i.               She sits uncomfortably on the edge of the table my friends and I have been sitting at since the beginning of freshman year. There is laughter floating around us like the ghosts of blushing children. We stain our fingers with the sticky mango juice we gulp down as we pass around boxes of chocolate-chip cookies. We tell jokes about goats and exponential functions. Nevertheless, even under an illusion of raucous laughter and untarnished youth, uneasy juxtapositions silently linger in the spaces in front of our eyes: unlike everybody else, she does not have a sandwich or even a slice of apple in the palms of her hands. Her eyes, blank and still, do not once glance at the spread of food on the cafeteria table. When we ask her to eat, she shakes her head. Her silence speaks louder than anything else.

ii.              My friends tell me later that she hasn’t eaten properly for weeks. She comes to school without lunch and quietly looks away when my friends push sandwiches towards her. She doesn’t like talking about food. She withdraws into her shell when we discuss self-image and what we think about our bodies. Her skin barely conceals her bones and her face is ashen; she is a gnarled tree withered by an unforgiving winter. She is falling apart. She is falling apart. She is falling apart.

iii.            My friends mention eating disorders for the first time that week. They sit her down in English class–we have a substitute teacher–and speak as if their words have mirrors etched onto them. I stay quiet while they talk. Although I have always known and acknowledged that eating disorders exist, they usually made me think of thin, broken bodies and grimy toilet bowls. I never expected to encounter a potential eating disorder right in front of me, to witness its crippling monstrosity slowly manifest inside of someone I loved so deeply.

iv.            She goes to therapy every Monday. She tells me that her therapist’s office is a few streets away from my house. I ask her what her therapist asks her. She says that she asks her about her past and feelings and what she thinks about every day. She admits that she doesn’t always know what to say – the need to resist food has existed for so long that she can’t find the words to describe it anymore. She says that her therapist smiles a lot. She tells me that she reminds her of me. She has started eating more – on some days, she even brings packed lunches to school. On her best days, when we tell her to eat more, she doesn’t look away – instead, she smiles and obliges.

v.              There are days when she texts me asking to talk. She tells me that she’s tired, that therapy isn’t working, that she can’t stop counting calories. I feel fat. I feel ugly. She says she’s lonely, that she’s sick of grappling with the jarring highs and lows that engulf her life. I want to live without needing to fight so much, she writes. I just want to live. I don’t always know what to say when she talks about experiencing the worst of her disorder’s symptoms, but I know what it feels like to be on edge all the time in the fear of being triggered by the most futile of things. I know what it feels like to have sunk so deeply into a routine of unease and anxiety that it almost feels natural. While Googling “how to stop someone with an eating disorder from relapsing”, I tell her what I know: that it’s going to be okay. I say that highs and lows are present in everybody’s life. This is your challenge, I type in, but you’ll make it out alive. You’ll be okay. I love you.

vi.            You’ll be okay. I love you.    

By Zamiya Akbar

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