She stared at me in disgust…again. Scowl. Primp. Scowl. Curse. A ritual I should have been accustomed to, yet every day felt like a first. Living in constant angst at the inability to meet impossible standards, she punished herself. A knock at the door sent her into a tantrum.
“What?” The childish stomp and roll of her eyes masked her hidden maturity. A muffled voice from outside the locked door pleaded with the girl. Part of the normal morning routine. A few more scowls in my direction before she allowed him inside.
“I don’t want it!” she cursed at the visitor. Without saying a word he continued on his mission with a practiced nonchalance. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” he stated while closing the door and ignoring her venomous stare. Frustration at its tipping point, she took one more look at me.
I could see the girl I once grew up with. Fun, full of life, and genuinely serene. A beautiful person with a promising future. She was still in there somewhere. Buried amongst years of hate and heaps of lies. Her eyes were now jaded with life and clouded by her mind. As she stood sideways to run her hand over her stomach, I thought that I saw a hint of recognition. Maybe she could be saved after all.
Her attention turned to the gift on the table, delivered by the unwelcomed guest. I could have been covered in warts and hairy moles all over my body and I still would have received a warmer welcome than what was sitting there. This was also routine. I could see the struggle so clearly written on her face, that I was almost experiencing her internal dilemma. And I sympathized. I didn’t understand it, but I could see how it had affected her. How it had changed her.
Slumping on her bed in exhaustion, she sat and stared at the table. Nearly ten minutes had passed before she picked up the apple. Rolling it in her hand, she gazed out the window in a trancelike state. Tears silently trickled down her skeletal cheeks. Suffering and torturing herself for reasons that I could not comprehend. She turned back towards the table and the plate full of nourishment. A single egg, half a slice of wheat toast, and the apple. It wasn’t much, but to her it was a feast. A feast that she would not allow herself to have. A feast that she couldn’t have because she didn’t deserve it. I had listened to her explain this thousands of times, pleading her case. Nobody cared. Not really. They had heard it all before.
Cringing with pain, she took a bite of the apple. Chewing bit by bit until it was gone; crying the entire time. When she was done with the forbidden fruit, she moved to the egg and toast. Finishing her breakfast meant privileges on the grounds. A chance to walk outside or talk to her brother and sister. She missed them, I could tell.
When the nurse came back to her room to gather her plate, she stood silently in front of the mirror, staring into my eyes. “You did well today, Anna. The doctor will be pleased with your progress.” Anna didn’t respond. When the silence stretched too long, the nurse began to leave and reminded her about the group counseling session starting in ten minutes. This time, he left the door open.
Anna stood in front of me in a tank top and shorts. She slowly raised her arms out to the side and tilted her head in evaluation. Her keen eyes intent on seeing something that wasn’t there. She pinched her skin under her right tricep, pulling until it would stretch no more. She repeated the procedure on her other arm, her stomach, and her thighs. Each time tears would well up in her eyes and frustration would paint her face. Did she have to torture herself so much?
Movement in the hallway increased and Anna sighed. “Why can’t I just be normal?” she pleaded with me. “I hate feeling this way.” She turned towards her dresser and added three more layers of baggy clothes to her gaunt frame. She twisted her hair into a knot on top of her head and stopped one more time in front of me. Wiping the tears from her eyes and adjusting the sweatshirt over her bony shoulders, she smiled. Maybe Anna would be okay after all.