Monday, April 22, 2012, 5:00 PM
I am writing right now in the nearby cafe, sipping my iced coffee and letting my fingers do the talking. A few people walk in and walk out, clutching bags of donuts or plastic cups of iced coffee. They come here to study, to read, to catch up with old friends, or to sit quietly, like I am, and go through the motions of every day life. In front of my seat, a woman stands at the cashier, her arms crossed against her chest, eyes looking up at the menu board. I notice her the minute she walks in, and if you saw her you would notice too. She’s my height, petite, with shoulder length, dark brown hair and a angular, pretty face with sharp, yet delicate features. She’s dressed simply in black flip flops, a pair of dark denim shorts with sassy zebra-print details and a plain white tank top. Slung over her shoulder is a mahogany Long Champ tote bag. I wish I looked at her face longer than I did. If you had seen her, though, you wouldn’t have taken much notice of her face either. The only part I see now of her face is the left side of her - the blush of her cheek, the lines around part of her mouth and the tired, deep concave under her left eye.
She stares at the drinks menu board, and drops her eyes to the display counter. She contemplates the donuts in the display case far longer than she does the drinks menu. I wonder what she’s thinking, if we share the same thoughts I once had about donuts. The other woman in line at the cashier glimpses at her and looks away immediately, as if uncomfortable. “What donut do you want?,” she asks her daughters. 3 chocolate glazed donuts, please. After a few minutes, the woman in the white tank top places an order. I can barely hear her voice over the music, and the hustle and bustle of the cafe. It’s tiny, just like her. The woman behind the cashier looks at her, smiles ever so politely, takes her order and looks away. You might wonder what they’re trying so hard to look away from. There’s absolutely nothing striking about her appearance. To the untrained eye, she’s just another woman coming in for coffee. To me, she’s the splitting image of a past I left behind a long time ago. It is painful to look at her, and yet I can’t find it in me to look away the way the others did. I let go and let her body draw me in, and I am lost in that image.
Underneath the low halogen lights of the cafe, her body is a cragged and shadowy wasteland of skin and bone. Her spine juts out from her back, a harsh mountain range ripping across a flatland of yellowing skin. Her shoulder blades are so sharp and pointy, and I wonder to myself if its possible for them to cut her skin, bursting through her back like a pair of featherless wings. What is supposed to be the round of her shoulders is dotted with more sharp peaks. Looking at the space between her one shoulder to the other, I’m compelled to draw a line between them like connect the dots. I always liked playing connect the dots. My eyes follow the mountain range of her spine down to the hollow between her legs. There’s nothing there. No mounds of flesh where thighs are supposed to be; just the hollowed, empty mouth of a cavernous space. Her ankles are so tiny, I am afraid that they will break under the pressure of what little weight it has to sustain. And her arms, her fragile, bony arms. She reminds me of the little skeletons of birds I used to look at in the Science laboratory of my high school. I always wondered how they died.
Looking at her, taking in her appearance, images of my old self flit through my mind, between the view of woman in front of me and the words I have written on the page. I am 17 years old again, as empty and fragile as a beautiful porcelain doll. You could probably pick me up with one hand and place me on your knee, too. Clothes hang from the wire hanger of my frame, hiding my own mountainous region of skin and bone. I am a 5”2, 102 pound high school student, and whether I am conscious of it or not, my body is wasting away from bulimia and anorexia. Other girls in my school tell me to eat something, that I look pale, that it’s already too much. I smile, and wonder what they’re talking about. “I feel fine!,” I gush. Random people I meet look at me and ask, with a look of concern on their face, “You look pale, are you ok? You should eat something.” I smile politely and nod. “I feel fine,” I say to myself. My diet consists of 3 cups of boiled vegetables a day, or fruits, if I am in the mood. Sometimes, I’ll have a glass of soy milk or a bowl of plain cereal. I don’t feel hunger like other people do. My body is used to scraping by with what little food I consume.
The only time I don’t feel fine is when I binge on whatever food I can find or purchase. Sweets, junk food, cold pizza, fast food meals. That’s OK, though. I run the water in the shower, bloat myself with gallons of water until my stomach protrudes like a sickly African child and purge the contents of my stomach into the toilet with a toothbrush. I choose a toothbrush with a round rubber end because it does’t make my throat bleed like the others do, or the way my nails do as they scrape against my flesh. I ready myself for the first wave of purging. My skeletal frame rattles against the toilet bowl with each heaving retch. A sharp pain shoots down my throat and spreads throughout my chest. I close my eyes and white dots of light burst from underneath my lids. I repeat the process of bloating and purging. Same stabbing motion, same bursts of light, same searing pain. “It’s ok,” I think to myself in the dark recess of my mind, “Just a little bit more until you’re clean and pure and perfect again.” Once I finish, I stand up, turn to my side and look at myself in the mirror. Underneath the harshness of the white fluorescent bathroom lights, a perfect juxtaposition to the woman standing in front of me, I do a mental checklist of my body. Jutting hip bones, check. Carved out stomach, check. Knobbly rib cage, check. I wash my mouth, clean the bathroom and smoke a cigarette in the attic. I enjoy the nicotine rush, close my eyes and blow streams of smoke into the darkness. I feel fine again.
I wrench myself away from those haunting memories and slip back into the present. I am 22 years old again. Tattoos. Black boots. 130 or so pounds. Strong. My heart sinks ever so slightly at the memory, and I am filled with a sense of sadness and mourning.
I look up from my tablet. The cashier woman and I make eye contact, and she smiles for a split second. The woman in the white tank top is still waiting for her coffee and I wonder if she’s staying in, or having her coffee for take away; inwardly, I hope she stays. I imagine she is sitting at a table near me, and myself glancing up every now and then to look at her. I want to see her face, and look at her eyes; see if she sees things the way I did once upon a time. Other people walk into the cafe, choosing which donuts and coffee they’ll have for a nice, summery Monday afternoon. A couple walks in, a handsome sporty looking man and his girlfriend, cute and stylish in her sheer black button down, black and white striped mini skirt and gold ballet flats. They place their orders and take a seat next to the table I am sitting at. Maybe the woman in the white tank top can sit somewhere else.
By the time I look up again, she is headed out of the door with a cup of coffee in her hand and I am left to sit there quietly, with nothing but a few seconds of her tired eyes and the image of a cragged and shadowy wasteland. I wonder where she’s going. I wonder where she is now.
I wish she stayed.