A/N: I would just like to explain that this story is about eating disorder recovery. Unfortunately, writing a realistic ED story requires going into some detail about symptoms and numbers. If you have/had an ED, this might be triggering, so you might not want to read it. My goal is to make this first chapter as dark and symptom-heavy as the story is going to get. After that the story will be focused more on recovery. Oh, and I'd like to thank spydercrystal for being my beta reader.


Ryland, Connecticut. December, 2004

The day that everything went to hell, I was awoken by a familiar pain, a dull cramp that twisted in my gut—the proverbial thorn in my side. Without bothering to open my eyes, I rolled onto my back and clamped a hand over my stomach, feeling it tremble as air bubbled through my insides. The sensation usually made me feel hollow and clean and a little giddy, but I just didn't have the patience for it first thing in the morning.

In my mind's eye, I could see my body poised at my feet, a bloated gelatinous mass looking up at me with wide, pathetically hopeful eyes. Whine all you want, little bitch, I cooed sarcastically. No one will ever hear you.

My body answered me with another mournful groan, but it knew how this would end. As the hunger curled inside of me one last time and finally settled back down to sleep, I smiled to myself. Sometimes losing weight was as simple as training a dog.

Craning my head, I squinted at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed and groggily registered that it was nearly noon. Then I collapsed onto my back again, the muscles in my neck strained from the effort. After thirteen hours of sleep, I still felt heavy and exhausted. I wanted so badly to roll onto my side, draw my knees up, and follow my brief bout of hunger into the depths of sleep, but it was too late for that; my mother would be home from work soon.

I've never been a huge fan of being awake. Even as a baby, the story goes, I cried and screamed through every waking hour, but always slept soundly through the night. When I was a toddler, my mother was grateful that I wasn't like my older brother Justin, who had a habit of jumping on her bed at the crack of dawn, begging her to play with him. As the years passed, however, my mother found my relentless fatigue more and more worrisome. If she knew that I had spent half of my winter vacation thus far in bed, the questions would never end.

Laboriously, I pushed the mountain of blankets off of me and forced myself to get up. For a moment I stood next to the bed with one hand planted on top of the mattress, and my thigh leaning against it, buoying myself against a wave of dizziness. I stared at a spot on the carpet as dark shadows quickly swallowed the bed, the nightstand, the desk, the dresser across the room, the rumpled clothes on the floor. My ears rang, my knees shook. It was a full body swoon and I had the sudden urge to droop back onto the bed as if I were falling into the arms of a lover. The thought made me giggle.

When the darkness receded, I leaned down to turn off the box fan that sat by my desk and trudged down the hall to the bathroom. The cold, worn floorboards creaked under my feet as I walked through the house, but thankfully there were no other sounds. My mother's boyfriend, Bill, had already left for work, and Justin wouldn't be back from his ski trip until tomorrow.

Only a few years ago, I had been terrified of being home alone—the result of too many hours spent watching the news and Unsolved Mysteries—but lately I felt claustrophobic with my family around. It was only when I was alone that I could breathe.

The moment I shut the bathroom door behind me, however, my breath quickened. As much as I hated being dragged from sleep and being forced to muster the energy to make it through another day, mornings had one saving grace, one single reason that I ever got up at all: checking my Empty Weight.

Hastily, I stripped off my flannel pajamas, used the toilet, and then pulled the scale out of the cabinet underneath the sink. It wasn't a high tech digital scale, just a plain analog model that you could buy at any drug store, but I trusted it. I knew it, and it knew me—better than anyone, it knew me.

After tapping it with my toe, ensuring that the needle was precisely on the zero line, I gingerly stepped onto it and watched the needle sweep across the valley of black tic marks. When it finally came to rest between two tics, a tentative joy swelled inside of me. I got off the scale, let it zero out, and stepped on again. Then I repeated the process a third time. When I was done, I was left with three numbers, three independent measurements that all agreed that I weighed less than I had last night.

Carefully, I slid the scale back into the cabinet. When I stood up, the sight of my reflection in the bathroom mirror startled me. I leaned forward to touch the glass, my fingers wonderingly grazing the cold, hard likeness of my face. For the briefest of moments, I thought that maybe my mom wasn't lying when she said that I had a beautiful smile.


I was sitting on the couch, flipping through the television stations with fingers that were still pink from my hot shower when I heard my mother's hurried footsteps on the front porch. I listened to her fumble with her house keys and struggle with the deadbolt for a minute before I took pity on the woman and opened the door for her.

"Hi, Mom."

She rushed past me into the house with the bitter winter air gusting in her wake. Briskly, she stomped the snow off her boots onto the welcome mat, the vibration rattling the pictures and trophies poised on the mantle across the room. Bundled in her billowy coat and wool hat, she seemed taller and more substantial than usual; I liked it.

People often say that I look exactly like my mother, but I've never been able to see it. Though we have the same blond hair and our faces are roughly the same shape, my mother is a small, fine-boned woman with knobby joints and thin lips. I, on the other hand, am the product of my father's Russian genes: thick bones, wide hips, heavy thighs. Basically, I was built to pull plows across the Siberian tundra and squeeze out a baby every nine months. Never mind the fact that I hated the cold and had no intention of procreating.

"Hi, A.J.," my mother said breathlessly. "Are you ready to go? I'm running late."

Silently, I sighed to myself. She was always running late. "Yeah. Just let me put on my shoes."

"God, I've had such a shitty day," she groaned as she paced across the living room floor. "The phones were ringing off the hook all morning. I didn't even have time to leave to go to the bank or the post office, so the rent is going to be late. And then the mechanic says that it's going to cost five hundred dollars to fix the brakes on my car. I don't know how I'm going to come up with the money, but I—" She broke off mid-sentence as I was tying the laces of my sneakers. "Honey, you should wear your boots. The driveway is really icy. I almost broke my neck getting out of the car."

I just nodded and slipped the sneakers off my feet. There was no point in reminding her that I was old enough to choose my own attire. She would argue with me until I put the boots on anyway.

"Anyway," my mother continued, "then Target called to tell me that Marla is out sick, so they need me to work tonight."

My sigh was louder this time, but she didn't seem to notice. An ache was starting to form in the center of my forehead.

"Why don't you keep the car, then?" I suggested. "I'm not working this afternoon, so I really don't need it."

"No, no. It's okay." She gave me a smile that was meant to be reassuring, but it had been years since I bought it. "I don't want you hanging around here all day. You should call up Shellie and go do something."

"Yeah, maybe," I replied vaguely.

My mother gave me a curious look. "I haven't seen her around here in a while. Did you two have a fight?"

"No, no."

"Are you sure?" she prodded, drawing the words out.

"Yes," I mimicked her tone.

"Okay. So you'll call her then?"

"Fine, all right."

"Good," she replied. "Okay, listen. Barb can bring me over to Target at six, so can you just pick me up from there at ten?"

I almost snorted. For most parents, that question would be rhetorical, but not for my mother. If I told her that I couldn't pick her up, she would breezily assure me that it was fine; she could just walk the five miles home in the bitter December air.

"No problem."

She checked her watch anxiously. "Okay, I've really got to get back now."

"Did you eat?" I asked her as I slid my arms into the sleeves of my winter coat.

"No, I didn't have time," she sighed. "But I'll have a snack at my desk."

I gave her an exasperated look even as envy tightened in my throat—the fear that perhaps she was better at this than me though she wasn't even trying. She didn't care about her weight. Hell, she didn't care about herself. She only ever cared about my brother and me. It was for us that she sacrificed on a daily basis her time, her health, her life. I only wished that I possessed that kind of strength. While she spent every waking moment worrying about rent and bills and gas prices and tuition, I could think of nothing but food--not only what I ate and when I ate it, but also what other people ate, and how I compared to them. It consumed me.

"A snack isn't lunch," I lectured. "After I drop you off, I'll bring you a sandwich from the deli."

"A.J., you don't have to—"

"I'm getting you the sandwich no matter what, so you might as well tell me what you want." I raised my eyebrows at her expectantly. "Turkey? Tuna?"

She smiled. "Tuna is fine."

"Good." I returned the smile. "Then let's go."

Her voice caught me as my hand closed on the door knob. "You'd better wear your hat, A.J. You're going to be cold."

My smile faltered a little, though she didn't see. I grabbed my hat off the coat rack and pulled it over my head. Then I went for the door again.

"And your scarf, sweetie," she added.

"Yeah, Mom," I mumbled as I wound the scarf around my neck.

Of course she had been right. The wind did sting. The walk to the car was slippery. Even so, I wanted to rip the hat off my head and fling it into the snow bank next to the driveway. Instead, I settled for stuffing it in my coat pocket as I got behind the wheel of my brother's Mazda RX7.

As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, the engine began to screech.

"Ah shit," my mother grumbled from the passenger seat. "It's the timing belt again."

"Sounds like it."

"We just got it fixed two weeks ago. How can it be broken again?"

"Because our mechanic is a lying sonofabitch?" I suggested.

"I can't afford to take it back in," my mom groaned, ignoring my sarcasm. "I can't even afford the new brakes on my car and your brother's spring tuition is due next week and—"

I nodded along with her, but I wasn't really listening. These frantic rants were always the same: Why did this have to happen now? What the hell am I going to do? There's no money and no time and no hope. Oh, and by the way, A.J., I don't want you to worry about any of this, okay? But, God, what am I going to do? What baffled me, though, was that she hadn't seen this coming, because this shit happened to us all the time. Nothing ever went right without five other things going wrong. That's just the way life worked.

My mind was drifting as I pulled out of our driveway. I was drifting. My mother took a break from her tirade to remind me to slow down because there was a sharp turn up ahead, but it wasn't necessary. I knew these roads so well that I could have driven through town with my eyes closed.

We've lived in Ryland, Connecticut as long as I can remember. It's a small town. A rich town. Good schools, colonial homes, and very little crime. It is the type of place where doctors from Yale University Hospital or stock traders working on Wall Street settle down to raise their family. Nothing is open past nine-thirty, even on the weekend, so kids my age usually hung out in each other's basements or in their parents' hot tubs, drinking top shelf liquor and smoking pot. Or at least that's what I was able to deduce about my brother's social life before he graduated last year.

The narrow streets were crowded as I drove to my mother's office. It seemed as if everyone in town took their lunch break at the same time. In my peripheral vision, I saw my mother check her watch twice in the time it took us to drive past the town Green. We were still two miles away from her office when the car's gas light came on. She made an impatient, disgusted sound through her teeth and began to tap her feet. When someone cut us off as we were about to turn into the parking lot of the Ryland Sun, she shouted, "You asshole!", and her spittle splashed onto the windshield.

I leaned my elbow on the car door and massaged my temple.

As soon as I pulled to a stop in front of her building, she got out of the car and ran up the stairs, her arms flailing awkwardly, her hands curled into tiny, weak fists.

Braving the mid-afternoon traffic once again, I drove across town, put five dollars worth of gas into the car, and finally made it to Sam's Deli. I ordered a tuna sandwich, chips, and a bottle of iced tea for my mother, and drove it back to her office.

She had been working as a receptionist for the Ryland Sun since my dad divorced her fourteen years ago. It wasn't a glamorous job, nor did it pay well or offer any real growth opportunities, but it was stable work. A welcome constancy.

Most of her co-workers knew me well and they greeted me as I made my way down to my mother's desk: A.J., it's so good to see you. How is school going? Are you looking forward to graduation? Do you know where you're going to college yet? Are you still taking violin lessons? How is your brother? And, oh my God, you have lost so much weight! Turn around, let me see. Wow, you look fantastic!

I denied the last, my face hot with embarrassment. I still wasn't used to this attention. Not so long ago, the only compliments I ever received about my appearance were reluctant and subtly back-handed: Oh, A.J., you have such a pretty...face.

Now that I had lost weight, however, everyone made a big fuss over me. They praised, they gushed, they envied, they encouraged. I liked it, and yet I didn't like it. Because I couldn't help feeling like they were lying to me, or rather, that they were humoring me; people were just assholes like that. In any event, I was grateful for one thing: as long as people treated my weight loss like some grand and shining achievement, my thinning hair, brittle nails, and dizzy spells were cast deep into the shadows.

Prying myself away from the questions and compliments, I reached my mother's cubical. Sitting at her desk with her shoulders slumped, she seemed so tired and worn. I thought about how everyone said that she and I looked alike, and I wondered if this was what they meant.

"Thanks, A.J.," she said as I set her lunch down on the desk. "Did you get something for yourself?"

"A meatball sub," I lied.

"Ooh, that sounds good. I was wondering if you'd ever get sick of salads."

She reached into her purse and pulled out a crumpled twenty dollar bill, but I backed away. "No, it's okay. I don't need it. This is why I got a job, remember?"

"I know, I know, but just take it." She stood up and pushed the money at me. "You're my daughter," she added softly. Her phone started ringing again, but she didn't move to answer it. "Go out and have some fun, okay?"

With a sigh, I pocketed the money. "Yeah, yeah."

"I'll see you at ten."

Before I reached the hallway, she called me back. "Hey wait! I can't believe I almost forgot. This was in the mailbox for you this morning."

I turned back to find her holding up a large white envelope. I couldn't make out the return address, but I recognized the dark blue leaf adorned with two acorns that was stamped on the upper left-hand corner. It was the seal of the University of Connecticut.

Slowly, I reached out and took the envelope from her, surprised at how heavy it was.

God, I wasn't ready for this. I had only submitted my college applications last month. I hadn't expected to hear back from any school until late February or March.

"Well, aren't you going to open it?" she asked me eagerly.

There was really no point; I already knew what it said. Colleges didn't send out thick, over-sized rejection packets.

"A.J.?" my mother prompted me.

I ran my thumb under the flap of the envelope, incurring a paper cut as I ripped it open. Inside, there was a letter that began, Congratulations, Miss Glazer! Under that, were folders filled with information about housing, coursework, and financial aid. "I got in."

My mother hugged me. "That's great, sweetie!"

A nod was all I could manage.

"Aren't you happy?" she asked, disturbed by my lack of reaction.

"Yeah."

She looked at me keenly. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." It was just that as I stared at that acceptance letter, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of vertigo. It felt like I was standing at the edge of some sharp precipice overlooking the dark and daunting landscape of my future, and I knew with overwhelming certainty that I was going to fall.


The afternoon was long. After I drove back home, I curled up on the couch, cold and exhausted. Huddled under a fleece blanket, I tried to watch TV, but I couldn't pay attention. Couldn't sit still. These slow, amorphous days of winter vacation had thrown my internal clock. My stomach was growling, but I couldn't eat the can of soup that I allowed myself each night for another four hours. I never thought I would miss school, but at least it gave me some sort of schedule, some way to fill these hours that I now spent thinking about food.

At some point, when my eyes were hot and dry from staring at the television screen, trying to make sense out of some soap opera plot, I decided to hell with this. I was going back to sleep. At least that would shut my stomach up. And when I woke, it would be time for the soup. Warm, salty soup.

Only it didn't happen that way. Before I could make it out of the living room, the phone rang.

I answered it. "Hello?" My voice sounded foreign and muted. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Hello?"

"Hey, A.J.," my best friend Shellie greeted me. "What's going on?"

"Um, not too much. What about you?"

She groaned. "Bored out of my mind. I had to baby sit my brother and sister all morning, but my dad just got home from work. Do you want to go down to the Green? I feel like making a scene," she said mischievously.

I knew that tone. For two years now Shellie had been in a goth phase; her favorite activity was running around town, scaring the "closed-minded sheep" by "disrupting their ideals of normalcy". It really wasn't my thing. I didn't care anything about shaking things up, but she had been my best friend—my only friend, really—for six years, so I usually went along with it. More and more often, though, I wasn't in the mood. To be around her, I had to put on my own mask of normalcy, and as horrible as it sounded, it was just more trouble than it was worth.

"Sorry, I have to go to work soon," I told her.

"I thought the bank didn't need you until Saturday." It was true. I was normally required to work at Ryland Savings Bank full time through all school holidays, but they had just hired two new high school tellers, and the manager wanted to train them over the winter break. Once they were sent out to the other branches next week, there would be room for me again.

"One of the full-timers went home sick," I lied.

She laughed. "So it's A.J. the Super-Teller to the rescue."

"Damn right."

"Maybe we can hang out tomorrow, then?"

"Uh…I don't know…"

"Come on," she whined. "I never see you any more."

"You see me every day at school, Shell," I reminded her.

"You know what I mean."

I shrugged helplessly, even though she couldn't see me. There was nothing I could say to that.

"Did I do something? Are you mad at me?" she asked, echoing the concern that my mother had expressed only a few hours ago.

Christ. Can't a girl just have some time to herself without everyone else thinking that she's mad at them?

"No, no," I replied quickly, though I wasn't sure why. Maybe reassurance was just a hard habit to break. Besides, I didn't like hurting people. "I'm just tired from school and work and stuff."

"Okay," she said slowly, clearly not buying my excuse. "Well, call me when you feel better, then." She hung up on me so loudly that I flinched.

Setting the phone back on its cradle, there was a slight tremor in my hands. I shook them out forcefully and paced the living room twice, ordering my heart to slow down. I felt too edgy to sleep now. I needed to keep moving, needed to do something.

I threw a glance at my violin case, knowing that I ought to practice the piece my teacher had assigned. But instead, I went into the kitchen and flipped open my recipe binder.

It used to be my Western Civilization binder until one afternoon in October when I went to the school library to do research for a paper on the Peloponnesian War. I'd been stressed out that day; the essay had been due in less than a week, but I couldn't seem to concentrate on my work. Listlessly I sat in front of the computer, using various search engines to figure out exactly how many calories were in the Grannie Smith apple I'd just eaten, when I stumbled upon a recipe for apple pie. I'd never made my own pie before, but with Thanksgiving only a month away, I thought it would be fun to try, so I printed out the recipe. I was about to close that screen when I saw a link to a chocolate mousse cake recipe; I printed that one out, too. Then I found a recipe for cheesecake brownies. Butterscotch gingerbread cookies. Rocky Road fudge. Peach cobbler. Pineapple upside down cake. Before I knew it, the bell had rung and I had enough recipes stuffed into my binder to start my own bakery.

By December, I had tried out most of those recipes and had collected countless more. Everyone seemed pleased with my new hobby, and they enjoyed the handful of desserts that I made every week. My family was quick to remind me, though, not to eat too much of it because I had worked so hard to lose all of that weight and I didn't want to gain it back, now did I?

I only smiled. Little did they know.

Thumbing through the sticky, worn pages, I decided to make some chocolate biscotti--my mom's favorite. Whenever I made a batch, she would take them to work to have with her morning coffee. "Chocolate and caffeine," she'd say. "There's no better way to start the day." Recalling how rundown she had seemed earlier, I hoped that maybe some biscotti would cheer her up.

Quickly, I fell into my routine. Preheating the oven, lining the ingredients up on the table, dunking the eggs in hot water in order to warm them to room temperature, gathering two large bowls, a baking sheet, a spatula, measuring cups and spoons. I was about to take out the electric mixer that one of my aunts had given me for Christmas, but then decided against it. Though it would be slower and more tiring to mix by hand, I wanted to be close to the recipe. I liked hearing the granules of sugar scraping against the metal bowl as they slowly dissolved into the butter, and I liked feeling the muscles in my arm burn as I struggled to work the dry ingredients into the wet batter. And when the dessert was finished, I liked knowing that even though I had been so close to temptation—had, in fact, created the temptation with my own hands—not once had I tasted it.

Not long after I started, though, I was wishing that I had used the mixer after all. The biscotti dough seemed stiffer and more difficult than it had been in the past. By the time I rolled it out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, sweat lined my brow and I was breathing through my mouth. My arms were trembling so badly that I nearly dropped the pan as I slid it into the oven.

As soon as I set the timer, I collapsed on the couch and closed my eyes. The edginess was gone, washed away by languidness, and I fell into a deep sleep.

Some time later, a shrill beeping sound startled me awake. I reached for the timer, and after three tries I managed to turn it off.

Sitting up, I yawned, and noticed a warm, rich scent in the air. Something dark and thick. Luscious.

Chocolate.

My mouth watered.

I walked into the kitchen, slipped my hand into an oven mitt, and pulled the sheet of biscotti out of the oven. Carefully I set it on top of the stove and leaned over it just slightly.

The scent was heavier now. It rose up to me, coating me, seeping into my very pores. Filling me. I breathed in deeply, drawing a waft of chocolate into my mouth, cradling it with my tongue.

Oh God.

I backed away. Retreated to the living room. The dough wouldn't be cool enough to cut for another ten minutes. I had to calm down before then. Get back into control.

I ran my hands down my sides and fingered the sharp, protruding bones of my hips—the only parts of my body that I didn't despise. But the gesture didn't anchor me as well as it normally did.

Come on, bitch. Chill the fuck out. Are you really this weak? So goddamn pathetic that you can't even resist a fucking smell?

My fingers pinched the fat on my hips—hard.

No. Hell no.

Then prove it.

I stomped into the kitchen and made myself lean over the roll of biscotti again. Sucking in a deep breath, I doused my taste buds in the flavor, drowning myself in it again and again and again.

Pure chocolate. Sweet chocolate. Rich chocolate…

With practiced precision, I used each breath to carry me further and further away. By the time I lifted my head, everything was perfectly detached. I could no longer connect the smell of the chocolate to the taste of it. I couldn't connect its existence—its purpose—to the ache in my head or to the hollow rumble in my core.

Smugly, I set the warm roll of biscotti onto a cutting board and began to slice it into long, angular pieces. The very end cut cleanly, but a few inches in, the dough started to disintegrate under the pressure of the knife. A glance at the digital clock on the stove told me that I hadn't allowed the biscotti the full ten minutes it needed to cool. The middle of the roll, therefore, was still too hot, too fragile.

I should have stopped cutting, should have given it more time to finish cooling; I don't know why I didn't. I was impatient, I suppose. Irritated. Angry that I had let myself be so distracted by the desire to taste the chocolate that I had screwed up the recipe. Whatever the reason, I hacked away at the roll until I was left with nothing but a pile of moist, steaming crumbs.

"Damn it!" I hissed. "God-fucking-damn it!"

Typical. I'd wasted over ten dollars worth of ingredients because I was a fat, lazy pig. My mother wouldn't have a nice treat to help get her through the day because I was a grubby, greedy, whore-ass bitch who couldn't do anything right.

I poised the cutting board over the trash can and pushed the remains of biscotti into the bag. Bits of underdone dough clung to my hands. Sliding my fingers into my mouth, I licked at the crumbs. Punishment, I thought. Taste the dough, taste your failure, then spit it out. Spit it out.

Come on, bitch, I told you to spit it out!

I didn't. A switch had been flipped. The instant the crumbs made contact with my tongue, it felt like a circuit had been closed. No more detachment. Nothing but flavor, sensation, desire, hunger.

Need.

I swallowed. Picked up another handful of crumbs out of the trash. Poured them into my mouth. Swallowed again.

Then I ran over to my binder, running my wet fingers over the recipe until I found the nutrition information at the bottom of the page. The numbers were terrifying. Unfathomable. Unforgivable. Shaking, I tried to estimate how many pieces worth of crumbs I had consumed. A half? One? Two? Christ, I had no idea. No way to measure. No way to know!

Fucked it up, I had fucked it all up.

I went into the bathroom, took out my scale from under the sink. Stripped off my clothes. Stepped onto the platform. Watched the needle swing violently to the right, then ricochet back, bouncing back and forth until it ultimately settled on a single tic.

Three pounds.

I was three pounds heavier than this morning.

No, no, no. Not possible.

Yes, possible. Clearly possible. Deal with reality, pig.

I redressed in my underwear and shirt, leaving my bra and jeans on the bathroom floor, and then I stumbled down the steps back into the kitchen. I needed to get rid of the chocolate taste haunting my mouth, as if that would somehow fix this. Erase this.

Standing in the open door of the refrigerator, feeling the cold air cascade over my bare feet, I gulped down half a bottle of Diet Coke. The carbonation choked me, burning my nose, and the soda that I couldn't swallow spilled down my chin, dripping onto the floor.

I coughed and coughed.

There. Now the taste was gone.

On the first shelf of the fridge was a four-pack of chocolate pudding.

Oh fuck it. Fuck it all.

I dove for it, forgetting the soda as I ripped the packages of pudding open and spooned it into my mouth with my bare hands.

Such a strange food, I thought. Not quite liquid, but not quite solid.

I needed something solid.

Leftover spaghetti sat on the bottom shelf of the fridge. The sauce was in the smaller container next to it.

Dropping the pudding packs on the floor, I went for the pasta, popped open the Tupperware top, took out the sauce, poured it over the noodles, let the fridge door slam shut. Pushed the container in the microwave, set it for three minutes, hit the start button, watched the pasta rotate on the glass dish as the stale microwave exhaust blew through my hair.

Too long, too long.

I crossed the room again, opened the cabinet next to the sink, fisted a bag of potato chips. The plastic crinkled loudly as I plunged inside for handful after handful after handful. When the bag was almost empty, I held it up to my lips and shook the remains into my mouth.

The microwave beeped. The pasta scalded my tongue, but I devoured it regardless.

My stomach stretched. Turned.

Shit, what the hell am I doing? Oh God, so many calories, so many…

I ran back to the bathroom. Lifted the lid of the toilet, then the seat. Pulled back my hair. Shoved two fingers down my throat. Felt my gag reflex catch. Added another finger, pushed on my bloated stomach. Gagged. Spat. Gagged again.

I'd never done this before. It was so much harder than I'd imagined it would be.

Finally, I bent at the waist. There was acid in my throat, fire in my face, bursting behind my eyes. Whole stands of spaghetti splashed into the water. Globs of pudding. Rivers of soda.

I staggered into the kitchen. Back into the cabinet next to the sink. More bags. more crinkles. Then there was nothing but salt and kernels and cheesy goodness.

I moved on to the next cabinet--cereal. Dry and sweet, it seemed to suck away all the moisture in my mouth. Sugar caked my fingers.

After a blur of moment, I was in front of the toilet again, staring at the stains on the underside of the seat. My hair was stuck to my cheek. Vomit splashed my face. It was easier this time, but no less violent.

The house was dark by now. The light in the fridge was harsh and blinding as I tore into fruit cups. Bread. Rice. Fried chicken straight off the bone.

Then I moved up to the freezer--ice pops and frozen yogurt. It stung the nerves in my teeth on the way down, but soothed my throat on its way back up.

As I clung to the cool porcelain for the third time, I felt my heart lurching in my chest. I ignored it. There was blood in my vomit, a thin ribbon of red swirling through the thick, frothy pool of melted ice cream. I ignored that, too.

More food. I need more fucking food!

Tripping over empty cereal boxes and slipping in chocolate pudding, I searched through the rest of the kitchen cabinets. All I found was canned vegetables and low calorie soup, and I cried out in frustration because in my mania, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to open the goddamn cans. I was on the verge of smashing them against the corner of the counter when I remembered the biscotti.

Abandoning the cans, I sank to my knees in front of the trash, shoveling the rest of the biscotti crumbs into my mouth. Then I sifted further down and found half of a bagel. Further down--more chicken. Further down--peas and corn. Further down...

Suddenly I was leaning over the toilet again, my face puffy, my head ringing, my throat ripped to shreds. Food erupted from my mouth so fast that it seemed like I was no longer the one rejecting it; it was rejecting me. My body was racked by explosion after explosion after explosion.

And then there was a sharp gasp. A dull thump.

"A.J.!"

Still crouched in front of the toilet, I turned my head. Through my bleary eyes, I saw my mother standing in the kitchen, her purse at her feet, her hands covering her mouth in horror.

Unable to look at her, but unable to move, I surveyed the damage to the kitchen behind her. Empty food packages were scattered everywhere. There were pools of pasta sauce on the counter, melted frozen yogurt dripping out of an over-turned carton and onto the table, pieces of cereal, bits of potato chips, popcorn kernels, and fried chicken batter dusting the floor. And most disturbing of all, there was the trash can laying on its side in the middle of the room, looking as if it had been ravaged by a raccoon.

There was nothing but darkness beyond the kitchen window. The rest of the world had abandoned me to this one, terrible, ever-lasting moment.

It must be past ten, I realized belatedly. My mother must have been waiting for me to pick her up—waiting and waiting and waiting—but I had never come. She must have called the house several times, only I hadn't heard the phone ringing over my cacophony of scarfing and puking. She must have been worried about me the entire walk home, those five endless miles, petrified that I had been in an accident. Or maybe I had been kidnapped, raped, my body discarded somewhere on the side of the road. She must have imagined the police knocking on her door in the middle of the night to tell her that her only daughter was dead.

Then she had finally arrived home to find me like this: a slimy, bloated, red-faced, half-naked puddle of sludge on the bathroom floor, clouded by the acrid stench of sickness.

I turned my head and without any manual provocation, vomited one last time. Then without pausing to flush to the toilet, I scrambled to my feet and ran down the hall to my bedroom, slamming the door shut behind me.