The first thing I notice when I come in, is the locks. Every room is locked. I feel a shiver of fear inch down my back when the door locks behind us with a click so sharp, it sounds like a gunshot.
I wince, but I keep walking.
The woman leads me to the station, where she pulls a bracelet onto my wrist. It is white, and it has a piece of rectangular plastic attached to it. The woman explains that this will keep me from running away.
I stare at her blankly. I don’t understand. How could I ever even hope to escape, behind all of these locks?
They lead me back into the hallway, and my parents descend on me.
They begin talking to me, but I won’t listen. The time for talking is past. They threw that chance away when they brought me here without my consent.
Nothing they can say now is worth my attention.
The nurse says something to them, and my mother tries to hug me. I push her away. She does not deserve my hugs.
My parents leave, and the nurse opens another lock to take me into the adolescent section. There are girls all over, lounging on the couches, reading books, watching me. I look down the hall and see a young boy playing with a puzzle on the floor.
I look away.
I don’t belong here.
The nurse opens one of the doors lining the hall with the key around her neck. I ache to reach up and grab it.
Instead I look at the room. It is bland and boring, just two beds and a closet.
The nurse is talking again, giving me packets and explaining rules, but I don’t listen.
I turn away from her and go back to the hall, where my stuff is. It looks so sad there, in two large brown bags in the middle of the hall. It looks so small.
I feel my eyes start to water and my nose begins to sting.
No. I tell myself. I will not cry. They will not beat me.
I take the handles of the bags and drag them with me. I bring them back to the room where the nurse is waiting. She looks angry that I left in the middle of her speech. I try to care, but I don’t.
I don’t care about anything.
The nurse is talking louder now, lecturing. I try not to listen but its harder now. I bend down and rummage through the larger bag, looking for my ipod. I see it, and my hand clasps around it with a sigh of relief.
My fumbling hands insert the headphones into my ears, and everything is blissfully blocked out. All I know is that there is music, it is loud, and I can hear nothing else. I stagger across the room to my bed and lay down, my eyes screwed shut against reality.
I wake up, which is when I realize that I must have fallen asleep. I close my eyes and try to go back to sleep, but now that I am awake, I can’t fall back into oblivion.
Still, I close my eyes and turn the music up. At least I can pretend to be asleep.
It seems to be about an hour later when I hear the door open, and feel the vibration of footsteps in the room. Someone is calling me, they’re saying my name, louder and louder.
I do not respond.
Someone pulls out my headphones and yells in my ear to get up.
I will not obey them. I will not let them win. I still do not move, though now I’m feigning death more than sleep.
I feel someone crouch down next to my bed. “You need to get up now.”
I am still.
“Do you hear me? You need to get up!”
I still refuse to move.
Someone sighs.“We are going to be lenient because it’s your first day, but if this continues we will have to tell the doctors.”
I wish I could close my ears as well as my eyes, but I can’t. I am a prisoner here, forced to listen to their treacherous words until they let me go. Until they “fix” me. Until they squish me into their perfect little mold, and decide that I am finally perfect, that I am finally just what they think I should be.
I hear people filing out of my room, and then the creaking sound of the door.
I fall asleep again.
When I wake up this time, my eyes open of their own accord. It takes me a moment to remember where I am. Then I see the bare walls and remember.
I am “safe.”
I am locked up.
I am at their mercy.
The mercy of the doctors, who tell me that I am wrong. That everything I do, everything I think, everything I value, is wrong, vain, and selfish.
They tell me that I do not know who I am or what I’m doing. They tell me that I have given my soul to a monster that has enslaved me in it’s grip. I am at its mercy and therefore they have taken over control.
For my own good.
I lay there on my side, my eyes open, staring into the night. And then something moves.
In a moment I am sitting upright in my bed, staring across the room to the girl sitting across from me.
She is tall, with striking blonde hair, and a model-thin physique. She is sitting up in bed, leaning against the wall, and smirking at me.
As my heart rate slows, I realize that she is draped in the same drab, gray, blankets that adorn my bed and blend in perfectly with the dirty-laundry colored wall.
But instead of making her look ugly, the contrast between her and the sheets speaks of some ethereal creature, one who does not belong here, in this loosely disguised prison.
“You were screaming just now.” She says, her is tone serious, but her eyes are amused.
I look at her.
“In your sleep.” she explains. “You were screaming.”
I nod slowly.
“I’m Lauren, by the way.”
I nod again. “I’m-
“I know. I pay attention.”
I smile thinly.
“So, what are you in here for?” She asks.
I raise my eyebrows. “Do you usually just ask people like that?”
Lauren nods, the corner of her mouth twitching. “We don’t do formalities here.”
I nod, considering how much of myself I am willing to give over to this stranger. I almost decide not to respond, but something about her is strangely compelling, strangely fascinating.
“I’m anorexic.” I finally say. “Anorexia athletica.”
Lauren smiles again, and turns her attention towards the single, enforced, window. “I figured.” “You’re obviously not bulimic.” She puffs out her cheeks, and giggles.
“What about you?” I ask, my curiosity now piqued.
“Purging anorexic,” She fakes a bow.
“But not bulimic.” she wrinkles her nose in disgust. “I never binge,” Now I hear a note of pride in her voice.
“Me neither.” I say, nodding along.
We talk together until 6:00 when a nurse comes to the door.
“Weigh ins.” She announces, before walking away.
Lauren smiles, and springs out of her bed. She walks over to the wooden wardrobe and pulls out a stuffed bear.
I don’t move, but I watch closely as she tilts the bear’s head back to reveal a small hole in the base of it’s neck. She somehow manages to wriggle her fingers inside the hole, and rummages around in the stuffing.
Now I lean forward on my chair, wondering what she could have hidden in the bear.
She pulls her fingers out to reveal a pair of white underwear.
“What is that?” Even my whisper sounds loud in the pre-dawn silence, and Lauren raises a finger to her lips.
“Weigh-in underwear.” she explains. She hands me the underwear and I am surprised at its texture and weight. I fold back one side and see that the insides are full of quarters, taped to one another and the fabric.
“It makes me five pounds heavier.” She smiles proudly, and I am impressed at her daring.
She reclaims the underwear and wriggles into it, and then we exit the room together.
We go for weigh-ins, and they make me stand backwards on the scale because I am not allowed to see the number.
The number that is my body, the all important number that determines when I am set free is hidden from me. Every doctor that looks at my charts, every nurse that observes me, both of my traitorous parents will know my number.
But I will not.
It makes my blood boil in my veins, and I feel myself getting angry.
That is when I hear the muffled yelling.
“This is the last straw Lauren! I am going to talk to the doctors, and you mark my words- you will be getting a tube and a heart monitor.”
“Fuck you!” A door flies open and Lauren bursts out and runs to our room.
I know what has happened. The nurse must have discovered the quarters in Lauren’s underwear. Before long I hear sobbing. I know that it is Lauren.
I peer around the corner and see that there is a gurney in the hallway. Lauren is being held down by two nurses as they secure Velcro straps around her legs and torso.
Lauren is hysterical. She is like a cornered animal. She twists and flails, desperate to be free, but she is so weak that even her most forceful struggles have little impact.
I watch as they wheel her away.
I am back in the living room when they bring her back the next day. This time there are others with me. They sit like plump little chickens ready for roasting, in a line on the coaches. They sit still and answer whatever questions they are asked, believing that if they are perfect, if they are compliant they will be set free.
They do not move when they hear the wheels rolling back along the hard wooden floor, but I spring to my feet. We are in the middle of a ‘therapy’- because here they are not content to just fix how we look and eat, but they want to control our thoughts as well- where we reveal our deepest thoughts, our darkest fears, and they tell us why we are wrong. That we do not think the right way, that this disease has screwed with out heads, and that it is their job to fix them.
At least I know I am not missing anything when I get to my feet and go to the hallway to greet Lauren. But the girl there, still strapped to a gurney, is not the same girl as yesterday.
She has a tube running up her nose and down to her stomach, a band-aid covering a bruise on her arm, and a heart rate monitor strapped to her chest, but that is not what has changed. It is in the defeated look in her eyes when she is helped down from the gurney. It is in the tired slump of her shoulders, the way that she only nods when her eyes meet mine.
I feel my heart sink in my chest, because I know what has happened.
They have broken her like someone breaks a horse.
They have stolen her spirit. They have extinguished her fire. They have crushed her soul.
And now she will not fight anymore.
I turn away from her. I don’t want to see what has happened to her. It is like seeing her naked, she looks far too vulnerable, far too weak. They brought us here to break us down so they can build us back up, except the way they want us to be.
But I will not comply.
Everyone has left me. No one from my original group is still here, though they have been replaced with a group of girls who have all been here before. It is the cycle here.
These girls submit to the doctors here. They are molded back into perfect little eating disorder free girls. And the second they leave they relapse and have to come back. Because whoever the doctors want them to be- that is not who they really are. So they are back here again, but everyone I knew from when I came is gone, even Lauren.
It is only me, and they are threatening me with the feeding tube. They want me to participate in therapy, to talk to the other girls, to communicate with my parents, and I want to refuse. But there is a part of me that is growing tired with the power struggles. It might be better to just pretend to be better, to fake emotions in group and pretend that I care when my parents talk to me.
I am so sick of this place, of these drab walls that I will do almost anything to leave. Even if that means that I have to live a lie. It might be worth it.
Later that day in group therapy I speak voluntarily for the first time. I tell everyone that I have problems communicating with my parents. That they don’t understand me. That every conversation turns into a shouting match.
People are kind, even supportive. But it doesn’t help me. I am faking every second of it.
I even pretend to try at meals, for the first time I pretend to try to eat my whole meal instead of just pushing it away after half.
The next few days are all the same. The doctors are happy with me. They are glad that I am gaining weight. They are happy that I am doing exactly as they say. But I am not glad that I am living a lie. Nothing I do or say is true anymore.
I have been here 4 weeks now.
We are sitting in group when a psychologist mentions it. She tells us that the recovery rate for anorexia is 1/3-1/3-1/3.
One third of all anorexics fully recover, one third relapse, and one third die.
I listen closely as she tells us this, and somewhere I am scared. Somewhere I know that I don’t want to die, that there is so much I still have to do, that I’m terrified of even the thought of death.
But the bigger part of me dismisses her words. Most of me hears what she says, but I know that I will not die. I know what I’m doing. No matter what the doctors say, I know that I am in control.
The next few weeks are all the same. I play along in therapy and pretend to accept what they say, but none of it is true. None of it is real.
But it works.
It is my 48th day in the treatment center, when they tell me I can go. My parents will be here tomorrow.
I stuff all of my clothing into the same brown paper bags I was given when I arrived. I am desperate to escape this place of misery, but I don’t want to go back home with my parents. I know that nothing will change with them. Nothing has changed, because nobody has changed.
They pretend well, but in the end it is a farce. They act as though they are going to try to be better parents, and I feign change and growth but in the end we are all liars. And everyone knows it.
It is finally time to leave. I stand with my bags by the door, while the nurse opens the lock with the key around her neck. No one is there to say goodbye.
My father reaches down and takes my bags in his arms. My mother hands me my coat. No one says a word.
When we get home I run up the front steps and race to my room, welcoming the familiarity and comfort it offers me. I cast my gaze around the room and register every item; the purple walls, the pink chair, the matching bedspread. Everything is familiar and homey, and I feel at ease.
Until my gaze lands on the wall opposite me.
It is made up of one long mirror, smooth, cold, impersonal. And as I find my reflection in its surface, it is as if someone is there in the room with me, her harsh eyes judging me. Her sharp eyes scan my body and they catch every flaw, every imperfection.
I feel as naked as Eve before her. Everything is exposed and everything is wrong.
I turn to the side and pull up my shirt, dreading what I will see.
And then I look, some dark force compels me to look.
A tsunami of shame washes over me. I am a monster. I am repulsive. I am a gigantic, horrendous, awful, fat pig.
And I don’t deserve to live.
I want to turn away from the mirror, but I can’t. She won’t let me. “You can still fix this,” she tells me.
I study my bulging stomach.
“How?” I whisper.
She smiles at me, and nods to the treadmill next to my bed.
I walk over to it and switch it on. It whirs to life, and I select the calorie burner button.
My hand moves to the start button, but it hesitates for just a moment, hovering above it.
“Don’t worry,” she whispers to me. “You’re in control.”
I press the button.
I begin to run.
Age 15, Grade 10
Yeshiva University High School