Megan carefully lowered the platter of roast beef onto the dinner table and her sisters helped nudge the other plates aside to make room.
“This all looks so lovely!” her mother said. She sat at the head of the table and smiled at her husband, who was sitting at the other end.
“It really does, Megan. These Sunday dinners are becoming such a treat for us,” he said, smiling at the mound of bacon-studded mashed potatoes and the roast beef sitting in its pool of ruby drippings. “Maybe your mother and I should work on Sundays year-round from now on.”
They were all quiet with anticipation as they each served themselves from the plates of food being passed around.
“Caramel apple pie for dessert,” Megan said, cutting her piece of roast beef into very small pieces.
Grace and Myra, the twins, sighed in unison with delight. “I can’t wait,” one of them said, but Megan wasn’t paying attention as to who since she was methodically cutting her mustard glazed string beans into the same sized pieces as the meat.
When dinner was over they didn’t let her move from her seat. “You’ve done enough,” her mother said. “Sit tight and we’ll serve dessert.” As she lifted Megan’s plate she noticed the small bits of food that were cut up and shuffled around. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“I was,” Megan said, “but I ate some of the mashed potatoes while I was cooking. I’d been starving.” She hugged her knees to her chest and pulled her over-sized sweatshirt over her knees. When she saw Grace cutting a fifth piece of apple pie onto the last plate she called out, “I’m too full for dessert!”
Waiting for her family to finish eating felt almost intolerable. Megan watched the seconds literally tick away on the clock above the stove, trying not to pull her sleeves over her hands – a sign (her mother had once noted) of nervousness.
“Is it okay if I go up and do some studying?” she asked when they were finished eating their apple pie. Unlike other parents, she knew they would not question this; at least they wouldn’t question her about it. Myra and Grace were clearing the table frantically so they could wash the dishes before their favorite T.V. show started.
“Of course,” her father said, and it took her great restraint not to bolt out of the room and run upstairs.
“Thanks,” she said, and sauntered to the foot of the staircase, and then very lightly she raced to her room.
Once inside, she locked the door behind her as she had for months now, and pulled out the digital scale from underneath her bed in one swift motion. She undressed completely, and as if diving into a swimming pool she took a deep breath and stood on the scale. There was a crinkled piece of paper scotch-taped to the top of scale where the numbers showed, and on it was written the numbers “105”- her new goal weight. She stared at the wall and let her body relax and then looked down. The scale read “110”. She felt a familiar panic grip her stomach. Yes, she was tall – five feet and seven inches, three inches shorter than her father – but still. She couldn’t understand.
She found her notebook and a pencil and frantically started making the list:
1 cup plain non-fat yogurt 100 calories
3 raw broccoli spears 30 calories
2 rice cakes 25 calories
3 string beans 10 calories
That was one item less than last week – the apple for breakfast she had cut out. It should have helped. Megan faced herself in the mirror, ignoring the pronounced bluish hue under her eyes, the ponytail sitting tight and limp on top of her head. “Don’t cry,” she said out loud and looked into her eyes. But that panic held on and she tried taking another deep breath.
She stepped back for a full view, still naked. She pushed her stomach out with force and then sucked it in. She splayed her hands across her ribs, which were now visible without the coaxing of inhaling deeply as she had in the beginning. She pressed her palms into her pelvic bones, felt the smoothness of them, how they jutted out. She felt reassured. Perhaps it was a bad day. Tomorrow would be different; she would have to revert to old rules, tried-and-true: no eating after 6pm (she could tell them she had stopped off for pizza with friends after school), ten push-ups between every half a mile on the track before practice with the team, and then the same evening routine at home.
Elated with these new amendments, Megan threw her clothes back on and continued her evening ritual. She knew it all by heart now, this list that had morphed into a life for her: three hundred sit-ups, one hundred twenty-five leg lifts for each leg, seventy-five hundred push-ups, fifty leg kicks, and the list went on.
And at the end of these evenings she was proud! Who had taken charge after her mother had lost her editorial position at the publishing firm? Now on Sundays her mother helped her father tutor students at his school and then grade papers; her mother now worked the early shift at her grandparent’s bakery during the week. She had undertaken her mother’s carpooling schedule in the mornings, and dropped off her sisters at school before driving herself to class. After all this, she had her classes at school, the photography club and track. The Sunday dinners had also been her idea. She promised herself not to taste anything when preparing these meals if she could help it, and she hadn’t – not even the roast beef she had finagled from the butcher for almost half the price.
This year was the “big year”, as her father had referred to it when she had started
the seventh grade. When she sat with her friends during lunch they chattered away about the prom and limos and going to the beach after, and Megan would think, “It’s only October! How can you fuss over these things when it’s so many months away?” She would laugh along with them without saying much, and in the back of her mind loomed the terrors of Life that awaited her: college essays, applications to scholarships, safety schools and first choice schools, and something she thought she would never have to worry about until recently – student loans. The rope was being pulled from both ends mightily, the middle beginning to fray.
These thoughts raced through Megan’s mind as she did her sit-ups. She had taped pictures of her two favorite models – Kristy Turlington and Kate Moss – low on the wall, and every time she raised her body to her knees she looked and saw the models meet her eye-level as she leaned back onto the floor.
“I can do this,” she whispered as she lay on her side and started the first phase of her leg lifts. “I can do this.”
The Writer’s Block – Summer 2009