This is a short story I wrote for a memoir writing class at school. Thought I’d share it. Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Patient Fine Balanced Kind
By Kaitlyn McLaughlin
It is Christmas morning, my fifth day in the locked doors of the EDU. There is a scribbled orange and green paper cut out Christmas tree that Carly taped to my door, just in case Santa passed by during the night. He didn’t. I have made weight for the day, and am allowed an eight minute shower. Eight minutes of hot, relaxing reprieve. It is glorious.
Breakfast consists of an English muffin with peanut butter, an orange, eight ounces of milk, four ounces of juice, a serving of raisin bran, and a can of Ensure. It is not the first time I’ve done this. If you don’t finish, you cannot leave the table.
After vitals and meds, my name is called for blood work. This is the fifth time in five days, and my arm is already bruised. Michelle jokes that we look like heroin addicts, and we are addicts of a kind. We are the kind that would exercise during an eight minute shower, the kind that needs constant supervision. I am the specific kind that spends her first semester of college with her head in the toilet, hand in her mouth. I am the kind that enjoys the rupture of chewed and swallowed food coming up through the throat, back splashing the face.
I met Ben Jones during my first semester at Temple. I didn’t give him a thought until he friended me on Facebook, and I realized he was in my French class. He made up for his silence in class with curious Facebook conversation. We spoke of literature, of music, and eventually met at Rittenhouse Square on a fabulously sunny day in late September. I found him incredibly attractive. I showed him nude drawings from my art class, and he told me that his sister suffered from anorexia. I sat there for a few moments with a lump in my chest. How could he know? But I didn’t have the patience to starve like his sister. I was impatient, swallowing, gruesome.
He took me back to his apartment and we smoked from his gigantic bong, listened to Bon Iver on vinyl, and sat quietly close together on his two by four outdoor ledge. I thought I’d found the college experience. I made sure that he walked me to the train, because I was quite completely out of my mind.
“Is that it?” he asked me when we’d reached the platform to board.
“What do you mean, what do you want?” I placed my hands on his waist and eyed him carefully. We hadn’t touched all afternoon. He just smiled and stood there, not moving, as the trains passed by and the smog surrounded us. I lifted my heels and reached his lips on tiptoe, brushing past them quickly, questioning. He reached in and kissed me again, only a bit fuller, slower. I steeled myself as he walked away and I boarded the R3 to go home.
I watch the new girl walk into the dining room. She is absolutely skinny, with spindly legs and a hallow gaze, as if she’s not completely here.
“Hi, I’m Chelsea,” she says, and takes the seat across from me. I eye up my roast beef. The aide turns on the radio, and Britney Spears tries to dull the pain of this situation.
“Hi, I’m Kaitlyn.” Conversation is always forced at first. There are things you can’t ask like, Do you throw up, or starve? And there is the requisite comparison, weight to height, legs to spine. I cannot compare to her. My thighs have never been so thin.
After dinner, we’re released to a group that I mostly yawn through. Snack is an hour later, and I stuff my stomach with more carbohydrates. At ten, the doors are unlocked and I walk into my bedroom to find clothes scattered across the extra bed. Chelsea stands unpacking, placing underwear and pajamas into a drawer. We smile at each other.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” she says. “I smoked an entire bowl before I got here.” I laugh, liking her already.
“That’s okay. So is it your first time in treatment?”
“No, I’ve actually been here twice before. It’s the only place insurance pays for.” I understand. We stay up comparing our histories for another hour, before being shushed by an aide to be quiet, go to sleep.
The second time I met Ben Jones, we went straight to his apartment.
“I think we look cute together,” he said as we walked, and he grabbed my hand, lacing our fingers together. We smoked a smaller bong this time, and he introduced me to his roommate. As we sat and smoked, Ben unwrapped a pair of grey sheets, and the three of us made his bed, stumbling over the bed folds as only three stoned college kids will. His roommate left shortly thereafter and we lay on the bed, staring out the window, close together, arms touching. I’d lost my virginity only a month before, and it didn’t seem important that I’d only known Ben for two weeks. I wanted to be consumed. I wanted to lose myself in this boy.
I stripped off my clothes for him, and he fingered my lacy blue underwear. I wasn’t afraid of being naked; I’d emptied myself of breakfast earlier. I kissed his neck, and closed my mouth around his ear, climbing upwards along the cartilage. He exhaled a slight moan. I beamed.
“Don’t you think we should wait?” he asked as my hand traveled beneath his boxers.
“Um, I don’t know,” I responded between kisses.
“But I mean, it would change things, wouldn’t it? Are you on birth control?”
“Don’t you have a condom?” I was frustrated. I just wanted to be fucked. But I relented, and pulled off his boxers, giving him with my mouth what he wouldn’t take from my body.
Chelsea and I stand in line for blood work. She is due for seven vials, and I still need three drawn because my phosphorous is low.
“Next!” the nurse calls, and ushers us into two chairs in a small, clean room where the phlebotomists practice extracting blood from blown out, dehydrated lifelines. The phlebotomist wraps a blue band around my arm and draws it tight, warming the vein. I make a fist and cringe.
“Date of birth?”
“Seven eleven nineteen ninety one.” She looks at her chart and frowns.
“Are you Chelsea Johnson?”
“No, I’m Kaitlyn McLaughlin.” I glance at Chelsea in half amusement, half horror. She looks equally perturbed.
“Oh, all right then.” My stomach burns. The phlebotomists switch around their paperwork and I try to breathe.
“Make a fist.” I exhale, and watch the needle sink into the bruised, yellow crook of my arm.
I walked to Ben’s apartment in the pouring rain, with my hood pulled up to cover my soaked hair. He let me in with a brief mumble. He wouldn’t touch me. I had to inch closer and closer until finally, he engaged me with his lips. He didn’t want me to stay, he made sure I knew that much. I didn’t understand. I clung to the hope that if I hung around long enough, and missed the last train, he wouldn’t kick me out. He couldn’t.
At 11:35, he ushered me out the door. I walked out, high and now desperate. I arrived at City Hall after getting lost twice, ten minutes after the last train had left. I called my parents on my dying cell phone. No answer. I called my grandparents.
“Hi Grandpop, I was at a friend’s house earlier today and, um, I missed the last train…would you be able to pick me up?” As I waited, I ran to Dunkin Donuts, bought two French Crullers, and puked in the bushes surrounding City Hall. I hid beneath the curtain of foliage, watching cars and sometimes people pass by. I was ravenous.
“I can’t wait to leave, to go back to school,” Chelsea hammers on, insisting despite the doctor’s claim that she will not be ready to leave until she reaches her goal weight. She has twenty pounds to go; I have six. She gets to leave tomorrow.
Over dinner, we stare at each other in alarm as we watch Michelle signal to Aubrey and slip her second chicken sandwich under the table, into Aubrey’s sweatpants pocket. I am floored. Of course I won’t say anything, of course. But I know, and that’s almost worse.
After dinner, Chelsea and I walk back, arms linked, into the large square room that houses the partial hospitalization program. “So why did you two stop seeing each other?” she asks me. I’m not sure what to say. Because I’m ugly and crazy? I think instantly. But that wasn’t the reason why; after enough desperate begging, I found out that he’d found someone else.
I play with her hair as she colors in a photocopied mandala until seven o’ clock, the end of our day now that we’ve progressed to day treatment. We walk outside and I give her a long, desperate hug. I don’t like to watch her go.
I pace quickly into the distance of the parking lot, and bend over, ramming my hand into the back of my throat, again, and again. Once more. After heaving, I check to make sure no one’s watching. If Michelle can get away with not eating, the least I should get away with is this.
I get in my car, shaking, and drive home from the hospital to my cousin’s apartment, where I staying. As I pull onto my cousin’s street, I turn on 87.5, the one good station in Baltimore. The song is sickeningly familiar, and painful. It reminds me of home, and of Ben. And of Chelsea.
And I told you to be patient,
And I told you to be fine,
And I told you to be balanced,
And I told you to be kind.
Now all your love is wasted?
Then who the hell was I?
Now I’m breaking at the britches,
And at the end of all your lines.
Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall far behind?
I know that I won’t see her after tomorrow. My body feels like lead. I park the car and clutch my chest. I cry until the song stops.
Vernon, Justin. “Skinny Love.” Rec. Nov. 2007. For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver, 2008. Vinyl recording.
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