What Is Better?

By Faith McDermott ’20

**Content Warning: Eating Disorder**

The woman’s hair is the color of Swiss Mix made with whole milk. She wears pantyhose with khaki capris and black pleather ballet flats that are peeling right where her big toe must meet the end of her shoe. She wears glasses that look like licorice, her lips the color of hot pepperoni.  Anabelle can picture the woman sifting through the clearance rack at Talbots for poly blend sweater sets in colors like cantaloupe and snap pea green.

“When was the last time you weighed yourself?”

The woman has opened her legal pad to a new page, her pen ready for Anabelle’s answer. There are wrong answers. This is something Anabelle is very sure of. However, there is no right answer, and if one appears to be trying to be right it would almost be better to be wrong. But almost isn’t enough to be honest.

“Maybe last Monday? It could’ve been Tuesday. I’m not really sure.”

However, Anabelle is sure. So sure in fact that she knows her weight taken this morning at 7AM and the weight of the chicken breast she ate last night down to the decimal point.

After nine months of being hungry one learns that lies look a lot like the truth when served with direct eye contact. So Anabelle stares at the woman’s pupils until she nods, her Swiss Mix bob swaying back and forth as her pen makes contact with paper.

More questions are asked, their answers jotted down on lined paper, the woman’s legs crossing and recrossing every few minutes. The sound of control top pantyhose rubbing against cotton chinos reminding her of biting into a piece of rye toast with margarine.

“Do you want to get better now, or do you want to get better later?”

Anabelle wants to ask what ‘better’ is. Because better may be six letters and fat may be three but when used in this context Anabelle can’t help but think they’re the same. When she pictures better she imagines pink frosted donuts with rainbow sprinkles and cherry cola in glass bottles. She sees her stomach soft like a poached egg, her arms thick like bratwursts. She also thinks this is an unfair question. It is asking her to choose between two options that lead to the same end point, therefore not giving her much of a choice at all.  She feels as though she’s seven again and her mother is telling her to make her bed yet Anabelle has the agency to decide if she wants to do it before or after she flosses.

“I want to get better now.”

The syllables sounded muddled the way talking with a mouth full of salt water taffy makes it hard to distinguish between I’s and E’s. Anabelle has gotten good at lying however the moment she hears the sound of her own voice she knows this isn’t her finest work.

Anabelle does not hear the sound of pen on paper. Instead crispy rye toast meeting impatient molars sounds in her eyes as the woman with hot coco hair uncrosses her legs, stands up from her chair, and says

“Same time next week?”

Anabelle nods and the woman tells her to check in with the receptionist before she leaves to confirm her insurance provider.

On the car ride home her mother is silent, and Anabelle is still trying to figure out what better really means. The radio is playing the laugh network, a station that has snippets of comedy acts sandwiched between Dunkin Donuts ads and public service announcements encouraging the consumption of sugar free beverages. Her mother believes one’s serotonin levels can be altered by a tooth bearing grin and bone rattling cackle, therefore making prescriptions for Prozac and Lexapro not only useless but frivolous as well.

“ Well at least you’re not one of those girl who’s making themselves puke.”

Her mother says this as if Anabelle should be thankful for her eating disorder the way one would be for a benign mole.

“ The stomach acid really wears away at your enamel and before you know it you’ve got a mouthful of cavities. You’ve got such a pretty smile- what a shame it would be if you lost that too.”

Anabelle nods and stares at the double yellow line. She runs her tongue against the back of her teeth trying to recall the taste of her own honesty.

Image Credit to The Mighty

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