Well, Mom and Dad found out everything… or at least part of everything. They found a page from my other journal—the one I keep as a log. It has my recorded weights, exercise hours, calories, fat grams, food in, food out, that kind of thing. It must have ripped out of the notebook. I tried to tell them it was for a school project but they didn’t believe me. Thank God it was just one page. I’d be grounded for life if they saw the whole thing.
In a way, I don’t get what the big deal is all about. I mean—whatever. My friends are the same way and you can totally find other people doing this stuff on TV and online. Nevertheless, I guess if I’m being honest, when they talk about it, I can tell the difference. I mean, I think about it all the time, but that just shows I’m dedicated. It’s not some passing little hobby I play around with. So now my parents are away for the weekend for some “quiet time” to “talk things over.” I suppose they didn’t want my little sisters to overhear them or catch on to what’s going on. Kim and Dana are twins. They’re ten years old, seven years younger than me. I’ve been helping to take care of them for the past five or six years. But this weekend, our parents insisted that boring old Aunt Edna stay with us.
Actually, it’s not that I mind Aunt Edna, but she’s only here because Mom and Dad informed me that I’m, “no longer trustworthy.” Which is ridiculous, honestly, like counting calories or exercising a little bit is going to interfere with babysitting two ten-year-olds who will probably just sit around watching movies all night.
When I said as much, Mom got quiet, looked me right in the eye, and whispered, “Jessie, do you want to tell us about what happened the last time we went out of town, when Dana had the flu?”
I couldn’t say anything, really. I don’t know how she found out but she was right. The last time my parents went out of town was for their anniversary honeymoon trip three months ago. They got married in New Mexico and they travel there every year for a weekend away together. I’ve been in charge for the past few years, primarily because I have nothing better to do.
I’ve always been really good in school and, with college applications coming up, I’ve put even more work into it. My head has felt sort of fuzzy lately, so I’ve really been pushing myself with long hours of studying. I have a 4.0 GPA now. I’m probably not good enough to become valedictorian but, if I do everything perfectly and keep pushing, I could break into the top five or ten in our class.
Between my work-study job, babysitting the twins, studying and exercising, I don’t have much of a life. I only have two friends— Christine and Tiffany. In actuality, they’re best friends and I’m just along for the ride. We study together in a sort of competitive way, and occasionally, we exercise together, though I prefer doing it alone. That’s the extent of our friendship. There are no girly slumber parties where we share all of our secrets; no driving past the houses of the guys we like; no big drinking parties down by the railroad tracks where everyone else hangs out.
Which is why my journey with Mia and Ana (as the Internet message boards call them) is so vitally important right now. I can’t go through the next seventeen years the way I went through the first seventeen—fat, ugly, desperate, and alone with no boyfriend, no friends and no life.
But, these pathetic qualities so loathed by teenagers are the things that parents just love. So, up until now, they have made me a responsible and trustworthy adolescent in my parents’ eyes. Which is why, when my parents go away for their annual trip, they leave me alone to watch the twins.
The problem was that this year, taking care of the twins was a lot more stressful than I had anticipated.
I can usually figure out a way to get out of eating… or at least eating in front of other people, which I hate above all else. (Because who wants people staring at them, judging what they’re eating?) To start off each day, I pretend to wake up late but secretly do crunches in my room. I skip breakfast or I grab a very low calorie option like a grapefruit or something, and I run out the door. At school, I skip lunch, and many times, Mom and Dad aren’t home by dinner time, so I can skip that too. When they are home for dinner, I pick at my food, or I say that I have to study, take my plate to my room then throw it away.
On the other days, when my willpower fails, I totally pig out. I once ordered two pizzas, a bucket of wings, breadsticks and soda at our local pizza place, drove alone to the park and ate it all in like twenty minutes. Then, I went and got an ice cream sundae with three toppings and extra whipped cream. It wasn’t too hard to get rid of all that. It made me pretty sick just having all that in my stomach. When I can’t puke everything up like I did that day, I work out like crazy.
I’ve been doing this ever since I started middle school when I was eleven or twelve when, after being picked on at school for being chubby, I decided to do something about it and read every book I could find about calories, exercise, and dieting. (Mom and Dad don’t know that part. They think it’s a “new phase”). If I could find the willpower to fully follow those dieting rules like doing a juice fast, eating only grapefruit and soup, or restricting to just vegetables, I’d probably be a lot thinner. Unless I told you about what I do, you probably wouldn’t believe me because I’m not super skinny like some of the girls in my school. I have a big belly and my arms and thighs are flabby. Eventually, I’ll have a double or triple chin if I don’t get my act together.
Since I’m not thin, or even lean and toned, no one suspects what I’ve been doing. But that weekend my parents were away, the twins were on top of me all the time. Now that they’re a little older, they’re starting to become more aware of stuff. Like when we were having dinner one night, I made them mac and cheese with hot dogs, which is Dana’s favorite. But then I only made myself a bowl of low-sodium chicken broth to help me feel full. Dana looked down at her plate, and then at mine asking, “How come you never eat with us?”
I stammered, but before I could answer, Kim jumped in and argued, “Don’t be dumb, Dana. She’s eating with us right now.”
“Not really,” Dana retorted. “She never eats when we eat. Haven’t you noticed? And then, sometimes I’ll go to look for a cookie or something and she’s eaten like the whole box.”
“I do not,” I protested.
“Yeah. I guess you’re right,” Kim nodded, ignoring me.
This conversation made me furious. First, both my sisters are blonde, skinny, and gorgeous. Even when they’re older, they will never understand what I have to go through. Second, what I eat or don’t eat is none of their stupid business and third, they were talking about it.
So, I marched over to the sink, tossed the soup down the drain and heaped my bowl full with twice as much as they were having.
“Happy?” I sneered.
“Yep,” Dana grinned unashamedly. “Now we’re all the same. Maybe when we get older, people will think we’re triplets.”
She was so sweet. It was hard to stay mad at Dana, even though no one in her right mind would ever think that. My sisters have big blue eyes with long lashes and these naturally thin bodies—not like mine, where I have to work so hard just to look normal. They’re starting to get taller and, right now, they’re at that perfect kid age where you’re all arms and legs and you don’t have to wear a bra yet. I miss that. I wish I could just run and not have to worry about my boobs getting in the way.
Anyway, I wasn’t mad at her anymore… until I started eating. It was all Dana’s fault, really. I had been doing perfectly that whole week until she screwed it up. Once I started eating, I felt out of control and couldn’t stop. I scarfed down the first bowl in under a minute then went back for seconds then thirds before they were even done with their first helpings.
“Oink, oink,” Dana joked and she and Kim burst into giggles. I wanted to scream but I kept my temper and sent them to the living room to watch a movie. It was then that I heard Dana say she didn’t feel well.
I ignored her, partially because I was angry and partially because I figured she ate too much, just like I had. I was trying to count up how much I’d eaten. It was a lot. The whole week was ruined with that one meal. I’d only had a few calories before dinner. The broth at dinner would have brought me to my limit. Instead, I’d pigged out and ingested close to triple the calories I planned on eating that day just with dinner alone.
I was worried. Throwing up can take quite a bit of time and, if I did it right then, the girls would be sure to notice. So, I decided I’d have to run it out and then try puking in the park where no one would see.
“I’m going for a run,” I told them.
“Don’t go, Jessie,” Kim complained. “Come watch the movie with us. It’s just getting to the good part.”
“I can’t,” I answered. “Adults have to exercise. There’s another DVD from the video store on top of the TV. Just start that if I’m not back in time.”
“I feel hot and pricky,” Dana whined, coming up to me at the front door and hugging my leg like she used to when she was five.
“Take off your sweater then, silly,” I fluffed her hair and bolted out the door. I’ve mapped out a few different running routes around our house—a 5K, a 10K, 10 miles. I decided to do the ten mile route and ran about five miles before the carbs sitting in my stomach started to boil. I could feel the fat congealing in my gut and making its way toward my arteries. By that point, I was approaching the park, so I sprinted over to my favorite garbage can, which sits behind a few bushes where most people can’t see. I drank my whole water bottle to make the process easier and then made everything come up.
My stomach ached and my throat burned. I could still taste the vomit in my mouth, but all the water was gone. I was tired then but I knew it wasn’t enough. So I did it again and again until I was sure everything was gone. Then, I ran the five miles back home. I paused on the doorstep. “Was that enough?” I wondered. I decided it wasn’t. So, I added an extra 5K onto the workout, making for 13. 1 miles total: a half marathon length. My time sucked, but I was somewhat proud of myself—tired, exhausted, and completely wiped out but proud. I was finally making progress. I dragged myself in the doorway and planned to head up to the shower, when footsteps came crashing down the stairs.
“Where the hell have you been?” Kim demanded. “It’s been almost three hours since you left. Dana’s throwing up and she says she’s cold, even though her face is bright red and she’s all sweaty.” Kim started crying, “We were here all alone. When you didn’t come back, I thought maybe you were dead. I didn’t know what to do.”
I didn’t know what to do either. I just stood there looking at my beautiful sister, her pale cheeks covered in tears, her nose all red because she’d probably been crying for a while now. I felt so bad. I couldn’t believe I’d left them alone for so long. Then, I kinda got scared, too. “Did you tell Mom and Dad?” I asked. My heart started beating wildly off rhythm.
“No,” she sniffled, “it’s their special time and I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, especially not since you’ve been so cool this weekend—actually hanging out with us and everything.”
“OK,” I took a deep breath, “go get some washcloths and a bucket. We can cool her down with the washcloths and she can get sick in the bucket if she has to.”
Kim wiped her snotty nose on her sleeve but seemed to cheer up a bit. “OK,” she agreed.
I took Dana’s temp and it was 102. She was so small and shivering that I almost cried, but I didn’t want Kim to start crying again too, so instead, I hurried Dana to bed and cleaned up the bathroom. She cried that her mouth felt gross, so I gave her a clean wet washcloth to suck on… and I secretly took one for myself as well. Then, I gave her some aspirin to bring down the fever and I read a story to both of them until they both fell asleep.
Once they were settled, I shut their bedroom door and nearly collapsed. I had no energy left but I knew Mom and Dad would be upset if they found out that Dana had been sick and no one told them. So, I called to tell them what was going on. By the time they called again, to check on her the next morning, the fever had broken and she had stopped vomiting. But, both she and Kim (who also caught the bug, though not nearly as bad) were in bed for the rest of the weekend.
When Mom and Dad came back, no one said anything and I thought I was safe. But, clearly one of them blabbed… so between that incident and the diary page my parents found, we got stuck with Aunt Edna this weekend and I’ll probably be forced into therapy.
I still feel guilty about what happened. My stomach churns every time I think about it. Dana’s fever could have made her pass out, like what happened to my friend Tiffany once. Even if she hadn’t gotten sick, I never should have left them alone that long. Anything could have happened in those three hours…
However, at the same time, that night was also the start of my marathon training. When Mom and Dad got back from vacation, I decided to do the half-marathon run at least three times a week. I usually can’t complete it because my body’s so fat and weak, but I try to push through. They never suspect, since I always claim to be studying at the library.
While I’m sure Aunt Edna knows a little bit about what’s going on, having her here is not going to stop me from pursuing my goals. She can’t make me eat but, if she does, or if I give in out of weakness, I’ll just run in the afternoon, sneak out at night, or work out in my room. I have exercise tapes and a small TV and VCR in my room, so sometimes at night, I watch them on mute and do aerobics for a few hours. Once, I went all night long. It was so great. I could probably do that tonight if I tried.