The business of fiction is to create a world so similar to the reality we live in that you cannot see the thin line between what is real and what is not. This story, with its different point of view, recounted the life of an anorexic character, and I feel a tremendous empathy with her. The journal-like style is one of my favorites. Even if the market is a bit saturated just now with this kind of writing, you always find something that makes your finger turn the page.
Her Bones Stick Out Like Weapons
Laurie Smolenski, Detroit
Second Prize, Fiction
Anorexia Nervosa: “Dramatic loss of appetite resulting from misconception of body image and the need for a sense of control.”
Fuck that. It’s when you hate living and all you think about is food but something in your mind takes over and doesn’t let you eat. Your mind is black. You hate your friends and you hate your doctors even more. Anorexia is when you weigh 72 pounds and you wish the scale said 200 so everyone would leave you alone (family teachers friends doctor) because you don’t care how much you weigh or what you look like; you just can’t eat. You lay awake hungry but you will not let yourself get up.
My sister Taj does everything possible to avoid dinnertime. She invents babysitting jobs so she can leave the house. Usually when she is home, she fights with my mom, and cries and yells when she has to eat something. Ever since Taj started going to the doctor every month, she tied weights around her ankles and wore baggy pants with heavy stuff in the pockets. She hated being weighed. Dr. Masfield found out, so now she has to wear shorts and a tank top when she’s weighed. Her bones stick out like weapons.
Our friend Taj is so skinny it’s sick! She is so weird now, she carries a napkin around everywhere to wipe her lips and we just realized it’s because she’s afraid that if she has oil on her hands it might accidentally get in her mouth. She doesn’t use lip gloss anymore either, too many calories. Whenever we call her to go out with us girls she is either sleeping or probably staring at cooking magazines. She won’t come to the spring dance either. She brings brownies to class like, every week, but she never eats them. She did come out to lunch with us on the half day, but it was so weird — she put mustard on her salad because they were out of fat-free dressing. Taj wears kids’ medium shorts!
I’m not going to let Taj go to swim team any more. When I picked her up yesterday she was wearing sweat pants, a down fleece, and a scarf. It’s May and she was shaking all the way home. Her skin is already dry and pale as it is, but when she swims, her lips and fingers turn blue. Christ, I took away her weights too, and she sobbed and told me I was a terrible mom. She won’t eat anything I make. She only likes to eat prepackaged food so she knows how many calories she’s eating. She hides Nutrasweet because I won’t let her eat it, and she won’t even put real sugar in her tea anymore. She’s become obsessive compulsive too; she has to touch every doorknob she passes by. She organizes the fridge every night.
Your daughter has lost four pounds since the last time she was in. She has stunted her growth to the point that she will probably never get any taller, even … once she recovers. The stomachaches she has been having … I know it is difficult to hear this from a doctor, but Taj’s body has gone into starvation mode. Muscle atrophy is occurring. Her stomach lining is being destroyed. You’ve seen the downy hair covering her arms; it is referred to as lanugo. This is Taj’s body attempting to insulate itself as she loses body fat … If she loses any more weight, your daughter will need to be committed to a hospital
Christ, she denies she has a problem. I don’t know if she even believes she can begin to eat again. Someone from her school calls me almost every week to tell me they have seen her, and ask me if I am aware of how skinny she is. I have to sit with her at the dinner table for two hours just to make her eat a baked potato. Everyone seems to think that since I’m her mother, I should be able to make her eat. I can’t communicate with my daughter anymore … She doesn’t understand that she’s ruining her body, her life. She won’t go out with her friends anymore. When she was climbing the rope in gym class last week, she got dizzy and fell. I don’t know how she didn’t break something.
I had my recital last night, we were late because it took Taj half an hour to eat an ear of corn. She reheated it in the microwave, like, after every 3 bites. I hate to watch my sister eat. At dinner she gives a lot of food to the dog if no one is looking, but he won’t eat corn and she didn’t have any pockets in her dress so she couldn’t hide it there either. Mom didn’t even take any pictures of me playing. She gave all of our cameras to the Salvation Army. I think it’s because she doesn’t want to ever remember Taj like this. When I had to vacuum the upstairs today I found patches of Taj’s hair that had fallen out on her pillow. I also found a granola bar wrapper in her bed. Sometimes Taj eats in her bed at night. I think if I tell mom, she’ll get too sad.
I am here because this morning my mom said “Taj, make yourself some hot cocoa before you go to school.” Fuck off. Cocoa has 175 calories. Instead, I drink hot water when I’m cold. I am always so cold. When my mom saw my mug of hot water she threw it across the kitchen and shook me. She started crying. The ceramic had shattered all over the green tile floor. She said “Oh Jesus, Taj, I’m taking you to the hospital.” I was supposed to take a math test today.
Heart rate: 45 beats per minute
Height: 4 feet, two inches
Weight: 64 pounds
“Do you think you are overweight?”
“What do you see when you look in the mirror?”
“Are you often hungry?”
“Doctor, I am always hungry.”
“Why don’t you eat more?”
“I can’t. I don’t not eat because of how I look. I don’t care about that.”
“When you are hungry at night, why don’t you get out of bed and get a snack?”
“I already told you.”
“What do you like to eat?”
“Everything. Chocolate cake. Spaghetti. Peanut butter. Almond chicken.”
“Why don’t you eat those foods?”
“I can’t. If I started eating them, I wouldn’t be able to stop.”
Write down what you ate and drank the days preceding your admittance to the hospital, to the best of your memory.
1 piece of fat free string cheese
11 mini pretzels
1 green apple
1 serving blueberry Yoplait yogurt (the one for toddlers)
1/3 cup Rice Crispies with skim milk and 4 packets of Nutra Sweet
4 diet cokes
“Can you tell the nurse some of the unusual things your sister has been doing since she’s been sick?”
“A lot of things … She likes to eat in private … She always tries to feed other people. She really likes to make my lunch so I let her, but she makes it way too big and she does it two days in advance. She does her math homework in advance for the whole next week while she’s babysitting too. Sometimes I go with her to babysit. Taj likes babysitting because she’s in charge of the kids and she can feed them lots of junk food. Also, she likes it because she can read the different moms’ cookbooks and look at all the food on their shelves. But she never eats there. She doesn’t want the parents to come home while she’s eating.”
Patient suffers from dramatic weight loss, depression. Does not coincide with the standard eating disorder patient in that she is not weight-obsessed; refuses to weigh herself, does not look in the mirror. Displays ODC behavior and is obsessively fixated on not eating. Have concluded that she has an unusual form of anorexia nervosa acutely relating to severe control issues of what she puts in her body. Patient is in absolute denial of her condition
My sister is so pissed. She thinks that now she is in the hospital, people are going to know something is wrong with her. She is screwed up. Everyone at school knew a long time ago that she was sick. They knew she hid in the bathroom every day during lunch. When Taj walked down the hall, people talked about her. They said she has an eating disorder. I’m glad she is in the hospital. Before this, I was scared Taj would die.
“Do you ever make yourself throw up, Taj?”
“No. Sick people do that.”
The doctor asked me what I see when I look in the mirror, so I looked. I see veins sticking out of my arms. Dark ones.
I met some of the other girls that are stuck here. Tonight we are going to sneak out and jog through the parking structure. We just have to be in bed every two hours when the nurse comes by. The only exercise I’ve done in the three days that I have been here are pushups in the bathroom of my room. It has a lock. I do 300 a day since I can’t do sit-ups here. The floor is too hard. When I tried to do them my tailbone bled. If they know I exercise here, they would put me on an IV of liquid food. That is fucking disgusting.Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org