Dead Weight

by Jason R. Huff

My name is Anna, and tonight I am okay.

This mantra is what I learned to repeat to myself during the last four months, and this is what I say now before Christina comes over. It has helped, this daily affirmation. Now I can look in the mirror and see someone beautiful. Before, I was unable to see past the oily skin or pimples or glasses or chubby cheeks and thick curly hair and fat everywhere. And because what I saw is what everyone else saw, five months ago, during my first week at Charles Hill High School, everything went to shit.

But I am a new person now, and I am okay.

Today was my first day back to school after what my father told the school board was an extended vacation. It wasn’t. I wasn’t out hiking Big Bend or skiing the mountains of Colorado. I was in a psychiatric hospital. There were reasons for my stay, of course—depression, sudden weight loss. I don’t like to talk about it.

Christina, who was my best friend from first grade until that first week at Charles Hill, saw me in the hall this morning and told me how skinny I was. I was hesitant to believe her; scared she was going to slap me or start laughing at me, but after a few seconds when she didn’t I told her thank you. She remarked again about how much weight I lost. A shit-ton of weight, were her exact words. She was right, I did lose a shit-ton of weight. I did, because I couldn’t look like Emma Watson or Jennifer Lawrence if I didn’t, and I wanted to be beautiful, so I lost weight and now I am able to wear the clothes the girls on the magazine covers wear—clothes that fit instead of conceal my body the way oceans spread over the earth to hide the monsters within their depths.

During the first week of high school, Christina didn’t speak to me. We had the same English class and I smiled as I took my seat in front of her. I turned to say hi, but she rolled her eyes and sighed so I didn’t say anything the rest of class. When the bell rang, I stood up. The class started laughing and I turned around to see what was funny. Christina pointed at my ass. There was brown paint smeared all over. Looks like you shit your pants, she said. The class roared, and I could feel their laughter like gale force winds pushing me out the door. I felt heat and my face started to sweat and tears mixed with the sweat and I ran into the girls’ bathroom and stayed in the last stall surrounded by faded yellow tiles and mildewed grout the rest of the day.

Tonight, though, I am not sweating or crying. Tonight I am smiling because today I invited Christina to spend the night and she said yes. Well, not an immediate yes. First she asked if I was mad and asked if I still wanted to be friends. I said of course, told her we were like sisters, and sometimes sisters fight. She asked how I lost so much weight. Inside I smiled because she was coming to me for advice. I told her it had to do with control and how bad she wanted it, and that I would show her if she spent the night. That is when she said yes.

We are drinking boxed wine from the refrigerator because we are fifteen and it is a Friday night and my dad is on a business trip in Arizona. He was reluctant to go, considered staying in Virginia with me. I told him that I’d be fine, then reminded him that the hospital discharged me because I had shown progress in my recovery. I reminded him that I had his phone number and my doctor’s phone number and told him to call me tonight to check up on me. He asked if I was sure more than once and I said yes and he kissed my forehead and said he’d call when he arrived at the hotel. I said okay and slung my backpack over my shoulder. I opened the door and the sun blasted my face and I squinted and exited and when I arrived home my dad was gone and I thought I’ll never see him again. I don’t know why.

I gulp my wine.

“I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you that first week,” Christina says.

“Don’t be stupid,” I say, wiping away the red wine that drips down my chin. She is stupid. She’s a fucking disease eating away intelligence. She takes another sip of her wine and I breathe the slow, deliberate breath my dad taught me after my mom left. It’s supposed to calm me. It doesn’t always work.

Five months ago, at the end of the first day of school, the breathing didn’t work. We were all on the school bus and Christina sat beside me, cornered me between the window and her. The girls in the seat in front of us turned around. Christina told them to select the video option on their iPhones and they did and she punched me in the stomach and said she bet it didn’t hurt because the fat absorbed the pain.

But it did hurt, and I tried to take a breath but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to give Christina that power over me, didn’t want her to know she was better than me. But she was better than me, prettier. Her face was clear, not covered in zits like mine. Her hair was blonde, of course, and straight, and her teeth were white and straight, and her eyes were blue. Her nostrils were the only flaw, but even this was not fatal. They were two different sizes, which created an imperfection that enhanced her other features. And she was thinner than me.

When I finally returned home, I fell on my bed and opened my laptop and logged onto Facebook to escape the memory of the bus. I saw a red circle in the notifications tab and clicked it. I was tagged in a video and I played the video and it was of the school bus beating and there were over a hundred comments saying how fat and ugly I was, and how I deserved it all because I shouldn’t be allowed to live outside of a freak show. I cried and tore all of the posters of all the movie stars off my walls because I hated them looking at me.

And I hate Christina now.

I hate her for all that she has done, but I also love her. I love her because if she didn’t do what she did I wouldn’t be who I am today, and she wouldn’t be who she is. She would still be better than me, but now she’s not. I am thinner than her, and I can tell she envies this, desires it. She wants what I have. She wants to lose weight, but she doesn’t know what it takes. She doesn’t have the self-control. Not like I do.

The boxed wine is almost empty and we are both feeling woozy. I guide her back to the living room. We sit on the floor on top of our sleeping bags. Christina’s is pink, of course. She is giggling at nothing and it annoys me.

“You’re getting fat,” I tell her. Her laughing stops and her eyes widen and I can see the entire orb of them, big and round like grapes. Her mouth is slightly open, wet, and I want to jam a fire poker down her throat but I don’t. I control myself.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s funny, though, that on the third day of school when you and your friends put the ‘Hello, my name is’ stickers on my locker, I was the fat one but now I am thinner than you.”

I’m sorry,” she says, and it annoys me that she doesn’t accept my apology. That she apologizes to me instead. She has always been like that. Always trying to fucking one-up everyone.

“For what?”

“For the words we wrote in those stickers.”

“What words?” I know what the words said, but I want her to say them. I want to hear if they are still poisonous or if the venom has been extracted and now her words are just empty and hollow. She fidgets with the zipper on her sleeping bag, tugging it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Then it gets stuck.

“You know what words,” she says as she lets the slider of the zipper go, not even trying to liberate the caught fabric.

“Yeah, I do,” I say. “They said fatty, bitch, slut. They hurt me, Christina.”

“I know.”

“But there was a post-it note stuck on there, too, right?”

Christina picks at the cuticle of her index finger.

“Christina, why did you put that note there?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry,” she says, and I believe her. But I don’t care if she’s sorry. Not anymore.

“Tell me what it said.” I’m fed up.

Christina’s eyes are red from tears. It reminds me of the wine. I am thirsty. She opens her mouth to speak and the words come out the way death comes to us all, slow and slurred, and half unexpected. “I wish your mom would have killed you before she killed herself.”

“Yeah,” I say, and hold her gaze. Her face is covered in red splotches now, her nose oozes snot that drips to her lips and she doesn’t wipe it away. Her eyes are puffy. She is ugly in this moment, and I feel better because she feels so shitty.

“I am so sorry, Anna.” Christina’s voice is fast and hurried, like she wants to add distance between the confessional of the post-it note and now. No amount of words will help, but I allow her to continue anyway. “I just wanted to be popular, I wanted to be liked and I thought I wouldn’t be if I had a friend like you. I’m sorry for saying that. It’s shitty of me, but it’s the truth. It was stupid. I was stupid.”

“It’s okay,” I say. “I understand.” But I don’t understand, and it’s not okay. I want to call her a fucking bitch. Instead, I tell her again that I don’t care because we are friends and it was all in the past and we are okay. She smiles.

We fill our glasses with the last of the wine and return to the sleeping bags. She takes a drink, then places her glass on the coffee table that we pushed to the side earlier to make room for our pallets. I slap her hard against the side of her head. She says ouch, and I laugh and apologize, but I’m not fucking sorry. I want to keep hitting her, to climb on top of her, pin her down and claw her face, scarring it so she isn’t pretty anymore. I don’t. I tell her that in order to lose weight she must gain control. That she can’t eat, and if she does she has to stick a finger down her throat to throw it all up. Then we are silent and the silence is loud.

“You really did that?”

“Of course,” I say. “And one time when I felt really fat I cut my side open and tried to pull it all out.” I laugh because I just told her that but I never really did it.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Christina says, and I stop laughing.

“I can help you lose weight.” I smile. She is nervous, but she tells me okay, and I tell her that she needs to start now, to throw up all the wine we drank and she gets up and goes to the bathroom, and I am proud of her in this moment. Proud that she is willing to do this. Concerned, though, that she doesn’t want it bad enough. Concerned, because I feel myself getting hungry and I start thinking about the hamburger my dad left in the refrigerator.

“I’m so fucked up,” Christina says as she stumbles back to her sleeping bag and plops down on it. “I’m going to sleep.”

“I will, too,” I tell her, thinking that if I do go to sleep I won’t be hungry anymore, and that sleep will make the cravings disappear. I crawl into my sleeping bag, which is black, and wait for the darkness of sleep to enclose me like a tomb.

Christina is snoring already and all I can think about is the hamburger. I’ll gain all my weight back, I tell myself. I won’t be able to fit in my clothes, I won’t be pretty anymore. I won’t be better than Christina. I am better than her. I am. I am better. I am okay.

Christina is so fat; she probably weighs one hundred pounds. I’m down to eighty. I’m hungry. My body hurts, but it’s because of the weight loss, and I use the pain to measure my progress. My skin looks tight like a drum. I tap on my stomach, a steady beat. I can help her. I know how.

I want to eat.

A buzz inside my head: you are weak.

I place the hamburger on the kitchen counter and put an onion on the cutting board. The knife I grab is stained with memories and they cut into me the way my mom used this knife to try to cut me open when I was eight. It was the middle of the night when I woke to her playing with my hair. She whispered that she was going to pull the fat out of me because no one would love me if I stayed obese. I screamed when I felt the blade split my skin. My dad came in and froze and then yelled. I don’t remember his words. I remember the cut along my stomach. Not deep enough to kill but deep enough to draw blood, and the blood tickled as it made its trek down my side. My mom stared, perhaps seeing the blood for the first time. I think I remember tears and she pressed the knife against her throat and then moved the blade against her skin and then I remember nothing else.

Five months ago, Christina used this as a joke written on a post-it note stuck to my locker.

I won’t let it happen again.

I retrieve the skillet from the cabinet beside the stove, but leave the hamburger on the counter.

In the living room I stand above Christina. She is wrapped in her pink sleeping bag. Her hair is perfect even now. Her skin is tan and smooth and reminds me of peanut butter. She makes me sick. Makes me want to puke. I hate you, I whisper between clinched teeth. I raise the skillet, feel the weight in my hands. My heart is beating against my chest, thump, thump, thump, and I bring the bottom of the skillet down against the crown of Christina’s head. She’s not sleeping anymore. Her eyes fly open as quick as a Venus flytrap closes. I hit her again. Her body jerks. Convulses. My heart beats faster. I hit her again. Again. Again.

Christina stops moving. She is still fat. It disgusts me how obese the world has become. I grab the knife from the kitchen. I want to help her. I cut open her side.

Anna, you still haven’t eaten.

* * *

I am on my hands and knees again against the toilet vomiting blood. Not much. Just drops. From where? Fuck, I’ve eaten. I’ve gained weight. What did I eat? Doesn’t matter. Puke it up. For fifteen minutes I heave until there is nothing left. I flush the toilet and flush away my weakness.

Rising from the floor I see myself in the mirror. Naked. Fatter. Blood on me. I search my body but there are no wounds. I wash it off, the blood. The weight stays on me. I scrub, but it doesn’t come off. It doesn’t come off. It will never come off.

Take it off, the weight, remove it.

I pass through the living room, but I don’t look at Christina. I don’t know why. I grab the serrated knife. The hamburger is still on the counter. Graying.

On the way back to the bathroom I look at Christina. Her sleeping bag has been thrown to the corner. She is naked. The blood is everywhere. Little clumps like dead rodents in her owl’s nest of hair. Pools of maroon beside her, at her hands and feet. There are no hands or feet, just jagged nubs. I need to vomit, to purge again.

In the bathroom mirror I weigh 300 pounds. I sit on the floor. I know how to lose this weight. I place the edge of the serrated blade high up on my thigh. It moves back and forth. A shock of pain. The skin separates.

Keep going. It’ll be numb soon. You can remove the other leg, your arm, you can cut your stomach open.

And tonight I am okay.

I look at my face in the mirror. Emma Watson smiles back.

Jason R. Huff’s poetry and short stories can be found or are forthcoming in S/WORD, Misfits Inc., and Gutter Eloquence. His most recent piece, a flash memoir, can be found in the anthology Trigger Warning: How Poetry Saved My Life, which is available on Amazon. Currently in college for an English major, Jason lives in Virginia with his partner Ashley, their son Jeremy, and many owl sculptures of varying sizes and mediums.