Chaffey Review, Summer 2011
I excuse myself and leave them to their gin and tonics. I go right up to my bathroom and turn on the fan. I run the shower, too. Just in case Solange, our housekeeper, or—even worse—my mom barges in. I get everything ready so I won’t forget to do it later. Really, it’s just a roll of paper towels and the Clorox Cleanup. I also have the Lysol wipes that my mom wants Solange to use on everything. I keep this stuff hidden in the cabinet behind all my junk because it’s not my job to clean my bathroom. Or any of the other six bathrooms in our house. But I keep this stuff hidden up here because I don’t want anyone snooping around and asking questions.
The rest is simple. I tie back my hair in a high ponytail and lift up the toilet seat. With my right hand, I hold back the end of my ponytail because it always flops over. I get down on my knees, hang my head over the bowl, and stick my finger down my throat. It’s not nearly as hard or as gross as you think. I mean it is gross, but it’s just a natural thing, once you get used it. I think you can really get used to just about anything if you have to. I’m not wild about the sounds I make when this is going on. Who would be? It sounds like I’m choking or something. I know that. It’s ugly. The smell’s disgusting too, but it’s all worth it in the end.
So this is it. I’m about to do it right now. I stick my finger back really far and I gag a little and next I make that gross sound and then it’s coming up. There’s nothing I can do about it now. Nothing I need to do. My eyes are watering, so I wipe them with the edge of my sleeve. I see pieces of sweet potato soufflé and pork tenderloin. Orange and brown. Big chunks, really. Nothing’s very digested, which makes a lot of sense. It’s just dinner. The stuff I have to eat in front of them. The rest of the day is really easy. No one’s watching me like a hawk or anything. Nobody at school cares if I eat or not. My friends think I’m awesome. They tell me I’m as thin as that actress, Megan Fox, but I know I still have a ways to go. I’m not stupid.
The puking’s all done now and I flush. Voila! I watch the swirl of bluish water carry all that gross food away. I’m bored now cause I’ve seen this a hundred times. I use the wipes this time to get the pieces that stick to the edges near the rim. I fold the wipe four times just to be sure you can’t tell what’s inside and I stick it at the bottom of the trashcan. I wad up six tissues and place these in on top. I arrange them so they look natural.
If you think this is the grossest thing you can do to get thin, then you’re wrong. There’s way grosser. I do them sometimes, too. I take Miralax and, if I’m really feeling fat, I use a Fleet Enema. You fill up this plastic bottle with liquid and stick it inside you and then you have to wait for so many minutes — even after you feel like you have to go really, really bad — before you can let yourself shit. Now, that’s pretty gross and I have to hide that stuff much more carefully. It’s a lot more work, but when all that shit is coming out of me — and especially when it’s over and I’m totally empty inside — it’s soooo worth it. I cannot tell you how worth it that feeling is.
So, you might think I’m crazy or something but, trust me, I know exactly what I’m doing. You might say this kind of stuff doesn’t make any sense, but I think it’s a perfectly sensible option. When I first started losing weight my mom was so excited it was pitiful. “Rachel, you’re losing your baby fat, honey! Look at how beautiful you are!” Now they all watch me constantly. They watch every bite of food I take and they’re all like “Rachel, honey, you’re doing soooo well with Dr. Hildebrand. We’re all so proud of you!” What are they proud of? That I ate three bites of chicken breast this week? My family is filled with some very stupid people.
It’s winter break from school and this really sucks because they watch me even closer now. All of my friends are somewhere else. They’re in St. Martin or London or Vail. We would be too, but my mom is afraid to take me away from Dr. Hildebrand right now. You should see him. He sits there with his stupid fat gut hanging over his belt and tells my mom and me what we should do. “ I want you — as a family — to maintain as much continuity as possible. Let’s try and keep Rachel’s routines, her appointments, etc., on an even keel,” the fat guy says. He winks at my mom like it’s a joke, or some big conspiracy or something, and she goes right along with him. “Of course, Dr. Hildebrand. We just want what’s best for Rachel.”
“Rachel,” he says in this super-serious voice, “I think, from what your mother tells me, you’re doing a very good job of setting aside some of your anger. Just like we talked about last time? Setting it aside—not ignoring it—but putting it in its own safe place,” he adds, and “blah, blah, blah,” some other stuff I don’t even hear.
He sits there in this black high-tech kind of chair and looks right at me but I won’t look him in the eye. He reminds me of a hippo and I can’t look him in the eye without wanting to tell him. I think about sticking a pin into his gut. It would be just like a cartoon. There’d be this loud hissing sound and he’d deflate into a flattened pile of blubber.
“Rachel,” my mom says, “Don’t be rude. Dr. Hildebrand is speaking to you.” I don’t even realize that he’s stopped talking. I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at blocking him out. This is exactly the method I use with my parents. And my grandparents, when they get involved. “Have a nice holiday, Dr. Hildebrand,” I say to my Uggs when my mom tugs hard at my arm.
We stop at the Starbuck’s on the way home. My mom wants us to sit there at a little table like a normal mother and daughter and drink our stupid, fattening lattes. The super-pretty mom. The almost pretty daughter. Like two BFFs, she must think. “I’ll sit here,” I tell her, “but I’m not talking.”
“Fine,” she says, stirring a Splenda into the disgusting, white foam. When her cell phone rings she looks down at the screen and shakes her head back and forth, like she does when some old guy is driving really, really slow in front of us. “Hi, Daddy,” she says with a smile plastered on her face. “OKaaay, OKaaay . . . well, Mark might prefer . . . .” She listens for a little while, twirling the ends of her perfect blond hair the way I do sometimes when I’m nervous. “OKaaay, Daddy,” she says and even laughs a little, but her chest is splotchy right where her cashmere cardigan is unbuttoned and the tank top peeks out.
The next second the smile’s totally gone. “We’re going over to Grandpop’s for dinner tonight. It’s Grandma’s bridge night out and he wants us to come over,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“Well, I have plans,” I snap. I totally DON’T want to go over there and have to sit in my grandparents’ creepy, huge dining room, gorging on all their food.
“That’s too bad,” my mom snaps back. “You’re going.”
I glare at her, but she ignores me. At least now I don’t have to listen to her the whole way home. She’s looking straight ahead, perfectly silent. Chill. Honestly, I don’t know which one of us is better at this.
So here’s the thing. There’s something else I like to do. A lot of this stuff is kind of messy. I do admit that. See, my mom wants to know why I’m always locking my door. Duhhh. That’s just what I need, having her barge right in on me before I’ve had time to clean things up. Blood, if you lick it, tastes a lot like metal, the taste you remember from when you were little and one of your baby teeth comes out when you wiggle it too much with your tongue. I like that taste and that’s the first thing I do after I make a cut. I lick the first drops that pop up on my skin. I use a razor blade. Brand new. One time only. This is a rule that I have. It’s important to make these kind of rules and stick to them.
Here’s another rule: only make cuts on my left arm and my right leg. On my stomach, but only above my belly button. You can wear long sleeves in the wintertime and nobody will notice. If you knock off a scab or something, sometimes you get a bloodstain on your shirt. I’ve gotten good at getting them out and I’ve gotten good at lying to Solange when I can’t. “I scraped my arm on the fence at track practice,” I tell her without blinking.
But here’s the best part. I lock my bedroom door and my bathroom door, too. I turn on something old school. Music my dad likes, some old Aerosmith. Ha Ha! I do it like I’m a nurse. Very professional and all that. I peel an alcohol wipe out of its little package and “swab the area.” I say this out loud when I do it because I like the way the words sound. I heard someone say this on a YouTube video. I slip a brand new blade out of the package. You have to be careful not to cut too deep. This takes some practice. My heart is racing now. You have to stay calm and remember the rules.
My hand doesn’t shake anymore because I know what’s about to happen. I know what to expect. I like that, knowing what comes next. I press the blade into my skin with just the right amount of pressure. It’s not scary at all. It’s a rush. Even the pain. It comes on so fast you don’t even have time to worry about it. It hurts enough, but not too much. It’s good to feel it and know that I do this to myself. No one else is doing it. Just me. I watch the pink line as it rises on my skin, the little red beads, and then the trickle of blood that squiggles down my arm. I blot it, of course, with some Kleenex. I flush the Kleenex. The blood is bright, bright red, like the first day of my period, not the ugly clotted stuff that comes out after. It’s pure.
My grandpop has a man who drives him and my grandmom wherever they want to go. Most people don’t have this I know, but to me it seems pretty normal, I guess. It’s an old school Rolls Royce. Really huge inside. The car can fit my whole family and this is what we’re doing now. Roger, the driver, is up front—duhhhh—and my dad sits up there with him. The rest of us are in the back. It smells like my mom’s perfume and my grandmom’s perfume all mixed together, like in Bloomingdale’s cosmetics department when those ladies start spritzing you with all different things. And the heat’s up so high it’s making me sweat, even though my coat is folded on my lap. “You all comfy back there?” Roger asks and my grandpop pats my grandmom’s gloved hand and says, “Superb, Roger, all snug as a bug in a rug.” My grandpop winks at me. He looks handsome in his tuxedo, his silver hair shining a little in the low lights that Roger leaves on for us. Roger does whatever my grandpop tells him.
Roger pulls into the big driveway at the Four Seasons Hotel. We’re going to the Fountain Restaurant here for my birthday, because it’s my fifteenth birthday and my grandpop says: “This is the best meal in the city and nothing’s too good for my only granddaughter.” My grandpop looooves to spoil me and my mom. He says it’s his “favorite occupation.”
It’s going to be a real pain, being out with all of them, but I’ve got a plan. I know exactly where the ladies room is. If my mom comes in after me, I’ll know it’s her and I’ll stop. If I’m already doing it, I’ll flush to cover the noise. We’re checking our coats right now. My grandpop is flirting with the coat-check girl. She’s kind of chubby but really pretty. Classy. He holds onto her hand as she slides his black cashmere coat across the counter and he looks straight into her eyes and holds them, too. Her laugh is kind of nervous but her voice stays polite. She says “Thank you, sir. Enjoy your evening,” when he pulls out a crisp twenty-dollar bill and presses it into the same hand he was holding before. I know how soft that coat feels and the wet-wool smell of it when the snow melts on it. My grandpop’s had it for as long as I can remember.
“A toast to my gorgeous girls,” says my grandpop, clinking his champagne glass with each of ours. “To my lovely granddaughter, Rachel. Happy birthday, sweetheart.” My mom kisses me on the cheek. “Here, here,” says my grandmom. My dad gives me a quick hug. “Love you, Sweetie,” he says. He’s always super tense around my grandpop and the two martinis he’s already downed don’t seem to have the usual effect. A waiter brings the bread and the doughy-hot smell of it turns my stomach queasy. I pick up the roll from my bread plate and break off a little piece. I slather it with butter when my mom looks over at me. I count the number of times it takes me to chew the bite that’s in my mouth. Twelve. A bitter taste comes up and I make my mind go blank. You can do this when you have to.
My grandpop is having a quiet talk with the waiter. He glares at him over the tortoise shell rims of his glasses with a look I’ve seen before: it says “I know way more about this than you do, so just keep your mouth shut and listen.” The waiter says, “Yes, sir, I’ll send him right over.” A few seconds later a man comes to our table and talks to my grandpop about wine. “Of course if you’re looking for a Sangiovese—a perfect pairing for the beef carpaccio—I’d recommend the 2005 blah blah blah.” Now this man my grandpop likes. They talk about some other kinds of wine for a long time and then the man says, “Excellent choice, sir,” and does a weird kind of half-bow to my grandpop when he takes the huge, leather wine menu from him. “Daddy,” my mom says in a really sweet and quiet voice, “Rachel isn’t eating beef these days, you know.” She’s smiling, trying not to make a big deal out of it. She tells people outside of our family that I’m a picky eater. With his glasses off, my grandpop’s eyes look more tired, the watery blue just a little less blue and a little more gray. “She’ll eat it tonight, Sylvia,” he says, never taking his eyes from my mom’s face.
My grandpop watches as the waiter puts the plate in front of me. Our appetizer. The little pile of meat is blood-red and I can see all those gross veins running through it. There’s some disgusting brown sauce on the white plate congealed underneath it.
The taste is there again at the back of my throat. Sour and salty. I remember that he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
I lift the fork to my mouth. I count how long it takes to chew this raw piece of red flesh. Twenty-two seconds. I start to gag a little. “Have a little piece of bread, Sweetie,” my mom says, worried. “I’m fine,” I say. “Excuse me, please,” I say to my plate. My mom reaches for my arm. “Please,” I say. No one else says anything.
In the ladies room, each little room has its own sink and a little stack of rolled up white towels on the counter. I unroll one and it’s crisp and clean. Pure. I run the water and dip the towel in the sink. The stiff cloth gets squishy under my fingers. I wring it out hard and wipe it over my face and my neck. I think about what comes next. I try to go over the rules, but now there’s a kind of movie playing in my head and the taste comes back. I remember the salty taste and the dark.
In the dark, my fingers feel the softness of flesh, its thick veins pulsing like a wild animal. “Now put your lips there,” he says. He means business.
I shut my eyes to try and stop it.
I check the lock again, spread four clean towels over the rim. I count them out loud as I do this and the counting stops the movie for a minute. I have to work fast, I tell myself. Follow the rules. I get down on my knees. I tie my hair back.
But then I don’t know how to stop it.
“Just lick it with your tongue,” he says.
I stick my finger deep inside my throat and gag. It spills from my mouth and he presses my face into the softness of his coat.