Looking around I see balloons that say, “Get Well Soon,” and flowers. My sister Anna sleeps soundly in a chair beside me. It takes me a moment to realize where I am, the hospital. Tubes are inside of me, and I don't remember them being placed there. The last memory I have is putting on make-up. I was getting ready for prom. Had I fainted?
I know I haven't been taking care of my body, but have things gotten that bad. My mind whirls out of control. Things are not making sense. As much as I try to focus, all I can think about is Anna and our fight the week before.
“I heard you up last night. I know what you're doing.” She had gazed at me intently, as if she were reading my soul.
“What are you talking about,” I felt naked. I wondered what all she saw me do. “You know I've been doing really well.”
“No you're not!” Her defiance caused me to jump. She rarely ever talked to me that way. We got along a lot better than most sisters so close in age.
“I've been eating every meal.”
“Well, then why do you think I need help, if my eating problem is getting better on its own?”
“That's because, it's not!” her voice grew louder. Her anger seemed unjust. “And it's not an eating problem, it's a disorder. It's anorexia, and from what I saw last night bulimia too!” Her eyes glared at me, and her tone held a firmness I had never heard from her.
I could feel my body tremble with anger and confusion. I wanted to speak, but I could not focus on what to say.
“You're getting worse, and that was proven last night when I saw you.” she repeated, her voice trembling.
“You're spying on me!” I felt so betrayed.
“Yes, I'm sure that's what they call it. When you follow someone to see what she is doing, without her knowledge. I may have to get out the dictionary, but I'm sure that's what they call it - spying,” I shouted.
“Okay, okay, I spied on you,” her voice softened.
I wanted to keep arguing, but I think unconsciously I wanted to listen.
“I saw you eating. I couldn't believe how much you had eaten. I, mean, you eat so little at meals, and I've been worried the way you hide in the bathroom after every meal. But I didn't think it could be true. Emily, you didn't even close the door all the way. I could hear you throwing all that food up. It was so quiet at first; I didn't know for sure that's what you were doing. But then I peeked in.”
I wanted to tell her she was lying and that she didn't know what she was seeing. But here was no way I could hide it this time. I felt exposed.
“I can't believe you were spying on me.” I was surprised; she didn't look guilty from my condemning words. She only looked scared. I wanted to scream at her and tell her she should leave me alone, but I didn't want to lose the one person who always supported me. How could I make this better? I did the only thing I knew to do. I lied, “I only did that once. I was so hungry, and then I just ate too much.”
“You're lying, Emily. You think Mom doesn't notice how a whole bag of chips will disappear in one day. She's known for a while, and I've been stupid enough to defend you. You can't eat that much and stay that thin unless you're throwing it up. You need help!”
Her last words were felt like a slap in the face. I couldn't understand why she was judging me so harshly. It's not like I was hurting her. I wanted to hide, but I couldn't let her attack me without defending myself. “I've been running five miles a day, burning a lot of calories. It's allowing me to...”
“Emily, I know, that’s part of the illness.”
I didn't want to lose my sister's friendship. I said the only thing I knew that would make it better. “I'll get help,” I said the words, but had little intention of following through. I wasn't as sick as some I'd read about.
“During the summer, I'll talk to someone.”
“No, you need help now!”
“Summer!” I said firmly. I could tell she didn't believe me, but she left.
After replaying the scene in my head for what seems like the hundredth time, I call out to my sister, “Anna?”
She looks up groggily. Then with a broad smile, “Good morning, I was wondering when you were going to wake.” She clicks a button on the side of my bed, probably calling a nurse.
Now this is the Anna I know: soft, gentle, and caring.
“What happened?” I ask, though I have a very good idea.
Her smile fades, but her voice is kind, “Emily, your body got so weak. You weigh nearly 25 pounds less than you should. You passed out. When I got home and saw you lying on the bathroom floor, I was so scared. I thought you had a heart attack or something.”
“So I missed prom?”
“Yeah, but that's okay.”
“No, it's not.” I sob, not because of missing prom, but because of where I am, how I got here. I confess, “I hadn't eaten for three days before prom. I wanted to make sure I didn't gain anything, so I'd look good in my dress.”
“I know,” she says quietly.
“I feel like I can't control it anymore. I have no control over anything. I'm so confused. When I do eat, I can't live with myself. When I don't, I feel like everyone's mad at me. Anna, I need help.” My sister grasps my trembling body. As I stare over her shoulder at the “Get Well” balloons, I know that it will take time. But I also know I have just taken my first step.