure.”

“And that was the only reason.”

“Yeah, why else?”

She seemed satisfied, but still wouldn’t explain why she had got all snarky on me to begin with. “You should just eat regular now, the way you did before, you know? Even if you gain back a couple pounds.”

“I always planned on doing that,” I said.

“You sure?– you sure you’re not, like, obsessing.”

“Yeah,” I said, and to prove it, I made her follow me into the dining room, where the two of us pigged out on leftover cake and homemade Christmas cookies.

All in all, it was the best Christmas I had ever had, despite the fact that the cake and cookies didn’t sit right on my stomach and later I had to go to the bathroom to throw up– yeah, other than that it would have been so perfect.

 

Some things take on a life of their own. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. Whatever the case, you have no control over what is happening, and that can get pretty scary.

By the time I returned to school, I had been on my old diet for over a week. It didn’t seem, though, that I was gaining back any weight. At first I thought this was a good thing, but then one day, after gym, I weighed myself on the scale in the locker room. I was astonished to discover I’d lost another two pounds! How was that even possible? I’d eaten like this before and never lost an ounce.

Coralee suggested that maybe the scale was wrong, but I didn’t think so.

“I actually feel it,” I said.

She scoffed at me “How can you feel it? That’s impossible. It’s only two pounds.”

“Two pounds on top of thirty-three pounds,” I said.

But she just shook her head. “No way. Everything will go back to normal. Just keep eating like that,” she said, nodding at my lunch tray; I had two chili dogs, French fries, a piece of chocolate cake, and a non-diet soda.

“I’ve been eating like this,” I said. “Shouldn’t it be making a difference already?”

She shrugged. “Maybe your metabolism is all jacked up into high gear. Maybe you should cut back on the running.”

“I already did that. I was up to three miles a day. Now I’m down to one. I don’t want to stop completely, because I sort of like it.”

“Like running? You’re sick, you know that,” she said. “Well, I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s just gonna take some time to get back to nor–” she stopped, as though struck by a troubling thought. “All the food you’re eating– it is staying down, right?”

“Well…”

“Lisa!”

“Well, most of it,” I said. 

She groaned.

“I’ve been eating nothing but vegetables and fruit…. My stomach just doesn’t seem used to junk anymore.”

“So you’re not… doing it on purpose.”

“No,” I said. “That’s gross. Why would I do that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Some people do, you know.”

“Well, not me. It’s doing it all on its own. My stomach’s just a little messed up– it’s getting better.”

“Promise?”

“Sure.”

“Then I’m sure it’ll be all right,” she said, but didn’t sound to sure.

 

According to the ideal weight calculator I used, my ideal weight was 103.5 pounds.

When I finally hit that weight, I decided that the calculator had to be wrong. If it was right, the my ideal physical condition was freakishly thin.

My cheeks seemed a bit to hollow, and on some days I woke with dark circles under my eyes. Worse than how I looked, I started to feel bad. I felt drained all the time, and so I had to give up running.

The last few lost pounds changed a lot of things. Guys who had been hovering around, looking for an opening to talk to me, slowly shied away. Everybody gave me odd looks now. At home my parents grew fretful. I probably didn’t even look like their child, but rather some kid they had had pity on and adopted. They insisted I see a doctor, but after he examined me and reviewed my blood tests, he claimed that I was in excellent condition.

Which was hard for me to believe. I didn’t feel in excellent condition; most of the time I felt like a wrung-out wash rag. I couldn’t stop thinking about how Coralee said doctors only practice medicine.

Coralee stopped talking about my weight or vitamins or anything like that. I wasn’t sure whether that was because she felt guilty or because her interest was already waning, giving way to another interest. She was talking an awful lot about needlepoint.

One weekend she rented some movies, and brought them over to my house, so that we could watch them on the big-screen television that was in the basement of our house. She ordered pizza, too, and paid for everything, which told me she was feeling some guilt, because she was extremely cheap and almost never parted with any of her baby-sitting money.

We pigged out on deep-dish pizza, and watched movies. It was a good time, and for a while, I forgot about how I was slowly fading away.

Then she put on the last movie, which was called Thinner, which was based on a Stephen King book. It was about a fat guy who gets cursed by a gypsy and keeps losing weight until he looks like a skeleton.

When I realized what the movie was about, I was horrified.

Coralee! How could you?” I thought it was a cruel joke.

“Honestly, I didn’t know,” she said, and went on the claim she had believed the movie was about a dog.

“A dog?”

“I thought that was the name of the dog.”

“Thinner? Who would name their dog Thinner?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “People name their dogs all kinds of weird things.”

“Don’t you read the boxes when you rent a movie?”

“Sure…sometimes.”

“Just turn it off– turn it off,” I said. I had my eyes half-covered with my hand; I couldn’t bare to look at the screen. I certainly didn’t want to know how the movie ends.

After she turned off the big screen, we sat on the floor and finished the pizza. It was could and lay on my stomach like a brick.

When Coralee spoke again, she asked if I wanted to turn on the stereo. I could tell that she felt pretty bad about the movie. You knew? Maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe out there somewhere somebody would name their dog Thinner.

“No,” I said about the stereo. I didn’t run the risk of hearing some song about bulimia. That just would have been too much.

So we sat in silence and ate.

Our basement was always chilly during the winter, but I still felt warm. I was wearing just an old tee shirt and a pair of cut-off jeans. My legs looked like sticks, and my knees look like large knobs in the branch of an old tree. Beneath my skin you could see the roadmap of blue veins that ran everywhere.

When she thought I didn’t notice, Coralee sneaked looks at me. I caught the pained expression on her face.

I wanted to make her feel better. None of it was her fault; there was no way she could have known what kind of reaction I’d have to a simple change of eating habits. Suddenly me stomach started to churn and make a gurgly sound, and I knew what was about to happen– something I noticed a couple weeks before, something that I thought would cheer her up.

“Hey,” I said. “You want to see something trippy?”

“What?”

“Watch this.” I lifted my shirt so that she could see my stomach. She winced, and I told her, “No, just keep watching.” And then it happened.

A small ripple ran under my skin from one side of my upper stomach to the other.

I thought it was hilarious, but Coralee’s eyes bugged out in horror.

“What– what was that?” she stammered.

“I’m not sure,” I said “I think it’s the pizza getting digested. Pretty weird, huh?”

“Girl, you need to see a doctor,” she said.

“I did. He said I was perfect now.”

“Well, he never saw that, that’s for sure. No way is that normal.”

“It’s funny, though, isn’t it?” I said.

“No, it’s not funny. Nothing about it is funny,” she cried. She jumped to her feet and began pacing the way she always did whenever she was upset. “I should have kept my big mouth shut. I can’t believe I did this to you–”

“You? You didn’t do anything–” I tried to tell her, but she wasn’t listening.

“Stupid– stupid– stupid–” she hissed, and with each word she cuffed herself in the side of her head so hard that I was afraid she might actually knock herself out.

I tried to stop her, but couldn’t. Everything must have built up inside her over the weeks, and now she just had to get it all out. Finally she flopped down to the floor like a rag doll, and sat their softly crying and sniffling.

I knelt down next to her.

“Coralee, it’s all right,” I said.

“Don’t say that,” she said gravely, too gravely for the situation as I saw it.

“Don’t say what?” I asked.

“Don’t say it’s all right,” she said, and sniffled as though she needed to blow her nose. “That’s an awful thing to say.”

“It’s all right?”

“There, you did it again. I swear,” she said, and balled her hand into a fist, “if you say it again, I’ll punch you right in the head.” And she looked about ready to do it, too.

“I don’t understand what the problem is,” I said, and really didn’t.

“It’s it obvious?” she asked.

“No.”

“You’re dying,” she said, “and it’s all because of me– me and my big mouth.”

“Dying?” That was ridiculous. Of course, I wasn’t dying. “Coralee, I’m not dying. What would put that in your head?”

She stopped sniffling. “I know what you’re doing,” she said. “And don’t tell me you’re not.”

“Not what?”

“You’re making yourself sick.”

“No, I’m not,” I said, astounded that she would accuse me of such a thing. “I told you before– it’s just that my stomach bothers me sometimes– that’s all. Trust me. I’m not doing that, and I’m not dying.”

“How much do you weigh now, anyway,” she asked, and seemed to dread the answer

“I’m not sure,” I lied. “I haven’t weighed myself in a week.”

“How much?” she asked, totally not believing me.

“It’s not that bad.”

How much?”

I hedged before I told her, “A hundred even.”

“A hundred!”

“But it’ll be all right.”

“How? How’s it gonna be all right?”

“I’ve been watching it really close. It took a lot longer to lose the last couple pounds. My stomach is feeling better. It’s about to stop.”

“Sure, it has to stop,” she said. “You don’t have anything else to lose.”

“It’s be all right,” I promised.

Then she said the strangest thing. “I loved you when you were fat.”

“Uh, I though you said I wasn’t fat.”

“Oh, you were fat,” she assured me. “But that was you. I don’t know why I even had to mention it.”

“It never had anything to do with my weight, anyway. I just wanted to feel better, and I do– even now,” I said.

“Really? You’re not just saying that?”

“No, so stop worrying, because there’s nothing to worry about.

 

My weight finally bottomed out at 97 pounds, before I slowly regained some of the lost pounds.

By summer I was back to 111 pounds, and it seemed as though that was where my weight would settle. I resumed running, which, even today, I still enjoy. It makes me feel good. Of course, there is always that little letdown after I run, but that only makes me look forward to the next day, when I can run again. I am up to six miles a day, and I am sure that in the fall I will have no trouble making the cross-country team.

Coralee went through three or four more hobbies. Sometimes, I lose track. By summer she was into archery. She tried to get me interested, too, but I begged off; I couldn’t shake off the image of an arrow zipping straight for my forehead as she tried to shoot an apple off my head. This even caused a couple nightmares.

Her family moved away at the beginning of summer. In the fall she will be attending a different school. As annoying as she can be, I will still miss her. If nothing else, she has always been well-meaning. And she really does care, in her own demented sort of way. Sometimes I still laugh to myself at how she actually believed I was sticking my finger down my throat to make myself vomit. I mean… as if…. I still wonder where she got the idea; even I couldn’t picture myself doing something like that. Oh, sure, there were a couple times I did do it. But it was never a habit. My stomach was bothering me and I was going to throw up anyway. I figured I’d just save the time, and get it over with. Also, I felt a little stupid standing and leaning over the toilet, and waiting. So what not?

All that is behind me now, anyway. My weight is fine. My stomach is fine. I’m running six miles a day, and by the fall, I will be up to seven or eight, or maybe even ten. Who knows? All I know is that everything is fine and it’s going to stay that way– really.

For sure. 

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