I remember meeting her. A tall yet delicate looking girl, exotically beautiful, like a tropical bird flitting about a rainforest in search of a companion. Dark hair settled in wild curls around her soaring cheekbones, bringing attention to her deep brown eyes, which shyly flickered shut every so often. I searched for signs of makeup- that twisted face paint some girls wear to hide themselves; a mask of fears to conceal each face from the world's judgmental eyes -but I found none. Everything, every feature resting on her tan skin was hers. And from the tip of her prominent nose to the soft pink glow of her shapely, full lips she was gorgeous.
I remember talking to her that first time, trying to make out each word she said, as it was somewhat unclear with her thick accent. I didn't mind. She was worth talking to. But we talked rarely that first year, and as a result our friendship consisted mainly of the occasional smile in the hallway, or a friendly "Hey!" to each other through the swarm of people at lunch. That was when she ate. She claimed not to like her mom's cooking and usually turned up her nose at the meals festering in the bottom of her lunchbox, but she usually bought something in the cafeteria downstairs, like a bowl of soup, or a cookie. Sometimes even both. If it weren't for this I would've been more worried, as her body looked too thin and gangly to be natural. Her smile as she ate a full lunch each day was enough reassurance for me.
I remember her embrace on the first day back to school and trying not to comment on how much more her elbows stuck out. Her body had begun to change; I could see her womanly curves slowly growing, but she still looked eerily thin. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was the flattering new clothing, or even the sheen of her newly straight brown hair, but heads turned when she walked down the hallway, giving smiles to anyone worthwhile. I don't know how many times I caught a boy staring shamelessly at her in those first couple of months. Yet she continued to make negative, snide comments- not at others, but rather about her own appearance. I couldn't help but feel a bit depressed when she called herself ugly for the umpteenth time, scrutinizing every detail of her face in her locker mirror.
I remember the exciting news she whispered to me in that otherwise boring class, looking weirdly giddy to the teacher, who was droning on about nothing of much importance. At the time, I had thought modeling would be great for her severely lacking self esteem. The way her eyes crinkled in a dazzling smile as she spoke of the agency was only confirmation of this belief. World tours, photo shoots for every magazine you could imagine- all guarantees of this wild new place the she spoke so highly of, and all she had to do was take a whopping four years of classes. Although I would never give up my Saturdays for something like that, I was supportive of her, still hoping, even believing, that she might find faith in her own beauty.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
I remember the disapproving look on her face as she rifled through the contents of her lunch bag, before dropping it on the dirty floor with a dramatic sigh. "I just don't like it." She would claim, dismissing my worried comments with a laugh and a reassuring smile. Normal conversation resumed quickly after that, filled with the dumb jokes and news of the day that had become so routine for us all to share. Laughter rung out through the air every so often, the feminine sound of hers clear above the others. A part of me wondered for a second how she could be so happy. At least, she seemed happy. I didn't notice how her tan, once-healthy skin had begun to fade, a far cry from the glowing shade I remembered.
I remember seeing her cry for the first time, running down the hallway with sadness on her countenance that made her almost unrecognizable. Mascara ran in streaks down the contours of her face, making them look harsh and unfamiliar. Knowing that she had never let anyone see her like this made me even more worried. I ran after her, although her weight, unhealthy as it was, gave her an advantage against me. I lost her when she rounded the next corner, brown hair flying as she disappeared from view.
Only later that day did I see her again, fixing her hair. I could see as I got closer to her that she had put more mascara on, probably to conceal the redness that rimmed her swollen eyelids. A look of realization was clear in her eyes when she wheeled around, hugging me wordlessly. I was equally quiet as I returned the gesture; now was not a time for words. Although I had to bite my tongue to keep from mentioning how tiny her arms were getting. They felt bonier than ever, as if I was hugging a skeleton, even through the layers of my thick sweater. She pulled away with a forced grin, but her sparkle had vanished.
I stared at her, confused and worried. Gray circles had settled beneath her eyes, dulling the once-stunning chocolate brown to a tired hazel. Her dark brown hair had taken a similar hit, looking damaged and lackluster, not shining the way it usually did under the bright lights of the hallway. Her cheeks, despite the rosy tint they had possessed, had begun to look almost sickly when combined with the way her cheekbones had sharpened.
I averted my eyes down to examine her body, not missing the lack of curves, or the bones that jutted harshly out in their place. Even her hip-hugging jeans were falling low, just like her tank top, which hung loosely off of her torso. She looked like a little girl playing dress-up, swimming in her mother's clothes. My eyes darted back up to her face. In the place of full, pink lips sat chapped crescents, pulled up in a smile that could only mean a cry for help. I sighed in worry, trying to find words she might understand.
"What happened to you?"