Somewhere between a nibble of cinnamon toast and a sip of hazelnut coffee, an idea tickles my brain. I tap the keyboard keys until a likable character begins to crystallize; she’s a cross between my artsy mother-in-law and my neurotic friend. Her eyes are ocean green like Mom’s and her hair is the wild cherry curls of the lady who walks her Chihuahua past my house each morning. This character, I’ll call Anna, invites me into her world.
Then the dog barks. My character will have to wait until I walk Daisy.
“Come on, girl. Let’s go.” Daisy circles her favorite tufts of grass and I think about giving Anna a dog. But what kind?
The brisk morning air helps me return to writing. I have this small block of time to pretend I’m a writer before my kids wake and turn me back into Mom, keeper of the house, head dishwasher, and cook. I plop in my chair, wrap myself in a flowered blanket and stare at my new friend, Anna. I outlined her life’s story, much neater than my own. But the more she becomes real to me, the more she redirects her path. She’s not as likable anymore, somewhat selfish, and willing to step on a few toes to get what she wants. She wants to become a famous fashion designer, the next Donna Karan.
“How can I get her to change?” I’m determined to write until Anna reaches a turning point and appreciates her family. Maybe I need to eat. I’m still hungry, I think. But I can’t eat any more calories—not if I don’t want a tush the size of Texas.
That’s it! Anna will have an eating disorder and almost die starving herself. Her friends and family will try to help, but she thinks she’s fine—until she lands in a hospital on feeding tubes.
“Mommeeee…can I have cimmomon oapmeal?”
“Okay, Jenny, I’m coming,” I call back. Anna is not going to reach an epiphany today. I shut off the computer and toss my mommy hat on . . . and remember that I’m a mother who writes not a writer who happens to be a mom. My kids need me more than Anna—Anna with no last name yet. I descend the stairs chanting, “Anna Carson, Anna Tyler, Anna Smith, Anna Bobanna . . .”
Jenny joins in the game. “Anna Anna Bobanna, fe fi fobanna—Anna!”
“Here you go, sweetie.” I place an Elmo bowl in front of Jenny and think about Anna in college. Under stress, she eats less and less. Half a bowl of plain cheerios for breakfast, three raviolis with the cheese scraped out for dinner.
I glance at the apple clock on our kitchen wall. “Hey, where’s your big sister? Ellie’s got ten minutes to catch the bus.”
“She’s sweeping.” Jenny licks her spoon clean.
I grab the broom and tap the ceiling. “Ellie! Wake up!”
Two seconds later she appears in the doorway. “I’m right here, Mom.”
My heart aches when I look at her standing there, barely there. Two poles resembling legs stick out from a short skirt. When did she lose weight? It seems overnight she dropped three sizes.
“Ellie, have some oatmeal before you go.” I try to hide the desperation in my voice.
“No thanks. Gotta go. I see the bus.” The door slams behind her. We didn’t say bye. Again.
After Jenny decides to wear a skirt “like Ellie” and brush her hair “like Ellie,” we have a tea party and drink tea “like Ellie.” I just hope she doesn’t stop eating “like Ellie.”
At noon, I walk Jenny to Little Pebbles Preschool. Then I run home and dash back to my computer. Cleaning will have to wait.
. . . Anna stayed up all night sewing her final garment for class. She stole money from her roommate to buy expensive fabric for the dress she designed. If hers was the best in class, it would be worn at the fashion show. Famous designers would see her work. But she was weak from hunger . . .
I type until she is in the hospital with her younger sister at her side reading her get well card out loud. Tears flow down my cheeks.
In a chapter, I can solve her problems. Anna will discover God loves her. She will change. But I can’t write Ellie’s life.
I kneel down and pass my hat to the one who’ll write with power.
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