Hot, sweaty bodies surround me. Women and men jump up and down. Sweat drips off their strands of hair and sprays around the concert hall. I snake through the crowd and push rowdy bodies out of my way until I reach the bar.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender screams across at me.
I lean over the counter and yell, “Tequila!”
I down the shot, flip the glass upside down, and motion for another.
Streams of bright white, red, and yellow lights dance across the stage and into the audience. Alison Mosshart, half of the duo The Kills, stands on the left speaker. Her black hair covers her face and her hands run across her electric guitar. Damn, she’s hot.
“$13 for the two tequila shots!” the bartender yells and slams a shot glass of golden liquid in front of me. I hand over $15, down the shot, and make my way back through the crowd to my friends.
“Where’d you go?!” Patricia, a tall dirty blonde, yells.
“The bar. Had another shot!”
“How many have you had now?!”
“I dunno … seven, eight, who the fuck knows.”
I’ve had eight shots at the bar and two at home before leaving the house earlier today. I woke up again this morning with that nagging voice inside my head telling me I’m worthless and how could I have eaten a slice of pizza last night. I knew the voice was right. I decided not to eat anything during the day and only ate onion rings at Harvey’s before the concert. I knew I couldn’t get away with not ordering anything. The easiest way to hide my hatred of food is not to show that hatred to anyone.
“You okay?!” Sophia, my brunette friend who loves nothing more than dancing, beats her hips against mine.
“Yeah!” I stare up at the stage and watch Alison.
We leave The Phoenix and walk up Sherbourne Street up to Carlton. It’ll be a while before we get to the subway. The cool Toronto air feels nice on my sticky skin. I close my eyes, stretch my arms out, and point my face toward the sky.
“Kasia! What the fuck!”
I feel a hand grip my arm. I open my eyes and see Chris standing on the corner of Sherbourne and Carlton. His hand is still tight around my arm.
“You nearly walked right into the street! You have a death wish or something? Keep your eyes open, will you?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
I step back up onto the sidewalk. “You guys down for another drink somewhere?”
I turn and look back at Patricia, Sophia, and Chris.
“I think you’ve had enough,” Sophia whispers. Patricia and Chris nod.
“Fine, I’m getting some smokes then.” I say and run up the steps of the nearest convenience store.
I step back out and light a cigarette.
“Since when do you smoke?” Chris asks.
“Since I heard it can help you lose weight,” I mutter under my breath.
“What?” Chris leans in.
“I said, since I felt like trying it out.”
“Can I bum one off you?” Patricia asks and lights the end of the Beaumont.
We walk up Carlton to the subway platform and talk about the show.
My hands shake as I stick the key into the lock on my front door. I close the door quietly and turn the lock. J. — a nickname I gave my mom many years ago is sleeping in the other room. I don’t want her seeing me drunk and smelling of cigarettes. She’s smoked since I can remember and it’s been her mission in life to make sure I never start.
“Meow,” my tuxedo cat, Kiki runs up to greet me at the door. She rubs herself across my ripped jeans.
“Hey Kiks! How are you?” I whisper and lean down to pet her.
I drop my bag on the floor and Kiks follows me as I patter across the room to the liquor cabinet. My buzz is wearing off and I’m starting to remember how much I hate myself for eating those onion rings. I already punished myself in the bathroom at The Phoenix by punching my stomach until it felt raw to the touch.
“You fucking idiot! What the fuck do you think you’re doing eating onion rings?” the voice inside my head screams. The only way I know how to drown it out is by drinking until I can’t think straight let alone understand what the voice is saying.
I grab a half-empty bottle of tequila and chug. Kiks sits beside me on the floor.
“Don’t worry, Kiks. Momma’s gonna be okay in a minute.” I whisper and scratch her behind her ears.
I take another swig and place the bottle back into the cabinet and close the door.
Am I crazy? A normal person doesn’t hear a voice telling them they’re pathetic, do they?
I imagine I’m back at the concert. I bang my head to the familiar songs from tonight’s show and dance around the living room. Tequila fills my head and I feel like I can smile again.
“You stupid bitch!” Smack.
“You’re so ugly and fat!” Smack.
“Who the fuck wants you?!” Smack.
“Piece of shit!”
I stare at my floor-length mirror on my closet door. I don’t recognize the woman looking back at me. Tears pour from my eyes and wet the already dried tear tracks. My eyes are puffy and red. They’re always puffy and red after I cry. I stare at my reflection. My face is ashen. My bony shoulders hunch over. My baggy shirt is torn from my tearing and pulling at it. My hands — too giant for my tiny wrists — are balled up in fists. My baggy shirt covers my underwear. It doesn’t cover my thighs. My swollen, beaten, red thighs. My fists shake at my sides.
“Fucking piece of SHIT!” I yell at the woman in the mirror.
“You are nothing!”
I raise my right hand to my face. Smack. With the left, I beat my thigh. Smack.
“I hate you!” Smack.
“I hate you!” Smack.
“I HATE YOU!” Smack.
I stare at the woman in the mirror. I don’t know who she is.
I march into my bathroom, open the cupboard below my sink, and grab my tweezers from the top shelf. I fall back and hit the wall as I slide down to the cold-tiled floor.
I sob as I jab the tweezers into my skin. I dig the tweezers into my upper thigh and scrape up. I blink and fresh tears fall from my eyes, roll down my cheeks, and stain my baggy shirt. I jab the tweezers into my thigh again and scrape.
Again and scrape.
Again and scrape.
I never jab deep enough to bleed. The tracks are only visible for a few hours. No one sees them but me.
I get up off the floor, wipe my face, and stare into the bathroom mirror. A pale, puffy-eyed person stares back. This time, I don’t scream or hit myself. Instead, I wash my face, and load on enough foundation and concealer to cover my red eyelids and the red handprints on my face.
I lie on my bed with my face buried in my pillow; my phone buzzes beside me. I check the screen “Em” along with a picture of a woman’s profile. I took the picture in Central Park during our trip to New York last summer. The night before, Em bought a custom-made trucker’s hat with the word Brooklyn etched in silver marker over the front. She’s wearing that hat and holding a coffee while sitting on a rock in the picture.
“Yellow,” I mumble into the phone and try not to sound like I just spent the last hour crying.
“Yellow! What’s up?”
“Not much. Just —“ I pause and try to hold back the tears.
“You okay?” Em asks.
“No. I don’t think so. I know it’s late, but could you come over for a bit?”
“Yeah, of course. Let me just change out of my PJs and I’ll be right over.”
“See ya soon!”
Fifteen minutes later, I hear the familiar beep of Em’s car horn. A minute later, I hear the front door open. I jump up off the couch and run toward Em. She drops her bag to the floor and pulls me close. My tears dribble down her long black hair and soak her polo.
“Sorry, I’m getting your shirt all wet.” I mumble.
Em wraps her arms tighter around me. “It’s okay.”
I lie on my bed and lift my baggy jean shorts and feel the tracks on my thighs. My palms burn from smacking my legs, arms, and punching my stomach.
I haven’t eaten breakfast. I started my day out with coffee and then another coffee. The last time I ate a meal was yesterday at 6 p.m. A piece of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli. These days, I usually cook for myself or J. cooks a meal we both can eat. Since finding out my body can’t tolerate gluten, I can’t eat too many ready-made meals and the ones I can eat are expensive. I hate cooking for myself. I hate touching food and I hate watching it cook.
“Hello! Anybody home?” J. yells. I hear the door close and the lock click.
J.’s home earlier than I expected today. She was supposed to be home around 5 p.m. It’s only noon. I consider getting up, washing my face, caking on concealer, and sticking a smile on my face. I haven’t checked my face since I finished beating it, but I can feel it throbbing. Concealer won’t do much now.
I hear J. shuffle down the hallway.
“I said hellooooo! Anybody home?!”
I pull my shorts down to hide the tracks.
“Kasia, are you at ho— What’s wrong?!”
J.’s breathing quickens from the doorway to my room.
“Nothing. I’m fine. Just … tired.”
“What happened to your face?”
“Were you crying? Did you have a fight with Emily?”
“Fuck! No! I didn’t have a fight with Emily or with anyone. I said I’m just tired!” The air in my room is hot and stale from the hot summer, but I pull my blanket over myself anyway. Maybe it will shield me from any more of J.’s questions.
“What’s wrong with you?! You’re always angry! You’re always yelling!”
“You’re the one yelling right now.” I mumble under my breath.
“Okay. I’m tired of this. I work from morning til night and then I have to come home to this? Why the hell did God curse me with this life?”
I grind my teeth and dig my nails into the track marks. My body shakes. I throw the blanket onto the floor and stand up.
“What you mean is why did God curse you with this fucked up daughter, don’t you?! Because I’m such a pain in your ass. If the fucking asshole hadn’t left you and you never had me, then you could have a pretty great life now. Right? Shit! Tell you what, I won’t be your problem for much longer!”
“What are you talking about? Where are you gonna go?”
“Who the fuck cares?! I don’t! Maybe I’ll kill myself it’ll be so much easier for everyone!”
The red that covers J.’s face whenever she’s angry drains. “What? What are you talking abou— Why would you kill yourself? Why would you say that?”
“Because I hate myself! Don’t you get it?! I HATE MYSELF!”
Smack My already throbbing face burns.
Smack. Smack. Smack.
“Stop it!” J. reaches for my arm to try and stop me.
“Don’t touch me!” I step back. Dark spots appear in my vision. I try to catch my balance. I widen my stance and catch my breath. I feel a jackhammer making it’s way from my chest up through my throat.
Suddenly, my vision is clear. J.’s pale face is staring at me. It takes me a while to realize she’s holding both my arms.
“Kasiu! Can you hear me?”
“Mmm,” I mumble and rub my eyes.
“Did you eat anything today?”
I stare into J.’s grey-blue eyes. I can’t tell her. Do I even have a choice at this point?
“Because I hate food. I hate the sound of chewing. I hate looking at food on a plate. I hate the things it does to my body. I hate that it gives me love handles. I hate that my thighs are huge! I hate that my fucking stomach isn’t flat even though I do 500 crunches every fucking day!”
I ball my hands into fists. Smack. Smack. Smack. I hit my thighs. I hit my face. I hit my stomach.
“Stop! Stop it!”
“We’re going to get you some help. You’ll be okay, I promise.”
J. pulls me into a hug.
I uncap the bottle of Zoloft — the magical cure to my unhappiness. I stare at the long yellow capsules. SL25 and an arrow pointing right is etched in black on each pill. Did the makers of Zoloft choose yellow to make people feel happy? The yellow and black combination only makes me think, “Caution!”
Caution! This little pill will change the chemistry of your brain!
Caution! You will not be you anymore.
Caution! Who knows who you’ll be. A zombie, maybe.
What if some people are just meant to be unhappy? What if that’s their lot in life? What if that’s my lot in life? How can this little caution pill change everything that I see wrong with myself? I just don’t think it’s possible.
I think about J. and how much seeing the torture I’m going through is causing her pain. I’m not a mother, but I remember what if felt like after Dad left and J. was completely broken. We both were. I remember how J. fell to the floor after getting the call that changed her life. Her mom, my grandma, died after a three-year battle with cancer. Those times, I felt completely helpless watching J. suffer. I imagine that’s how she’s feeling now.
I tip the bottle over and a single pill falls onto my palm. I roll it between my index finger and my thumb. I think of J., pop the pill into my mouth, and swallow.
Note from the author:
Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the start of my hatred for food or the start of my detrimental eating habits. I began hating myself at the age of five, right around the time my parents separated and later divorced. Although J. has been and continues to be my greatest support and best friend, I always felt as though my father never wanted me and that somehow that was my fault. I know now that’s not the case. He left because he wanted to and there’s nothing J. or I could have done to stop him.
I spent many years blaming myself for a lot of things: J.’s struggle with finding a job without knowing much English, our money problems, J.’s long work days to support me. Actually, J.’s long workdays made it easy for my to start punishing myself by withholding food. J. wasn’t there to see me eat a small portion of something, if anything at all. It was easy to eat a larger meal when she was home and then spend a good chunk of the night doing crunches, jumping jacks, high knees, and any other exercise that I felt would help me burn off the calories.
It was also easy to hide my hatred of food from my friends and my girlfriend. I would eat if we went to a restaurant and remedy the problem in the bathroom by either sticking two fingers down my throat or balling my hands into fits and hitting my body. I would often openly discuss eating disorders and how disgusted I was by them and how stupid people were for having them. Talking about eating disorders kept mine under the radar from everyone around me.
Eventually, my eating disorder and the depression, anxiety, and mood swings that came along with it, began to take a toll on my friendships and my relationships with J. and Em. After my outburst with J., I decided to get help. It took a while before I found a doctor who would actually listen without dismissing my problems and telling me I don’t have an eating disorder because I don’t look anorexic enough. My doctor listened and suggested an anti-depressant called Zoloft. I began taking Zoloft in August 2013 and with a great support system made up of my amazing family (this includes my friends who’ve stood by me through it all), I’ve made some huge steps toward recovery. I still hate the sound of chewing, but I do eat three meals a day and enjoy each one of them. I haven’t hurt myself in over a year.