The phone was vibrating, short spurts of three vibrations at a time accompanying Simple Plan’s “I Won’t Be There.” Kira reached blindly for her phone, face still pressed into her pillow, and succeeded only in knocking it off her desk.
“Shit.” Kira groaned, lifting herself up from the bed just enough to feel around on the ground. Her fingers finally wrapped around the phone and she collapsed back onto bed, swiping right to answer the phone. “Hello.” Her voice came out scratchy, so she cleared her throat and repeated her “Hello” in the same monotone.
“Honey, you have to get up,” her mom chirped. “It’s after ten. If you were public schooled, you’d be three hours late already.”
Kira pulled the phone away from her ear and turned sideways to eye the screen. “ICE@Home” glowed at her. “Are you seriously calling me from downstairs?” she asked. She heard quick footsteps pad through the hall and stop in front of her door.
“I didn’t want to intrude on your space,” her mom said. Kira put the phone down.
“Mom. I can hear you.”
Her mom tapped lightly on the door, all fingernails and no knuckle. “Can I come in?”
“Sure.” Kira ran her fingers through her hair in a half-hearted effort to tame the dry and tangled masses. She wanted as little extra conflict as possible today.
Kira’s mom pushed through the door which in turn shoved half of Kira’s dirty laundry to the side. She glanced down at the laundry, then back at Kira, but didn’t say anything. Passive aggressive much? Kira thought.
Kira’s mom tiptoed dramatically around the clothes and books scattered on the floor, kicking Kira’s black dance bag to the side. She dropped down at the foot of Kira’s bed and Kira pushed herself up, careful to stay under the covers as she drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them protectively. She sighed, glancing over at the abused dance bag. She missed dancing.
“You need to get up and have breakfast,” her mom said. She reached a handout and placed it awkwardly on Kira’s leg. “You doing work today?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” Kira mumbled. “Can I not?”
“Yes,” her mom sighed. “You can take today off. But you can’t hide from breakfast, homework or no homework.” She tapped her hand against Kira’s shin, and Kira looked away, staring instead at her sister’s artwork, which hung on the wall. The piece struck a drastic contrast with Kira’s walls, the sparkling pink glitter fighting against the deep blue walls. Kira wondered if you could die from swallowing a massive amount of glitter and if so, how much you had to have.
Kira’s mom looked meaningfully at Kira and ran her hand along Kira’s blanketed leg. Kira blinked, looking back at her mother.
“I know,” she said, pulling her leg from her mom’s hand and tucking it under herself instead. “I’ll be down in a bit, okay? I just have to get dressed.”
“Okay,” her mom sighed, eyebrows pulled together so that they hooded her eyes in a way that simultaneously said Oh, sweetie and Stop being difficult. Kira raised her own eyebrows and widened her dark brown eyes dramatically, indicating that now was the time for her mother to depart.
Her mom stood and smoothed out her skirt. It seemed a little short for a mom. “Your appointment is at two,” she said softly, walking through the door and barely not closing it behind her.
Kira listened for the squeaking of the stairs, which meant her mom was going toward the kitchen. When she heard it, she pulled a book from her desk—Thirteen Reasons Why—and hurled it at the door, effectively closing it with a bang.
“Hey!” Her mom’s voice was shrill even from the bottom of the staircase. Kira ignored her, straightening her legs and lying back in bed. She lifted her phone in front of her face and clicked the text messages’ icon. It showed three unread text messages: two from her best friend, Evelyn, and one from her boyfriend. She tapped on Evelyn’s texts first.
Wanna hang out after school? the first one read. Dinner at Noodles like old times?
Kira opened the second one. UGH. So bored. Mrs. Hardwick rambles soooo much in AP History. Idk how she expects us to remember any of this. You’re so lucky you’re homeschooled.
Kira let out a light sigh, something which tried to be a laugh but fell short. She knew Mrs. Hardwick—she was one of Kira’s boyfriend’s neighbors and from what Kira could tell, she rambled just as much in her day-to-day conversation as she did when teaching. Lol Mrs. Hardwick. That sucks, she typed. Can’t hang today, though, sorry! Too much shit to do. We’ll hang soon, promise! She hit send, then opened the text message from her boyfriend, Ian.
Hey Ki. Hope today goes good. I love you and you’re beautiful no matter what! :-*
Kira smiled, pulling her cheeks in and then pushing her lips together and forward, sides turned up. Thanks, she wrote back. I love you too.
She reached back and laid her phone next to her head. She stared up at the ceiling, replaying her time with Ian the night before. She thought he was crazy. Loving her and thinking she was beautiful no matter what. He said it all the time—“You’re beautiful,” “You’re so pretty,” “You’re amazing,” “You’re so sexy,”— “sexy,” that was his new favorite. He was wrong; she wasn’t beautiful or pretty and certainly not sexy or amazing. She was awkward and unattractive and her chest still looked like a boy’s, which wasn’t supposed to be what sixteen-year-old girls looked like. The only thing it helped with was dance—ballet and tap especially—but she couldn’t do that right now, anyway. Kira barely had any friends and that was weird, but she figured he didn’t mind that as much because it meant he could come over every night. She couldn’t understand why he would love her, but she was glad that he did.
“Breakfast!” her mom yelled from the kitchen.
The sound reverberated up the staircase, lingering in the hallway. Kira waited for it to die away and took a deep breath. “Just a minute!” she yelled as loudly as she could, hoping her mom could hear over the radio in the kitchen. “I’m on the phone with Ian!”
“Oh, okay.” She could hear her mom’s contentment. She was her #1 relationship cheerleader. Kira figured her mom felt like it was one of the few “normal” teenage things her daughter did, and so she promoted it. “Tell him I say hi!”
“Yeah.” Kira didn’t yell, but it didn’t really matter if her mom heard her. She could hear her crank up the radio in the kitchen, the static coming through as clearly as the pop radio station her mom loved. Satisfied her mom could no longer hear anything but the radio and the smoothie blender, Kira sat up and threw her legs over the side of the bed. She kicked some clothes and books out of the way and lay down on her wood floor, placing her hands by her shoulders. She couldn’t dance, her parents and the nutritionist had the power to take that away, but they wouldn’t prevent her from exercising. She pushed up. One push-up. Two push-ups. Three push-ups. Kira did fifty.
She paused, listening to make sure the radio was still singing strong. Goddamn nutritionist, she thought. After the supposedly “drastic” weight loss of the last eight months, her nutritionist had placed her under a “no exercise” rule. Then again, the threat had been seeing a doctor if her weight continued to drop, and since she had to see the doctor today, she figured she didn’t really have anything to lose.
Satisfied that the radio—and her mother—was still belting out Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Kira flipped onto her back to do leg pushes. One, two, three, four … Kira counted in her mind, breathing out the numbers lightly as she did. She could feel the burn in her abs and the sting in her side that happened sometimes when she hadn’t eaten before exercising, and she smiled. She did fifty leg pushes as well.
No one understood, she thought to herself, as she started on leg lifts. Everyone else was so beautiful. And then there was her. Enzo had said….
Kira bit down on the inside of her lower lip, gnawing on the already raw flesh as her legs went up and down fifty times. She could taste the blood on number twenty-seven, but she continued anyway.
Screw her parents, the nutritionist, everyone. She stood up, placing her hands against the back of her head and positioning her feet beneath her shoulders. Fifty prisoner squats. She squatted down, feeling the burn run up the back of her legs and crash into her lower back. Her life was hers. Her parents had no right. She panted, light little breaths punctuating each squat. Goddamn nutritionist.
Squats done, Kira started in on lunges—fifty walking lunges, twenty-five side lunges per leg—still listening for the radio. Taylor Swift’s “22” was now echoing through the kitchen. Kira rolled her eyes. Sometimes, she wondered if her mom wanted to be a teenage girl again. At least the song offered her a good pace for the lunges.
Sweating now, Kira lay back down and began her fifty sit-ups. The wood floor was uncomfortable and unforgiving to her back, and she wished she could exercise on the carpeting in the basement like she used to. She couldn’t stop exercising; they might as well just let her do it. Kira jerked her body toward knobby knees, ribs slamming back against the wood as she uncurled her back. It’s not like they could tell the difference, anyway. She was still fat.
Kira was on sit-up number thirty-four when her door started creaking open. She bolted up, rushing over to slam it shut in her younger sister’s face. Ami groaned.
“What are you doing? Mom says to come have breakfast. Now.”
“Tell her I’ll be down in a minute.” Kira fought to keep the breathlessness out of her voice as she leaned against the door. “I’m just gonna take a quick shower first.”
“What are you doing?” Ami asked again, jostling the doorknob. Kira pushed herself harder against the door, aware that her sister was probably strong enough to push her way in despite it. After all, she was allowed to exercise, allowed to attend dance lessons and compete with the team. Kira groaned and Ami gave up but said, “Are you exercising?”
“No,” Kira snapped. “Go away.”
“Whatever.” Ami sighed, and Kira could imagine her rolling her eyes. She listened for the familiar sound of her sister’s steps down the stairs before pushing herself away from the door. She glanced down at the sweat marks decorating the floor and kicked clothes and books around to cover them. She wasn’t finished—she still had sixteen sit-ups and fifty V-ups, mountain climbers, and toe-touches to do—but now she’d told her mom and Ami that she was going to take a shower and she didn’t want them to get any more suspicious, especially before her appointment.
Kira stripped out of her pajamas, leaving them on the top of her dirty laundry heap. She leaned over her desk, checking her text messages. There was a reply from Ian.
Really, he’d written. I mean it. Anyway, when’s your appointment? Do you want me to come over after?
Kira typed back quickly. 2 p.m. Yup. He was so sweet, and he deserved someone so much prettier, nicer, better. Someone skinnier. Kira dropped the phone on her bed and pulled her big, fluffy cotton robe off the inside of her closet door, wrapping it around herself. She opened her bedroom door and walked down the hall to the bathroom. The radio was still on full blast, so Kira figured Ami hadn’t mentioned anything to their mom.
Stepping into the bathroom, Kira kicked the door shut behind her and took off the robe, hanging it on the hook next to her towel. She avoided the full-length mirror, glancing out the window while she waited for the shower water to reach the right temperature. Cute suburban houses peeped back at her, their shapes mismatched in the intentional way of suburban Chicago homes. Almost all of their lawns were identically manicured, and Kira’s was no exception. An elderly couple from down the street—the Smiths—strolled down the sidewalk, hand in hand, Mr. Smith holding the leash of their Pomeranian-terrier mix. Kira smiled lightly, almost hesitantly, thinking maybe one day she and Ian would be like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, except with a much bigger dog. Enzo liked big dogs, she remembered, Labradors and bullmastiffs, Newfoundlands and sheepdogs, dogs with exotic names like Perro de Presa Canario, and cutesy ones like the blue Picardy Spaniel.
Kira jerked away from the window, stepping into the shower and slipping slightly on her way in. She grabbed the bathtub faucet just in time to steady herself. Damn reflexes. Maybe if she fell, she could go to the ER and not have to deal with today’s appointment. Or maybe she wouldn’t have to go anywhere again, ever. How hard did you have to fall in the bathtub to never get out of it?
Kira took her time in the shower, washing every part of her body religiously, twice each. She rubbed her skin hard, set on cleaning every crevice, every pore. Her mom thought it was ridiculous that Kira took so long in the shower, and even more ridiculous that she showered before and after bed. Kira thought she’d probably think it was even stranger if she knew why her showers were so long. She’d once tried halfheartedly to explain to her mom why she showered twice a day—“I just feel really gross”—but her mom had just laughed and told Kira she was being silly.
Kira stepped out of the shower, trying to slip but failing. She rubbed the water off harshly with her towel, then hung it up, pausing in front of the full-length mirror.
Fat. Kira pinched her sides, turning in different directions in front of the mirror. She placed her hands on either side of her ribcage and pushed everything forward. She was so fat. She pulled the skin back, stretching it across her ribs. Better. She puffed out her cheeks, then sucked them in to make them hollow. She sighed, relaxing her face and slumping forward, her shoulders drawn toward the mirror to highlight her collarbones. The shift succeeded in accenting her collarbones but simultaneously shoved her stomach toward the mirror. Fat. She glanced down at her chest, jumping up and down to look for movement. It was pathetic. The only place she wanted any kind of weight on her body was the only part that seemed absent of it. What was Ian thinking? He could do so much better. Just like Enzo had.
Kira stared down at her stomach, arching her back to further push it out, and grimaced, sucking it in. She counted ten ribs on each side, which meant two were still obscured by fat. The nutritionist had told her mom to throw out the scale, and they refused to reveal her weight was when she weighed in every week. She wanted to know. But since she didn’t know, she guessed. She figured she’d gained this week. She had to control herself. Her gaze moved to her thighs—thick and no doubt the fattest part of her body. No one was ever going to love her. She felt thick, she felt heavy, she felt gross. Enzo hadn’t loved her, but that wasn’t his fault; it was hers.
Kira grabbed her robe, hiding herself in it and returning to her room. She pushed the door until it clicked shut, wishing not for the first time that the bedrooms in the house had locks. She hung the robe in her closet and stared down at the heaps of clean and mostly clean clothes on her floor. Her eyes fell on her dance bag, the sparkling pink letter—dance—juxtaposed against the bag’s black fabric. It had been over a month since she’d been allowed to dance, to go to practice, to compete with the team. Kira grabbed the bag’s fraying shoulder strap and dropped the bag on her bed.
She yanked the zipper open, pulling out her favorite leotard, a dark purple racerback with a black swirl in the upper right corner. It was last season’s dance team leotard; she hadn’t been allowed to dance this season, so she didn’t have the new team leotard she’d seen Ami wear.
Kira stepped into the leotard, one foot at a time, pulling it up and slipping her arms in. She turned to the small vanity mirror on her dresser, turning and tipping the mirror to see different parts of her body.
She looked fat.
There was no other way to say it. Compared to the framed photo of her at State last season which sat beside the mirror, she was certainly fat. The stretchy fabric clung to her stomach rolls, to the extra meat on her sides. She’d gained at least fifteen pounds.
Kira jerked the leotard off, grabbing her favorite pair of skinny jeans from a pile—dark wash and ripped. Delia’s labelled them “distressed” and her mom called them “ridiculous” (“Why would you buy jeans that look like they’ve worn down already?”), but they fit her well. Or they used to. Kira slipped into the jeans, pulling them up and fastening them. They hung a little loose on her hips, and Kira smiled satisfactorily to herself. She felt a little better; maybe she hadn’t gained as much as she feared this week. But it didn’t change the fact that she was significantly fatter than last season.
Kira reached down for a dark red sweater and yanked it over her head. Then she pulled her wet hair into a heavy ponytail and applied eyeliner and mascara in the vanity mirror on her dresser. She grabbed her cell phone off of her bed, checking it for new texts. Nothing. Ian was probably doing something. She shoved the phone in her front jeans pocket. Taking a deep breath, she finally stepped out of her room and tiptoed down the stairs and into the kitchen.
“Finally.” Kira’s mom threw her arms up in frustration. “It’s lunchtime now. You missed breakfast.”
“Sorry,” Kira mumbled.
“No, you’re not.” Her mom glanced her up and down, frowning disapprovingly at her jeans. “It’s a little warm for a sweater,” she said, reaching into the refrigerator. “I know it’s fall, but it’s still sixty out today.” She removed a plate covered with saran wrap, placed it in the microwave, and turned back to Kira. “This was supposed to be your breakfast,” she muttered. “You were supposed to eat breakfast, too, not only lunch. If you’d just cooperate, we wouldn’t have to go to this appointment today.”
The oven beeped, indicating that it had preheated, and Ami sauntered into the kitchen. She jerked open the freezer, withdrawing a frozen personal pizza, unwrapping it and placing it in the oven. Turning around, she met Kira’s eyes.
“What?” Ami snapped.
Kira stared at her sister a lot, but usually Ami didn’t notice. Ami was all limbs and torso, every part of her long and narrow. Her skin was paler than Kira’s, closer to their father’s white than their mother’s deep olive, but her eyes tapered off and up in the corners like their mom’s did. Ami had all the best genes. Plus, she ate whatever she wanted to, and she still looked gorgeous. Ami’s hips were slightly wider, curvier than her sister’s, her chest just a bit more developed. It wasn’t fair. Ami was only thirteen and didn’t care about how her body looked. Why couldn’t Kira have her body instead?
“What?” Ami repeated, tapping her fingernails against the kitchen table and looking impatiently at Kira. “Is there something wrong with my face?”
Kira shook her head, looking away as the microwave chirped. Her mom reached back and removed Kira’s meal. She reached for some other things, adding them to Kira’s plate.
“Sit,” she said, beckoning to the table. Kira groaned. This was another nutritionist thing— before, no one cared that she ate standing. Jeez, she thought, but she dropped down in the chair beside her, pulling out her phone to text Ian.
Her mom placed the plate in front of her. Grilled cheese, broccoli, and apple stared up at her. Two hundred ninety, fifty, and ninety-five calories. Her mom then added a glass of Kefir, putting it to the left of the plate. Two hundred three. Six hundred thirty-eight calories total. Kira gagged, dropping her phone on the table where it clinked against the fork.
“Mom, there’s no way I can eat all of this,” she said. “This is way more than most people eat.” They were trying to make her fat— no, fatter. She was already fat.
“No, it’s not.” Her mother pulled out the chair beside Kira’s and sat down. “Just eat it.”
“No.” She didn’t want to eat it; she just wanted her mother to leave her alone.
“Kira, you didn’t eat breakfast. This is nothing.”
Kira pushed away the plate. “No way. This is a ton of food. You don’t eat this much—admit it.”
“I’m not the one with an appointment today,” her mom snapped. She stared at Kira. “That would be you.”
“I don’t know why we need this fucking appointment, anyway.” Kira muttered. “I’m obviously fine.”
“Language.” Her mom narrowed her eyes at Kira but relaxed them just as quickly. “I think this appointment is a bit much, too, but the nutritionist said we have to go. So we will.” She looked down at Kira’s untouched plate. “Eat. Now.”
Kira pulled apart the grilled cheese, removing the crust and then separating the remaining sandwich into small pieces. She ate the broccoli, slowly, chewing each piece fifteen times. She picked at the apple, eating half and dropping the other half back onto her plate. Her mom, her dad, Ian, Ami—they didn’t understand. But Enzo had. He knew she didn’t do good enough.
“Can I have a glass of water?” she asked.
“No,” her mom said. “You have a glass of kefir. Drink that.”
“But I want water,” Kira mumbled. “Kefir’s like heavy, a freaking heavy cream-cardboard hybrid.”
Her mom raised an eyebrow. “No.”
“I know the nutritionist told you it’s some kind of grand plan for me to skip food or something,” Kira groaned. “But I just like water, okay? You don’t believe all the shit she says, anyway.”
“Sorry, sorry, language, I know.” Kira stared down at her plate, pushing the tiny grilled cheese pieces around and making faces and other miscellaneous shapes with it and the apple. She wondered what you had to do to choke on an apple. Did it have to go down your windpipe? Did you just have to swallow it wrong? She stabbed a piece of apple but dropped the fork when she remembered the calories. She would just fuck it up and end up eating it, rather than choking.
“Eat it.” Her mother sighed emphatically. “Stop playing with it. Just eat it.”
“I can’t.” Kira shoved the plate into the center of the table. “I’m not hungry.” No one understood. Kira clasped her left wrist with her right hand and gripped hard. She just wanted to be left alone. They didn’t need her. Ami was better than she was—she had to be. Compared to Kira, anyone was better.
“Please, Kira,” her mother groaned, running long nails through her dark hair. “Can we not do this right now?”
“What?” Kira said. “I’m not hungry. I’m just not. I ate most of it.” She glanced down at her phone’s glowing screen. New text from Ian, but maybe not the time to check it. She flipped her phone over so the screen faced the table.
“Just eat it, will you?” Ami snapped, still waiting beside the oven for her pizza. “Can you not be a pain in the ass right now?”
“Language,” their mom said, but with less vehemence than last time. She refocused her attention on Kira. “Do eat, though. I wish your father wasn’t on a business trip right now; he could deal with this.”
Kira was sorry. She knew she was difficult, really she did, and she knew her family didn’t deserve that. But she couldn’t be fat, either.
“I’m done,” she whispered. She fidgeted with her phone. “I’m full. I can’t eat any more.”
“You barely touched it,” Ami snapped. She opened the oven, removing her pizza and placing it on a plate.
“Ami, honey, can you take your lunch upstairs, please?” their mom asked.
“Whatever.” Ami grabbed a napkin off the table and stalked off to her bedroom with the pizza.
Kira felt fat and guilty as she watched her sister stomp up the stairs. She was trying hard to be perfect, really, she was trying. But it still wasn’t good enough.
“Food, Kira,” her mom sighed.
She was never going to be good enough and she just couldn’t win. Eat food, feel guilty and fat. Don’t eat, upset everyone around her. There was no middle ground. Kira’s eyes started to water.
“I’m sorry,” she warbled, bringing her hands up to her face to wipe away tears. “I’m trying but I’m just not good enough. I really am trying.” She hiccupped.
“Honey, I’m not saying you’re not trying,” her mom said. “But I still need you to eat.”
“You don’t understand.” Kira’s light tears were growing heavier. “No one understands. I’m trying so hard but you all think I’m ridiculous and that it’s all easy and it’s not. It’s fucking not.”
Kira glanced up and saw Ami in the hallway, jaw clenched and rolling her eyes.
“Oh my god, stop it,” she snapped.
“Ami!” their mom exclaimed, standing up.
“What?” Ami drew her eyebrows together in a way that meant she was angry but mostly made her look confused. “She does this every time we eat. And then you go, ‘Aw, sweetie,’ and let her get away with things.
“And you know what?” She turned her attention back to her sister. “You’re right. We don’t get it. Because normal people eat food and it’s not that hard.”
Kira’s sister was right. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled again, sniffling. “I’m trying my best but it’s hard.”
“Well, don’t eat then,” Ami barked. “Just don’t. You wanna starve? Fine. At least stop crying about it.”
“Ami!” Their mother’s voice went up an octave.
“No,” Ami snapped. “You take her side every time even though you know what she’s doing. I told you she was anorexic months ago! And you were like, ‘Oh no, that’s ridiculous!’ Well, look at her! She’s a fucking skeleton and she thinks she’s fat.”
“I am!” Kira brushed away her tears, frustrated with them. She cried when she was upset, she cried when she was angry—basically, she cried at all the most inconvenient times. She had to pull herself together; this was ridiculous. “I am. You don’t understand—”
“Of course I don’t understand!” Ami yelled. “I don’t want to understand!”
Ami…” their mother leaned toward her daughter but halted halfway there. Ami had always been blunt, but never like this. “We don’t know that she’s anorexic yet. I think—”
“Okay, you know what? Fine.” Ami turned toward the stairs. “Yeah, I’ll go upstairs. You just keep encouraging her. But when she dies, it’s your fault.” Ami took a couple steps toward the stairs and paused. “And Dad’s. It’s not like he’s ever around.” She stomped up the stairs, her door slam reverberating throughout the house, rattling more tears from Kira.
Kira glanced at her mom. She looked like she’d been slapped; the color rose in her cheeks, warming them enough to shine through her olive skin. Her hands gripped the side of the kitchen table, knuckles white. She shifted her gaze to Kira and Kira immediately felt guilty. Her mom’s eyes watered and she batted her eyelashes at the ceiling in what Kira recognized as an attempt to hold back tears. If she could get it together, her family wouldn’t have to feel like this. She was selfish and fat, and there was no way to explain it properly to people who didn’t understand.
Her mom sighed, releasing herself from the table and throwing her hands up in defeat. “I don’t know what to say,” she said. “Your sister is kind of right. You do need to eat.” She twisted her fingers together, placing her hands on the table. “She didn’t need to say it that way, but you know she’s always been like that. Like I said, though,” —she paused, glancing at Kira— “she’s kind of right.”
Her sister was right because she knew Kira was fucked up. Everyone else could keep denying it.
“I don’t know why you’re doing this.” Her mom dropped into her chair, deflated. She looked up at her daughter. “Why? What prompted you to stop eating?”
Kira’s surprise shocked her tears into place. Her whole body froze. This was uncharacteristic; her mom didn’t ask these things, she denied them. Or she left them to Kira’s dad, when he was around.
“Is it because your dad isn’t home a lot?” Her mom reached over and tried to entwine her fingers in Kira’s. “Are you trying to get his attention? Is that what this is about? Because you know he has to travel and—”
“No.” Kira glared at her mother, the surprise fading, giving way to tears again. How could she say that? Like this was a game for attention? “It has nothing to do with him.”
“So you’re saying there’s no cause?” Her mom looked doubtful. “Because you know—”
“I’m not saying there’s no cause.” Kira’s tears began to multiply. “You wouldn’t understand; you never understand. Enzo said—” Kira cut herself off, clamping a hand over her mouth. Fuck. She stood up, shoving her chair back, and turned toward the stairs.
“Enzo said what?” her mom asked, eyes now alert. “What did Enzo say?”
Kira shook her head. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She cursed herself. She couldn’t believe she’d almost said it. Her mother wouldn’t understand; she’d just say Enzo was wrong, or worse, call him and yell. But Enzo wasn’t wrong. Kira ran for the stairs.
“What did Enzo say?” her mom yelled after her. “Dammit Kira, tell me.”
“Nothing,” Kira squeaked. “Nothing, forget it!” She rushed into her room and kicked the door shut behind her.
Kira squeezed herself into the foot of space between her bed and desk, drawing her knees to her chest and resting her chin on them. Tears dripped against her knees, hitting them where there were holes in the denim. She interlaced her fingers by her feet, gripping them so they turned white. She watched the blood drain from them, felt them shift to feeling numb. She was awful, selfish, just like Ami had said. Enzo had known that, and that’s why he had left her. He knew she could be better, that she wasn’t trying hard enough. He’d told her what to fix, but she’d ignored him. She didn’t blame him for leaving her—it made sense. It was her fault. Kira’s chest vibrated, sucking in short, shallow breaths, not enough to really breathe but as much as she could muster. She felt like she was letting more air out than taking in, her body’s shakes and mouth’s movements making her look like a guppy out of water, drowning in the oxygen it took in.
She wanted to stop. She wasn’t sure what— whether she wanted to stop hyperventilating, whether she wanted to stop looking ridiculous, whether she just wanted to stop breathing— but she knew she wanted to stop something. She wouldn’t have to deal with another meal if she could stop breathing. She wouldn’t have to deal with the doctor’s appointment. Kira rubbed her eyes against her knees, leaving the tears as wet streaks behind.
Kira pulled her knees tighter against her chest, crushing her ribcage against her lungs. Tighter. Tighter. The tighter she held herself, the smaller the space her body took up, the better she felt. This had been true since Kira was little, when she used to squeeze into the TV stand cabinet and shut herself in. Now, she tightened her grip until there wasn’t enough space for her to inhale. She breathed out, all the way out, tensing her muscles to shove out the air. She held her breath— her lack of breath. One. Two. Three. Four.
She made it to thirty-two before her body rebelled, roughly inhaling and trying to cough out the emptiness. Her body really did hate her. She couldn’t even do this right.
Kira let out sad hiccups, reaching into her jeans pocket and pulled out her phone to check her texts. There was one from Evelyn and one from Ian. She pulled up Evelyn’s first.
Lameeeee, it said. You never hang out with me anymore 🙁 I know you have Ian now, but it’s not fair for you to suddenly stop hanging out with me.
It wasn’t Ian, though. Ian had nothing to do with it. Kira leaned back hard, ramming her head into the corner of her desk. She reached a hand back to rub her head. She pushed down where the back of her head had collided with the fake wood, pressing into the pain. She gazed back down at the text.
She didn’t know what to say. Hanging out with Evelyn always meant Noodles or Chipotle or Starbucks and it was too stressful. She didn’t want to deal with it and she felt weird explaining everything. Sure, she spent a lot of time with Ian, but Ian knew— there was no way for him not to know. His parents were best friends with hers, and he was over every night, often during dinner. Plus, Ian just knew her. They’d been in homeschool groups together for the past eight years.
And Kira wasn’t trying to cut Evelyn out. She felt guilty— as different as they were, Evelyn had been her best friend for nearly her entire life. It wasn’t Evelyn’s fault that Kira was weird, but she also didn’t want Evelyn pointing out how much she’d eaten while they were out. Kira pushed down harder against the tender, slow-forming bump on the back of her head.
I’m sorry, she typed back. Please don’t be angry. I do wanna hang out. It’s just been crazy here. We’ll hang out soon, I promise.
Kira sent the text, straightening her legs in front of her and leaning back against the wall in her small alcove. She tapped back, opening Ian’s text.
OK, he’d written. Lemme know when you get back and I’ll come over. It’s gonna be alright, though, Ki. I love you.
Kira let out a small puff of breath. Love you too, she wrote back. Yeah, I know it’ll be fine. See you later. She hit “Send.”
Reaching up, Kira placed her phone screen down on her comforter. She pushed herself up with her free hand, wiggling her other fingers in between her mattress and box springs. Her hand wrapped around a small journal, and she pulled it out, letting it fall open in her lap. The red binding was faded, almost beige in some places. The previously happy-looking yellow of the cover had faded, giving way to a pale, washed-out yellow. The off-white pages had light grey lines to write against, and a few were torn in the corners, still other pages pulling away from their strings. This was Kira’s keepsake collection, a conglomerate of taped- or stapled-in scrapbooked photos, letters, printed song lyrics, magazine and book copy clippings, and her own journal entries.
The journal had fallen open to Kira’s favorite photo of Enzo. It was a close-up, the only visible background the light green of the trees. The photo was from early summer, taken at the nearby park they used to escape to be alone. Enzo’s dark hair fell a little in his eyes, partially hiding the left one. He was laughing, his jaw relaxed, at something outside of the photograph. His eyes were slightly hooded, hinting at something mischievous in his amusement.
Kira traced his jawline with her ring finger, down the side of his face, around his jaw, up the other side. She outlined his nose with her middle finger, felt the shape of his lips with her index finger. She ran her thumb across his cheek. She smiled. She missed him and how he understood.
Kira’s phone buzzed, and she jerked, reaching for it. She opened her texts; Ian had sent back a smiley face and a heart. She sucked in her lower lip, gnawing on the inside. She felt guilty. This wasn’t really fair to Ian. She loved him, really she did. She wanted to be with him. But he didn’t understand the way Enzo had, and maybe that took time, but Ian had had a lot of time. He could tell when she felt bad; he could tell when she drifted into what her parents called “Kira-land.” He loved her, and moreover, he was here, and Enzo had left. But Ian didn’t understand. Kira put the phone back on her comforter and carefully paged through the journal until she found Enzo’s note.
She ran her fingers across the letters as she had down the angles of his photographed face. She felt each swoop of the “I’s,” the loops of the “W’s.” The swishes of each “S.” Enzo had touched this, had written it. She knew anything that remained of Enzo had been swept away by her paper-caresses, but she could pretend.
I wish you would...
There was a nail-tapping scratch at the bedroom door and Kira jumped, instinctively stuffing the journal beneath her mattress and moving to lie on the bed instead.
“Yeah,” she called.
Her mom opened the door but stayed in the doorway.
“Honey, I’m sorry about earlier,” she said. “And I’m sorry about this, too, but it’s time for you to get ready. We’re leaving soon.”
Kira’s jaw tightened, blood rushing, heart pulsing harder than the Top 40 station moaning from the kitchen. “Can we cancel? Or change the time?” she asked, pushing herself into a sitting position on the bed. “I’m sorry; I’ll do better. Please, can we change it?”
The dark circles under her mom’s eyes seemed to glare, but not entirely without empathy. “No,” she said, sighing. “We’re going.” She turned, once again pulling Kira’s door almost shut behind her.
Kira didn’t bother to try to close the door this time, instead flopping back onto her bed and throwing a pillow over her face dramatically. She would do almost anything to avoid this appointment, because she already knew what they would say. They would say she was anorexic, that her eating needed to be more closely monitored. They would say that it would be a while before she could go back to dance, or exercise of any kind. They might even suggest—as her nutritionist and counselor had—that she be hospitalized for her weight.
And she knew what would happen afterward. Her mother would cry. She would say it was her fault, that she should have known, and then Kira would feel even guiltier. Ami would say “I told you so,” but without satisfaction, and Kira would feel bad about that, too. Kira punched her mattress, the pillow sliding off her face and toward the wall.
She stood, grabbed her phone and purse, and pushed out her door, trampling down the stairs. She grabbed her jacket and slid her feet into worn clogs.
“Where are you going?” Her mother sat at the kitchen table, Kira’s food still in front of her.
“I’m just going to the park for a bit,” Kira said. “I’ll be right back, ready to go on time.”
Kira ignored her mother, slamming the door and stepping into the cold. Autumn had come suddenly that year, the rain and leaves blending together in the wake of everything bright and lively. The cicadas yelled, their protest a warning of the impending cool. Kira had noticed that the nighttime cools had the trees shedding green leaves, and she looked up at them as she walked by. The trees were naked, accenting the oddity of the day’s uncharacteristic warmth. They seemed sad and desperate, their limbs a shaking skeleton of their former selves.
Kira lit a cigarette, courtesy of Evelyn’s older brother, and started down the sidewalk. Nothing, save a few minivans, sped down the road. Everyone else was in school or at work. Kira liked the solitude.
As she walked, she glanced at the houses on each side of the street, noting their identical differences. The wind blew hard, pressing her messenger back against her side and fluttering the flags which waved eagerly outside a handful of houses.
The park was only five blocks from Kira’s house and she arrived quickly. She found a picnic table beneath a cluster of trees on the side of the park farthest from the playground and sat down.
Kira watched the cigarette burn and while she watched it, she listened. It was quiet, and the wind blew light but chilly, and she listened. She listened to the parts of her saying that she was fat and she listened to the parts that said she was too thin. She listened to the guilt she felt, whispered in the emptying trees, and she listened to the sadness she felt toward her frayed relationship with Ami, and when she was done listening, she threw out her cigarette butt, sprayed herself with perfume, and walked home.
She felt calmer, walking back, and even smiled as she opened the door to the house.
Ami was in the kitchen, sliding her feet into her own boots. Her dance and book bags hung off her shoulder.
“Hey.” She looked up at Kira.
“Hey.” Kira walked in, kicking her clogs off in the entryway. “Where are you going? I thought you were coming with us.”
Ami shook her head. “I don’t think I should,” she mumbled, picking at the wood splintering from the kitchen table. “I’m going to Michelle’s for a bit, to hang out and then have dinner. They’re gonna give me a ride to the dance tonight.” The bags slid down Ami’s shoulder, and she lifted her arm to shift them back into place, bunching up her light blue leotard. Kira recognized the leotard; the dark blue swirl and particular sequin detailing proved it was this season’s team leotard. She pressed her lips together, glancing away. She would look good in dark blue, albeit in a massive leotard compared to Ami’s.
Ami dropped her arms, running them down the sides of what she called her “galaxy pants”—spandex leggings patterned with swirling blues, pinks, and purples. It was getting too cold to wear leotards without pants.
“Have fun.” Kira tried to smile but all she could think was that it wasn’t fair that Ami could go to dance and she couldn’t. “Put on a cardigan or hoodie or something, though.”
“Yes, Mom.” Ami wavered in the doorway, leaning against the frame. She brought her fingers near her face, picking at the nail polish on one hand with the nails of the other. “Good luck at the doctors. Or break a leg. Whatever, you know what I mean.”
“Thanks,” Kira said. Ami turned around, pushing open the door. “Wait.”
Ami stopped, looking back at her sister. “Yeah?”
“I’m sorry.” Kira glanced up at Ami, but quickly looked back down. “You know, for everything. For all of this.” She raised her eyes, this time holding her sister’s ice-blue stare. “I wish everything with us could be the way it was, you know?”
Ami nodded. “Me too.” She teetered near the stairs. “I miss hanging out with you like normal.”
Kira swallowed. They’d always been close, even spending most nights in the same bed, the comfort of one necessary for the other. Ami had been a better friend to her than Evelyn, even. There had been no secrets, nothing off limits. There had never been any sort of distance.
“Well, I better go,” Ami said quietly, and Kira nodded. The door slammed and Ami was out, walking the half-mile to Michelle’s.
Kira walked back to her room, dropping her purse by the door. She really didn’t want to go to this appointment, and she’d been hoping Ami would be there after, as a sort of buffer between her and their mother afterward. She glanced around her room for a different sweater and landed on a piece of yarn that stuck out from a neglected knitting project. Probably a hat—she’d been obsessed with making them last winter. Kira wondered if you could hang yourself with yarn, or if it would just break the moment you tried. Yarn was pretty flimsy, she decided. You probably needed some real rope.
“Time to go!” her mother yelled from kitchen.
“Coming.” Kira gave up on searching for another sweater and pushed herself off of the bed. She would get through this appointment, and then Ian would come over and they could cuddle. Kira bit into a fingernail, or what was left of one, and dragged herself down the stairs.
Her mom glanced up as Kira shuffled into the kitchen. “Shoes, jacket, let’s go,” she said, fidgeting with the hem of her own jacket.
“Yeah, I know, I know.” Kira grabbed a sweatshirt Ian had left the previous night off the coat rack—no doubt righted by her mother after Ami left—and slid her feet into her black knee-high boots. Her mother pushed out the door, and Kira pulled it shut behind her, checking to make sure it locked.
Plopping down in the passenger seat of her mom’s 2005 Corolla, Kira pulled out her phone to check her texts. Just one from Ian. Good luck, it read.
Kira slid her phone back into her jeans pocket. She didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t luck that she needed; really, what she needed was a different life. A different her. You wished people good luck on things they had control over—plays, tests, dance recitals. Good luck wouldn’t help her walk out of the doctor’s office without a diagnosis. It didn’t matter how much she didn’t believe she was anorexic; everyone else thought she was, and “good luck” wasn’t going to change that.
5 Seconds of Summer’s “Amnesia” whined from the radio as Kira’s mom pulled onto the main road. Kira groaned inwardly. Her mother’s obsession with Top 40 music could rival Evelyn’s. Kira brought her thumb up to her mouth and began gnawing on what remained of her thumb nail.
“Stop it.” Her mother reached a handout, attempting to remove Kira’s thumb from her face. “Stop biting.”
“Sorry,” Kira muttered, shoving her hand underneath her thigh. She glanced out of her window. Barnes & Noble, Trader Joe’s, and H Mart blurred by. She peered into the cars rushing past them, wondering what their drivers and riders were doing. Where were they coming from? What was their family like? Had they ever had an eating disorder? Where were they going?
“What do you want for dinner?” her mother asked. Kira turned toward her, raising an eyebrow. Really? She wanted to talk about food right now?
“I don’t care,” she lied. “Whatever’s fine.”
“I was thinking about making roast beef and mashed potatoes,” her mom said, turning on the street the doctor’s office was on. “That’s your favorite, right?”
Before, yeah. Kira couldn’t imagine eating roast beef or mashed potatoes, let alone both. The calories popped up in her mind like obnoxiously yellow sale signs at Wal-Mart. On sale today: way too many calories. All you have to pay is one doctor’s visit, one diagnosis, and all of your freedom.
Kira bit down hard on her lower lip, chewing it raw again. She didn’t want to fight with her mom, especially right before the appointment. But if she said it was okay, then when dinner came around and she didn’t want to eat, her mom would remind her that she’d said it was okay and that it was her favorite meal. And then she’d just feel guiltier.
“Can we just talk about it later?” Kira asked, glancing quickly at her mom before returning her gaze to her lap.
“But you love roast beef and mashed potatoes,” her mom whined. “They’ve been your favorite since you stopped eating baby mush.”
“I know, Mom.” Kira watched them pull into the doctor’s office parking lot, parking beside a light blue minivan. “I just, I don’t want to have this conversation right now, okay?”
“Okay.” Kira’s mom flipped the mirror of her compact open, applying lipstick. Kira wondered if her mother had ever gone into a business without all her makeup on—or gone into a doctor’s office actually looking sick, for that matter.
Her mom snapped the compact closed and looked up at Kira. “Let’s go,” she said.
Kira got out of the car, slamming the door shut behind her. She and her mom pushed through the office entrance, Kira a solid step behind.
The receptionist looked up expectantly, and Kira’s mom turned toward her, beckoning.
“I’m Kira Stevenson,” she said blankly. “I have a two o’clock appointment with Dr. Bateman.”
The receptionist brought something up on her screen and nodded to them. “Have a seat,” she said. “A nurse will be out to get you in a minute.”
Kira nodded back, unsure of how to respond. “Thanks,” she tried. The nurse simply nodded again, and Kira’s mom headed for a couple of chairs next to a pile of InStyles and US Weeklys. She dropped into a chair and opened the magazine on the top of the stack, and Kira followed suit with the InStyle underneath it. She pulled off her coat and let the magazine fall open, offering her a two-page spread of Kiera Knightley over the years. She saw the collarbones, the ribcage, the hip bones, the staccato spine. That was anorexia. Kira leaned back, simultaneously satisfied that she wasn’t as anorexic as people assumed, and guilty that she wasn’t as thin as Kiera Knightley.
“Kira Stevenson?” Kira looked up at the smiling nurse in the hall entryway. This was it. There was no way to turn back now, unless she could suddenly come down with appendicitis or something equally surgery-worthy and debilitating. The odds were unfortunately low.
“Yeah.” Kira stood, as did her mother, and followed the nurse into a room. Kira’s mother took the one chair in the room, leaving Kira standing awkwardly beside the nurse.
“Please take off your shoes.” The nurse beckoned at Kira’s boots. “We need to do the basics —height, weight, blood pressure, temperature.”
Kira slipped off her boots, but felt her pulse quicken. Weight. Already? They’d just gotten here, and she already had to have her weight taken? Kira tried to take a deep breath. This was part of all doctors’ visits, completely normal. But she was simultaneously terrified and excited. She would finally get to see her weight. But what if it was high? What if she weighed more, not less, than she used to? Kira followed the nurse out of the room and stood against the wall to measure her height.
“Five one,” the nurse read, but Kira already knew that. Kira stepped away from the height measure, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. The nurse was already standing by the scale. Kira glanced down at her body, fingering the change in her pocket nervously. Combined with her phone, it only added a pound, max. She wished she’d thought ahead to this; she would have dumped the change from her purse into her pockets and stuffed her iPod in the back pocket of her jeans. The nurse and Kira’s mother stared expectantly at Kira and she knew this was it, she had to get on the scale. What if her weight was too low? Would that prove she was anorexic? But what if it was high, higher than it should be—then what?
Kira stepped gently onto the scale, trying to push all her weight down, pull weight from the sky, something. The nurse began adjusting the measures, and Kira peered at her hand, waiting for results. The nurse lifted her clipboard in front of the measures, and Kira stood on her tiptoes, trying to see over it.
“Feet down, please,” the nurse said.
Kira slammed her heels back down, rattling the scale. “Sorry.”
The nurse waited for the scale to stop shaking, then scribbled something on her clipboard. She beckoned Kira to step down.
“All right,” she said. “This way. You’ll be in room 10.”
Kira stepped off the scale, and her mother began following the nurse toward the room. What? That was it? They weren’t even going to tell her how much she weighed, wouldn’t let her know if it was too much or too little, wouldn’t—
“Come on,” Kira’s mother called. Kira puffed her cheeks out. Maybe they would tell her in the room, or at least once they’d decided if she was or wasn’t too thin. She grabbed her boots, sliding her feet back into them, and followed her mother and the nurse.
Once in the room, the nurse asked Kira to sit up on the bench while she took her blood pressure and pulse.
“It’s a little high,” the nurse said. “But that’s to be expected.”
“Why?” Kira’s voice came out in a rush. “Why’s that to be expected? What does that mean?”
“It just means you’re nervous.” The nurse smiled at Kira, placing a hand on her shoulder. Kira struggled not to shrug it off. “Most people get nervous at doctors’ offices. It’s normal.”
Oh, good. At least something about her was normal.
The nurse made a couple of notes on Kira’s chart, then turned to leave. “Dr. Evenstein should be in shortly,” she said. She pulled out the drawer beneath the bench and withdrew a patient gown. “Please put this on. You can leave on your underwear and bra.”
“Wait,” Kira blurted. “What about my weight? What was it?”
The nurse smiled, one of those thin, tight-lipped smiles, and Kira wanted to pull it at the edges and watch it unravel. She handed Kira the gown. “The doctor will be in shortly,” she repeated, pulling the door to their room shut behind her.
Nurse gone, Kira glanced around the room. There wasn’t much to see. Just regular, plastic chairs and a regular, paper-covered patient bench. The regular sink where doctors and nurses washed their hands and the regular “WANTED: BARE NAKED BABIES” sign. Kira shivered, then tried to hide the shiver from her mother. What if that was part of being anorexic, too? Being cold all the time?
“You need to put that on,” her mother said.
“The gown.” She pointed at the blue paper-like gown. “Before the doctor gets here.”
Her mother gazed at her expectantly. “Any day now,” she said.
Kira stared back. “Are you just going to sit there?”
“Can you turn around?”
Kira folded her arms across her chest. “Please?”
“No.” It was her mother’s turn to fold her arms.
“Why are we here?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kira gripped the gown tightly in her fist. “I’m fine, I just don’t want you to see me naked.”
“I’m your mother; I’ve seen you naked before.” Her voice was firm. “Besides, you won’t be naked. The nurse said you could leave your underwear and bra on.”
Kira slid off the bench, reaching down to slowly unzip her boots. She pulled one foot out at a time, placing her sock-covered feet on the cold linoleum. She glanced down. The doctor hadn’t said anything about socks and it was cold, but she figured she would look ridiculous with the gown, bra, underwear, and socks on. She peeled the socks off.
Her legs were probably the best place to start, since they definitely didn’t look anorexic. They looked like tree trunks. Kira unfastened her jeans, balancing on one leg after the other to free herself from the denim. She willed herself not to look at her mother, certain that she was watching her undress.
The sweater would have to come off next. Kira considered putting the patient gown over her sweater and then shimmying out of it from underneath but recognized that doing so would look suspicious to her mother. Reluctantly, she yanked her sweater over her head and tried quickly to cover her body with the gown.
“Damn it,” she muttered, her arm getting stuck awkwardly inside. Her mother stood up, taking the two steps necessary to close the space between them. She reached over, guiding Kira’s arm through the proper opening.
Kira shivered, her mother’s touch cold against her already cool skin. “Thanks.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Kira could feel her mother’s fingers lingering on her back, then sliding lightly down her spine. Kira jerked away.
“What are you doing?”
Her mother stepped back, sitting down in her chair. “You’re so thin I can see your spine.”
“You’ve always been able to see my spine.”
Kira rolled her eyes. “Yes, really.”
“It just makes me sad to see you like this.”
Kira blinked a few times, summoning her anger from inside to replace the sad guilt that crept in every time someone said things like this. As if she was trying to make them feel bad, as if she was hurting them. She wasn’t; she didn’t want to, anyway. She bit her lip, pulling herself back up onto the bench.
Kira watched her mother pick her phone up and stare down at the screen. She didn’t know how to tell her that she didn’t want to hurt anyone, but being as fat as she was hurt her. She cracked her knuckles, then rubbed her hands together for warmth. She couldn’t be thin enough and she couldn’t be heavy enough. She couldn’t be happy or make others happy. There was just no winning.
Kira chanced a glance at her mother, who was immersed in a game on her phone.
“How much did I weigh?” she asked quietly.
Her mother looked up from her phone. “I don’t know,” she said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Kira wove her fingers together and squeezed. She was frustrated, but she knew her mother was still upset about her spine showing and didn’t raise her voice. “The nurse weighed me; you were there. And she wouldn’t let me see.”
“I couldn’t see it, either,” her mother said. She glanced back down at her game, then turned off the screen of her phone, flipping it over so that the screen faced her thigh. “I’m not sure you’re…supposed to be able to see,” she added hesitantly.
“It’s my body, though.” Kira locked eyes with her mother. “I should be able to know my own freaking weight. It’s my body,” she said again, staring down at her hands.
Her mother sighed. “Let’s just wait for the doctor, okay?”
Her mother reached for Kira’s knee, but Kira swiveled her body so that her mother could not reach her.
“You know I don’t want to have to do this, either,” her mother said. “Really.”
“I know,” Kira muttered, and she hated herself for being snippy with her mother, but she did not understand. There was no way that what her mother was going through here was remotely as difficult as what she was going through, no way she was as nervous or stressed. Kira lifted her hand, nipping at her hangnails.
“Stop biting,” her mother snapped.
“Sorry.” Kira looked down at her offending hands, then squeezed them beneath her thighs.
There was a knock at the door, and Kira’s mother invited the doctor in. Dr. Evenstein pushed through the door. Kira hated how smoothly the doctor’s collarbones protruded from the collar of her shirt, hated the sharp lines of her cheekbones. She hated her green, speckled glasses frames—she looked like she was trying to be Kira’s age. She hated Dr. Evenstein’s lab coat, buttoned tightly to show off her small waist. She hated her frizz-free hair and hairless arms. Kira looked down at her own arms, which had begun to grow long, strange-looking hairs in the last few months. She stared at the end of her ponytail, which lay over her shoulder, and took in her tangled, impossibly frizzy hair. She looked back at Dr. Evenstein and hated her dark slacks, no doubt a size zero. This was the person who was supposed to talk to her about anorexia? Please.
“Hi, Kira.” Dr. Evenstein smiled at her.
“We’re going to start with the basic stuff.”
Dr. Evenstein turned her smile to Kira’s mother, then began running through the basic appointment things. She looked in Kira’s nose, poked inside her ears. She checked her eyes and listened to her heart and lungs. Kira wondered if the doctor was ever going to tell her what her weight was, and if they were going to talk about anorexia-related things. Was this appointment just going to run like all her regular physicals?
Having checked all of Kira’s vitals, Dr. Evenstein leaned back against the sink. She smiled at Kira, then at Kira’s mother.
“Yes?” Kira’s mother looked impatiently at Dr. Evenstein. “Do you have to ask any questions? Because I’ll tell you, Kira’s been really good, she’s not eating quite right, sure, but…”
Kira stared at her mother. Hadn’t she just said how Kira’s spine made her sad? Hadn’t she fought her to eat lunch? What the hell. Maybe she just didn’t want it to be true, maybe she was worried that it would make her look like a bad parent to have an anorexic daughter, maybe—
“I don’t have any questions,” Dr Evenstein said, lifting a petite shoe to scratch the back of her left leg.
“She’s fine, then?” Kira’s mother asked. “She’s not anorexic?”
“No,” Dr. Evenstein said, and Kira’s mother relaxed until the doctor added, “that’s not what I said.”
“She is anorexic, then?”
“‘She’s’ right here,” Kira snapped.
The doctor tapped her pen against her clipboard three times, in three intervals of three. Kira listened to each tap, satisfied when it ended on a perfect number.
“So you don’t have questions because…?” her mother prodded.
“Her weight is proof enough,” Dr. Evenstein said. She glanced over at Kira, correcting herself. “Kira, your weight is proof enough that you are anorexic.”
Kira stared down at her hands, picking at her hangnails with the short stubs of her index and thumb nails. The sentence played on loop in her head: proof enough you are anorexic, proof enough you’re anorexic, proof enough, proof enough, you are, you are, anorexic, anorexic, anorexic….
“You’re sure she’s not sick?” her mother was asking. “When the girl down the street got diabetes, she got quite thin and then she went into a coma, and—”
“We’ve checked for those things,” the doctor said. “We’re going to take a blood sample to run some extra tests, but she has the signs for anorexia.” She began naming them: lanugo — the hair on her arms and back — her low weight, the unhealthy quality of her hair.
“What do I weigh?” Kira blurted.
Her mother and Dr. Evenstein turned their eyes to her.
“Low,” the doctor said.
“Thirty pounds below what would be acceptable for your height.”
“What does that mean?”
The doctor sighed. “It means you’re significantly below an acceptable weight.”
“Well, what’s an ‘acceptable’ weight?” Kira snapped impatiently. “If you won’t tell me, I’ll just look it up when I get home, and do the math.”
“Kira,” her mother moaned.
“It’s my body.”
“You weigh sixty-five pounds,” Dr. Evenstein said.
“Sixty-five?” Kira’s mother gasped.
Kira felt a flutter of satisfaction in her stomach. Sixty-five. Sixty-five was good.
Sixty-five was better than eighty or seventy-five or seventy. Except…sixty was better than sixty-five. Enzo would understand.
Dr. Evenstein was already near the door. “The nurse will be in to take your blood,” she said briskly. “You can get dressed now.” She paused, lingering. “Kira? If your weight doesn’t improve, you’re going to have to be hospitalized.” She lowered her voice. “It’s not fun there, believe me.” She pushed out the door, letting it click, click, click, as it swung and closed behind her.
“Oh sweetie,” Kira’s mom said. “I’m so sorry. I should have known, what with the being vegetarian and then trying to be vegan and everything. I should’ve listened more to your nutritionist. And all your outbursts. It’s my fault.”
Outbursts? Her fault? Kira shook her head. “It’s not your fault,” she said. And those weren’t “outbursts.” Also, she had known, hadn’t she? She had pushed at every meal, tried to force Kira to eat. But maybe she didn’t want to accept it, just like Kira did. That was the only reconciliation Kira could think of.
“The doctor said you weigh thirty-two pounds less than you should,” her mom whispered.
Thirty. Her mother was exaggerating. The doctor said she weighed thirty pounds less than she should.
“That’s something a good mom would notice. I know you haven’t been eating right—and your sister’s right, she noticed before anyone else—but I didn’t think it was this bad.” She ran a hand across her face. “I just gave your nutritionist charts to your dad. I should’ve looked at them. I can’t believe he hasn’t said anything.”
Kira bit down, pulling her bottom lip in and grazing it with her teeth. She bet he hadn’t looked at them, either. She slid off the bench, pulling her jeans on underneath the patient gown. It wasn’t her mom’s fault if she had anorexia. It was hers, pure and simple. Kira buttoned the top of her pants, fingering the space between her hips and the waistband of her jeans, feeling good that there was space for her fingers to swim and feeling bad about feeling good.
Anorexia. Kira rolled the word around in her head. What an ugly word. It sounded so cold, so hard, so diagnostic. She reached down and pulled on her socks, then stuffed her feet back into her boots.
“I just wanted to be healthy,” Kira mumbled. Her boots looked worn and tired, the only aspect of her wardrobe which hadn’t required replacing as the pounds fell away. She scuffed the toe of her right boot five times against the chair leg, making a satisfying squeaking sound.
“Well, clearly you left healthy in the rearview mirror,” her mom snapped, but then her face softened quickly. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not your fault. It’s a disease, a bug, the doctor said—like the flu.” Her mom nodded to herself, as if agreeing to her own sentiment. “Although…I would’ve noticed the flu. Dammit.”
Like the flu in that she didn’t feel like eating. Kira grabbed her sweater, pulling it over the gown, then removing the gown from underneath. There was no reason to worry about looking silly now. That word, that diagnosis was out, and the doctor couldn’t take it back. Anorexic. Kira sat back down on the bench.
The nurse came in and took Kira’s blood, just two vials. Kira felt herself go pale, felt her head spin lightly. It felt almost…good.
The nurse handed her a juice box. “Here,” she said. “Dr. Evenstein said you have to drink this before you leave.”
So that she could go home, and also to prove that her anorexia was not as bad as everyone was making it out to be, Kira took the juice box, sucking it down quickly.
The nurse nodded at her. “You guys are free to go whenever you’re ready,” she said. Kira figured it was a polite way of saying, “You’re done, get out.”
“Let’s go.” Kira swung her purse over her shoulder. She stomped across the room and reached for the door, pushing through and speed-walking down the hall. Her mom scampered after her, stopping just long enough to offer the front desk receptionist their copay.
In the car, Kira’s mom muttered more about how she should have identified and stopped her daughter’s eating disorder months ago.
“This was why the nutritionist sent us here, but, well, I didn’t think they’d actually diagnose you with it.” Her mom paused, sucking air in and blowing it out through her teeth. “I just figured you were being difficult. I mean, all girls have body image issues. I didn’t think it was this big of a deal.” She paused, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel. “But it’s like Vicki said—there were a lot of signs.”
Kira stared out the window, occasionally offering her mom words of consolation as the buildings and trees flashed by. She watched a semi roll by, narrowly missing the corner of their car. She wondered what would happen if the semi hit them. What if it plowed through their car? How much force would it take for it to kill her and leave her mom unscathed? Was that even possible? Kira thought, not for the first time, about how inconvenient death would be if you didn’t want to hurt others; but how convenient it would be, alternately, to remove your own pain.
Kira sat on her bed, lights turned off to pretend she was asleep. She stared down at her phone screen.
I’m anorexic, she had typed out. She bit her lip and hit the backspace.
So, the doctor diagnosed me, she tried again. She rolled her eyes and deleted the message.
Mom’s freaking out, she wrote this time, then backspaced. She threw the phone down on her bed and immediately picked it back up.
Guess what? She hit send and put the phone down, leaning back on her bed. She lifted her hands to frame the lights she could see out the window.
Her phone buzzed, and she dropped her hands, reaching over to retrieve the phone from where it lay on her bed.
What, Evelyn had written. The phone buzzed again, a second message coming through.
Are you pregnant? Kira laughed. If only.
No, she wrote. Not pregnant. Still a virgin, remember?
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, typing out I’m anorexic. She knew she should be texting Ian, but she wasn’t ready for his comfort, for the eyes that said I understand and I love you when all she could think was You deserve better. She sent the message, cringing and closing her eyes.
Honestly, I’m not that surprised, Evelyn wrote back. Did you just get diagnosed?
Not surprised? Kira was surprised, and it was her body.
Did you just get diagnosed? stared at Kira from the screen. She glanced away, hearing the familiar sound of comforting, wordless murmurs her dad offered to those who were upset. He wasn’t home, though. Confused, Kira stood up, creeping over to her bedroom door and pressing her ear against it to listen better.
“How could I miss this?” her mom was saying. “How could I not know my own daughter was anorexic?” Her mother was, beyond a doubt, talking to her father. But since he wasn’t home, Kira figured she wouldn’t be able to hear the other side of the conversation. She began making her way back to bed when she heard her dad’s voice.
“It’s gonna be okay,” her dad said. He was on speaker. This was something her mother did sometimes, when she was too upset and fidgety to sit still. She would sit on her bed with the phone on speaker and fold laundry or organize the room or knit. Anything to keep her hands busy.
Kira felt guilty; if her mom was upset, it was because of her. She slowly slid down against the door, pulling her knees in to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and pressing them hard against her. “We both missed it,” her dad was saying. “But it’s still not our fault.”
They were right. It was Kira’s fault.
“I don’t know, Ted. I feel pretty damn stupid.” Her mom sighed. “After everything that Vicki has been saying….”
“You know we both thought Vicki was a bit of a hack.”
Kira moved away from the door, reaching and rummaging around on the floor for a sweater. She pulled it over her head, replaced her pajama bottoms with yoga pants, and grabbed her beaten messenger bag. She slipped her phone into the bag and eased herself out of bed, careful to prevent any creaking from either the bed or wooden floor. She bunched up a bundle of clothes and stuck it under the sheets such that, in the dark, hoping that if her parents looked in in the dark, they’d assume it was her. She pushed her door open slowly, checking to make sure her parents’ door was closed, and tiptoed out into the dark hallway. One board creaked, and Kira quickly shifted her weight back to the other foot. Don’t hear me, don’t hear me. Kira paused, listening for her mom, but she continued her conversation with Kira’s dad. Kira tested a different area of floor, and once convinced it wouldn’t creak, stepped onto it. She continued this complicated dance until she got to the top of the stairs, where she braced her body with arms against railing and wall. She sped down the stairwell without a sound, the majority of her weight held by the wall and railing. She released at the bottom of the stairs, dropping lightly onto the tile. She tiptoed around the corner to the front door, where she caught sight of Ami watching YouTube videos in the living room.
“I thought you were asleep,” Ami said, glancing up from her laptop.
Kira shrugged. “You should be in bed.” She checked the clock on the oven. It was past 11:30 p.m.
Ami raised and lowered her shoulders, imitating her sister’s movement. “And aren’t you not supposed to be going out this late?” She glanced Kira up and down. “Or be going on walks? Didn’t the doctor say no to that?”
“Yeah, well.” Kira rolled her eyes. “I’m just going out. I’ll be back soon.”
Her sister waved her away. “Whatever,” she said, returning her eyes to the computer screen. “Just keep messing up your life. I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Kira pushed open the front door, stepping outside into the chilly air.