Short story by Calvin Ma, Durham, North Carolina, 2017.
Another day, you can do this.
I stared at my underwear-clad reflection and grimaced. I cupped my hands around my waist and sucked in, seeing if my thumbs and fingertips would still meet together on the front and back of my waist. They still did. Stepping back, I stood with my feet apart, my back slightly pushed out, and looked towards my thighs in the reflection. This was the very first thing I did in the morning, every morning.
Sighing, I slid the scale from out under her bed – the metal ice cold against my dry, ashy fingers. I wonder if Ashley knows about my scale. Or about me. About this. I stepped onto the scale and squeezed my eyes shut. My heartbeat quickened and my fingers trembled. It was 97.3 yesterday. I waited desperately for the beep, what was a mere 3 seconds felt like minutes.
The scale read 97.9. Progress. A sense of calming rushed over me, but my anxiety still pounded in my chest. I’m still not completely over it – these numbers. My mind cleared up. Good job today. One day at a time. I stared at the breakfast bars sitting on my desk. Five months ago, I would have never touched those bars, or maybe I would’ve wolfed them down just to throw them up hours later in shame. One hundred and eighty-one calories. I knew it all by heart. Banana: hundred and five calories. Cup of coffee: thirty calories. Bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios: hundred and ten.
My phone buzzed, liberating me from all the calories I had memorized over the years. There must have been so many numbers poking at me each day. Just a single notification.
9:30 – EAT BREAKFAST NOW.
I looked at the bar again. Who even eats breakfast in the morning in college? I unwrapped it, the silver crinkling under the weight of my dry fingers. Nobody, except everyone will eat lunch and dinner unlike you. I choked the bar down. Progress. I pack my bag and I even take the bus to class today – walking to class and burning those 50 calories really doesn’t make sense anymore.
I am on the road to recovery. It has been five months since I fainted in the gym after not eating anything but pretzels and water for 4 days. Since I finally had a talk with my parents, who I had hid my problem from for so long, who I had lied to every day to keep my anorexia under the radar, who could’ve helped me if only I had listened. I was stubborn and didn’t want change in my life. I had moments of fleeting happiness. I wasn’t depressed. But when your only happiness in life comes from the number of calories you eat every day or the red digital numbers that show up on the scale, change must happen and I knew there was something wrong with me.
I knew the whole time, it was just so hard to change. It became a habit – I would count my calories every night before I fell asleep or every time I saw a food, its calorie count would pop up in my head. It still happens even now but I manage my body.
In my bag, I have everything I need for the day. No, not what you’re thinking of. Of course, I have my laptop and notebooks and textbooks, but more importantly, I have my meals for the day. The doctor put me on a tight diet, something like a reverse diet so I actually eat. I have snacks: an apple (ninety-five calories) and a bag of pretzels (hundred and ten calories). I also have a salad with dressing. Yep, I said it, with dressing. Around a hundred calories with an additional eighty calories worth of dressing. All this for a single day when it would’ve been my weekly meal in the past. Progress.
11:00 – EAT SNACK NOW
My phone buzzes annoying in my back pocket, and I don’t even have to look at it to know what it’s screaming at me for. I reach into my bag and take out the apple. My day revolves
around these notifications on my phone. My classes are even planned around them, which can make scheduling difficult but I need to manage it. Before, I planned my classes specifically during lunch and I would have work right around dinner. That way I had an excuse for myself to skip out on my meals. I chomped on my apple, calories and sugar tickled my taste buds. I would have friends use my card and meal plan just so my parents wouldn’t find out. I didn’t even want to be around food.
1:30 – EAT LUNCH. ALL OF IT.
I thought used to be in control. That I was strong. I found an excuse for my miserable life that made everything I did seem reasonable. Nights where I couldn’t fall asleep because my stomach was growling showed me how much “willpower” I had. Who else could do what I was doing? Those people are just giving in to their desires when eating and I was “disciplined.” But really, it was I who was giving in to something even worse. I’d be jealous of those people in the cafeteria who could just devour their lunches. I wanted to be like them, but my mind was holding me back. When I would go to the gym whenever I had free time, I thought I was doing it for my body. The gym was where I’d go amidst the anxiety of dealing with my anorexia since there was no food there, no intrusive thoughts, only opportunities to get even skinnier. I’d run through the pain. My body would ache for help, but running on the treadmill until I would almost pass out from exhaustion was supposed to be “good” for me. I mean, look at all the calories I burned.
4:00 – EAT SNACK NOW
My phone buzzes as I open the bag of pretzels. Anxiety and panic set in. It’s Sarah’s birthday and my friends are planning to go somewhere nice for dinner. Meet for dinner? Where are we going? What time? If I go, will I eat too much? Will I eat too little? Thoughts race through my head. We haven’t all gotten together in forever. I want to but I have to prioritize.
They move the time around, accommodating for me, but I can’t. I tell them no again and again. I feel like a horrible friend. The pretzels feel like sand in my mouth. I don’t want to eat them anymore. I can’t go tonight – that would mean sacrificing so much. These are the repercussions I have to deal with now. They probably think I hate them or something. But I’m too embarrassed to tell them about this. About me. I tell them I’ll see them another time. The bag of carbohydrates is still staring at me. I force myself to eat them one by one. Progress.
7:00 – EAT DINNER NOW
I flip through the sheets of paper that my nutritionist has given me, looking for an appropriate dinner. My nutritionist has spoken with the cafeterias and he’s come up with this extensive dietary plan just for myself. I settle on a sandwich – I don’t want to leave my dorm. Three hundred and forty-eight calories. My mind is still hovering over my friends and all the fun they’re having together at dinner. My anorexia, my mindset, has not gone away and I expect it to never leave. All the thoughts are lingering in the corners of my mind but I battle to ignore them. Eating is a battle. Recovery is a battle.
One hundred and eighty-one calories.
One hundred and eighty calories.
One hundred and ten calories.
Three hundred and forty-eight calories.
Total: Nine hundred and fourteen calories.