Non-fiction Stories

A Happy Meal

Been into doing more non-fiction short stories lately, so for better or worse, thought I’d share. Apologies in advance to my parents who might cry, and dedicated most especially to my mom.

*

When we pulled into the parking lot, winter’s receding had given way to that almost-spring chill, and rain was coming down intermittently, as through a dryer sheet. My nubby wool sweater was irritating my skin as it worked to cover up the pointed bones I couldn’t see anyway. Keeping the sweater on was easier than scratching my arms, so it stayed. My mother and I walked to the main office without saying a word—I resented her for wanting to save me.

The office was housed in an old building that would have seemed warm and friendly in any other context, but not now. I surveyed the other women in the room, most dressed in loose sweatpants gifted at bat mitzvahs or purchased at cheap beachside shops with empty words spelled out across the backsides. I quickly determined that none of these bodies looked very sick, but that everyone’s skin was sallow and that the room smelled too unhappy to deny. I wanted nothing to do with any of them, having read too many emotions on their faces and determined that we definitely didn’t read the same books.

During the welcome meeting I stared at my feet and repeated the word “nothing” over in my brain so as to avoid the dripping enthusiasm of the mouth chirping in my direction. We got a tour of the grounds, which could’ve fit easily in the palm of my hand. I had been plopped in a daycare center for stunted women, who were to put words to feelings and revel in their expanding bellies until they could go home. It was a warped sisterhood, decorated by scrawny girls tied to feeding tubes and staring blankly at each other in rooms stuffed with coloring books and graying blankets.

I gave my razors and everything else that could be misused to the front desk, and drifted over towards my new room. My mother’s concern could be felt trailing behind me but I didn’t care enough to double-check. Crawling into the bed that would be mine for a month and closing my eyes, I allowed my mom to arrange my things in a way that would comfort her when she had to leave. My roommate ran in and out and was far too content to be trusted. Her energy was grating and I wanted it far away from the hazy space I had worked so hard to subsume myself in. Eventually my mom sat beside me stroking my hair and I felt the vaguest sense of sad and scared when she said, “When this is all over, we’ll share a cupcake together.”

The moment passed, and then she left. Outside my window was a hill covered in dead yellow grass and nothing else. I stared at it for an hour before we were called to a lunch of slippery, tasteless noodles, with a vegetable garnish that might have made me laugh if I were to allow it. It didn’t scare me to eat yet, the calories felt like long-awaited consummation. While girls around me dropped tears into their soups and cereals, I continued to chew forward, without second thoughts, or any thoughts, really. Their emotions bothered me. Their attempts to cover them up with dining table trivia games bothered me more.

I managed like this for a week or so, going through strange motions that I had no choice but to adopt: 4am weigh-ins and hourly Gatorade chugs to ramp up dwindling electrolytes. On the first Friday a plate was put in front of me with dry chicken tenders and chunky potato slivers—they had no scent and appeared easy to consume. But I ate them faster than usual, and in our meal discussion afterwards I felt as if there was something tightening painfully under my skin. I wanted to reach inside myself to pull each bite back out, then lay them along the table and stare at each piece in disgust. Looking now at the funereal faces of all the women around me, I understood something about their pain—it irritated me now not for being alien, but because it was recognizable, a weakness we shared.

The feeling of feeling was too overwhelming and led to me dry-heave on a sticky bathroom floor, strewn with soiled panties and an unhealthy amount of hair. I called my mom and told her I had cried over something like nuggets and fries, feeling deflated, and also free.

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