It is 2:32 a.m. I have to be up at 9 a.m. But I can’t stop thinking about that time I was in middle school, somewhere between twelve to fifteen, at my friend Monica’s birthday party. We were up late in her parent’s basement. The walls were lined with trophies, awards, banners, and family photos covering almost every inch of the wood boarding; thin green carpet laid loosely over concrete accenting the dark ridges of the grains. We had pulled the futon mattress onto the floor to save our elbows from hours of pain. The laptop was centered in front of us and the webcam pointed at all five us. I was laying on Monica’s back to fit everyone into the frame. We were using this random chat website we frequented to meet new people. We’d lie and say we were sixteen to ward off the creepers but still seem cool enough to talk to. Now, you never went on camera chat when you were alone because there were a lot of creepy and weird older guys just jerking off at the camera. But when you’re with your friends, one of you was the brave designated clicker to flip through the chats until you found an actual, fully clothed, person. This night, Monica volunteered and we quickly found these two cute boys. They were really nice at first, but after a few minutes the one boy I thought was cutest said: “Can that fat whale get off the cute one’s back?” I was devastated and furious all at once. I lept to my feet and began circling around the futon. I was shouting to stop myself from crying, “I’m not fat I’m 5’8 and 120 pounds, you guys are fucking rude and stupid!” My face was beet red as I paced in a small circle taking thunderous steps. The dogs began to paw at the door as I tried to contain the ensuing meltdown. After a few minutes, my friends calmed me down by saying the boys couldn’t really see me clearly and their opinions didn’t matter. But I snuck away to cry in the bathroom while they continued to chat. No one knew my secret. I was already throwing up after dinner and running extra laps at practice. All I kept thinking to myself was “what more do I need to do to finally be pretty like my friends?”
The next morning we had chocolate chip pancakes. Everyone else had four or five, I had two and a half and logged my calories in myfitnesspal. The clock continues to tick.

It is nine a.m. The sun peaks in through the slits of the blinds– it’s intoxicating. Lines of white appear on the red walls signaling the start of my day. The lack of air conditioning that summer was taking a toll. Blonde strands clung to my damp forehead as I pulled back the black, fuzzy, blanket I had thought I needed the night before. Last night’s adventure had left its mark. My pores were clogged in the sweat of laughter and other substances exchanged. The smell of marijuana lingered on my fingertips and my throat still burned at the thought of lukewarm vodka sliding down it. I’m going to need a few more hits to ward off the ensuing headache. I worked at noon. There was no time for food, I needed to shower and get ready. Yes, I need two and a half hours to get ready. It’s a combination of being ugly and being easily distracted. Shower, brush teeth, think about food, dismiss breakfast because there’s nothing good, makeup, dry hair, curl hair, fiddle with the bandana for twenty minutes, sigh and accept that this was as good as it was going to get. After two hours, my eyes were lined and sparkled while my hair was glossed and almost perfect. Ringlets formed below my chin as I tried to fluff my roots. My skin was uneven, bumpy, and discolored but I looked like I was trying. I used my fingertips to wipe away wandering glitter and the cracked dry skin of my hands reminded me of my failures to moisture and hydrate. The thoughts continue to pester me throughout the day. Between doodling on small shreds of receipt paper and daydreaming, lies my dark place. In my head, I’ve been logging my calories for the day, as I can pretend it’s not an issue if pen never meets paper and the keystrokes never enter into my phone. I can hear my moms voice clear as day,
“Are you sure you want that second cookie?”
“Yes mom, they’re so good fresh.” She squinted as her eyes scanned my body peering over the thin lines of her bifocals. Suddenly, the cookie tasted too sweet.
“I’m just saying, I started gaining weight when I was your age. You don’t want to end up fat like me.”
I am eleven, five-feet and one inch tall, ninety-eight pounds. The chocolate chips felt like insects inside my mouth. I nodded and tossed the other half of the cookie into the trash. My hands are shaking as I make my way down the short hallway. I enter the bathroom and the light automatically clicks on flooding my eyes with my image. I see a lot of her in me. Blue eyes, blonde hair, eyebrows so light they’re barely visible, terrible vision, square jawline… I lift up my shirt and wonder if I have her gut too. I feel flatness but see my reflection has a muffin top. My stomach seems to hang over the band of my jeans, but my sisters does not. Boys find her pretty and hang all over her. She has a boyfriend but all of his friends want her. It all seemed to make sense. “Why would anyone want a fat girl?”

It is five p.m. I am beyond the point of hunger. That familiar aching voice was easily silenced with patience. Hunger had turned to nausea around two; how odd that human bodies can feel the need to empty something with nothing in it. The buttons on the register moved about the store due to my mind spinning as I aimlessly keyed in the produce; green leaf lettuce 4076, bananas 4011, zucchini 4067… Cakes, bread, mac and cheese, frozen meals, the only things not taunting my hollow gut was the meat. Netflix documentaries buzzed through my brain as animal blood spilled onto the scanner. The red liquid lingered as I tried not to gag. By three, both nausea and hunger were gone. Your body gives up and goes into survival mode if you persist; all you had to do was push through that critical time. My hand shaking, I reach for the handle of the front door, and the bad feeling automatically sets in. The living room is filled with moisture and the aroma of oil. Air from the outside world lingered in through the back door and with it crept the familiar scent of singed carcasses. My mom has made dinner, steak, and fries. Steak is not vegetarian-friendly and deep-fried fries are bad for the pores, I’m not willing to put that garbage in my body. I sneak through the living room and quickly duck into my room. Stripping away the black jeans and uniform top, they fall into the pile of clothes already collecting on the floor. I catch a glance of myself in the mirror. Disgusting, have you gained weight? The ends of my hair whip against my face as I shake away the thought. There was rustling in the kitchen; my escape wouldn’t go unnoticed. One foot over the threshold of my door and her voice came bellowing “Where are you going? I just made dinner for everyone else, I can make a grilled cheese if you want more than fries” my mom’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard every time she opened her mouth. Grilled cheese for the third time this week? No thanks. “I’ll make something later!” I shout as I reach for the door handle. Rejecting dinner was easy. My mother rarely made food that followed my diet. How simple to say: “You know my diet. It is fine; I’ll make my own food when I get home.”

It is Five-thirty p.m. “What can I get for you?” Marie asks from behind the counter. “Extra-large peppermint mocha iced coffee with cream and sugar.” Tapping the straw against the countertop, it pushes up through the paper. I slide the plain white straw through the clear plastic lid of the coffee. The cold beverage fills my hand and I draw it towards my face. The first taste of sugar for the day. The cold rushes through my mouth stinging my teeth as grains of sugar trickle over my tongue and tickle the back of my throat. I pass on the donut and bagel Jeromy had offered to buy. “A coffee is enough, you don’t need to spend extra money.” My best friend looks down at me. My eyes are likely sunken in and my stomach was growling the entirety of the ride from his house to the cafe; the hollowness isn’t exactly unknown. Since Jeromy is six foot tall, it wasn’t an intimidating glance. His brown eyes pierce my blue. He squints but says nothing. I’m sure he knows that I still play these games with myself, but there’s nothing he can do. We sit down in our favorite white and blue booth, deal out the black deck, and pretend like nothing had happened.

It is nine p.m. Tic Toc Tic Toc. Time passes, but the past is still present. The memories are so vivid; scenes carved into ridges of my brain. I look in the mirror and see a fat girl from time to time, but I am aware that it is simply a distorted perception. Food makes me anxious. Eating, not eating, eating too much, eating too little, eating too many sugary foods, restriction, justification, avoidance– I’ll never go on a date in which food is involved. Why is eating a social thing? I don’t need them seeing my gluttony. Besides, people make all sorts of gross noises while they eat and food falls out of their mouths it’s just so– the cycle continues. Reliving the abuse, fear, intimidation, pain, and self-doubt– what is positive self-thought?. Compliments, reliance, and praise make me squirm. The voice in the back of my head says “it’s all an illusion, you know what you really are.” Hanging out with Bri is always brief, or at least it seems that way through the haze. Bri passes me the bong while exhaling. She offers me a snack and I politely decline. “You never eat,” she said looking at me blankly. We are sitting in my car, seat belts still fastened across our waists, even though we have been sitting in the same spot for twenty minutes. There’s no moon tonight and certainly no street lights out here at the trail. The thick ancient pine trees surrounded us. The tips of the branches part ways every so often, giving way to the light of the stars. With my headlights off, the field was invisible in the distance. My face is coated in darkness, all but a tiny section lit by the green light of the low playing radio. “I’m just not a fan of junk food. I try to take care of my body.” It slips out so easily I almost miss it as I close my mouth. She chuckles and proceeds to eat her strawberry Special K bar while glaring at me over her glasses. I can just make out the pale pastry, white icing, with red filling. It looks good, but I’ve come this far.

It is eleven p.m. Things always go bump in the night. The darkness casts across the Earth and its shadows touch my mind. The screams. The nonstop screams. “You’re so disrespectful!” The thwack of a workman’s hands against a child’s delicate skin. The dizziness that comes when the weight of the world, or rather the one in charge of yours, crushes your chest and your airways become restricted. My mom was so vicious. I often wonder if it was the physical pain or emotional pain that hurt more:
“I wish you were never born.”
“I should have gotten the abortion like your grandmother wanted.”
“I raised you better than being a disgusting, disrespectful, pig.”
“Stop sneaking food you’re getting fat.”
“We need to go on a diet together.”
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?!”
“I hate you! I deserve better children!”
My psyche so damage, so young. No one wanted the fat girl around. No one valued her. I had stopped eating. If they watched and made me eat, I’d hold the food in my mouth and dump it in the toilet moments later. I was trying so hard to please my parents. I wouldn’t be fat I know how shameful that would be for them, but I could never be good enough. I can still see it clearly. That pink and green braided barbie jump rope. You’d think it’d bring back memories of hopping in the streets with friends trying to jump it at least one more time than all the other neighborhood kids. But it does not. With that pretty little jump rope comes the image of that bunk bed I had wanted so badly. Whitewood, a ladder that was falling apart, I could barely sit up on either bunk. Your bed is supposed to be a safe place. Resting your head and falling into whimsical dreams of mountains of ice cream and toys as far as the eye could see. But I ruined that when I was ten. Somehow the bed seems to lose its peace when you try to hang yourself from it. Banana, strawberries, cashew milk, spinach, creatine powder, and yogurt. I seal the lid over my mini blender and sit back. The burning desire to consume everything in sight after having nothing all day was easily suppressed with my patience. The longer you sit and think about your decisions, the better the outcome. Even better, if it’s night time. If it’s night, I’ll likely fall asleep before I get the chance to finish the smoothie. When I finally caved and turned the blender on, the spinach couldn’t chop up fast enough. Particles of green swirled around, meeting with the white yogurt, and bright pinks of the strawberries. When all was said and done, my concoction was a deep rich purple. Seeds floated about towards the bottom of the mixture. One… two… three… is that a strawberry chunk? I was still stalling. Maybe I’d wait until midnight to take a sip.

Kat is an undergraduate Psychology major at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. She uses her writings to advocate for those who suffer from mental illness by telling her own story. Kat devotes her free time to political activism, advocating for women rights, and spending time with her kittens Greyson and Jackson.