Runaway Parade



January 16, 2013

"I woke up this morning feeling like shit," I said to Nina one day at lunch. We were sitting together in the corner of the courtyard. I wore a tight black shirt, fluffy red petticoat, black fishnets, maroon Doc Martens, five necklaces, one of which was a wallet chain, thick black eyeliner and black lipstick. Nina wore a long white slip with lace at the bottom, blue and white striped socks up to her knee, black steel toed boots, vamp red lipstick, a cat collar, and a tan trench coat. Her hair was streaked with blue and purple; I had dyed it for her a few weekends before. "I begged my parents to let me stay home,” I said, “but of course they wouldn't let me. God, I hate them."

She stared at me blankly, like she was high, and bit into her cheese sandwich.

Then this pretty popular girl Alexis approached, wearing tight jeans and a low cut black shirt. She had developed early and already had cleavage. I glanced down at my flat chest, wondering what the hell Alexis was doing near us.

"Hey Nina, you still coming over later today?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Cool, see you then," Alexis said and walked off, ignoring me entirely.

"You're friends with her?" I asked, astounded.

"Yeah, whatever," she said with the same flat affect. "I cut myself again last night," she said, rolling up the sleeves of her trench coat, displaying deep red slashes. I stared at them resentfully, unsure of how she wanted me to respond. "I cried all night. My mom took me to the psychiatrist this morning. So now I'm on this new anti-depressant, Zoloft," she stated matter-of-factly, sipping her Diet Coke. Lately she had been acting weirdly distant and was making everything about her. I took her slashed wrists as a challenge. How deep was my pain? Could it compare to hers? What lengths would I be willing to go to express it?

There was a proud sexiness to her sadness, but mine didn’t quite fit me that way. I wore it like a frumpy dress, ugly and awkward. The popular crowd, both boys and girls, slowly grew enamored with Nina, finding her dark and intriguing. I felt invisible.

Nina gradually became more and more narcissistic, absorbing herself deeply into her own pain and the attention it elicited. I was always there for her when she needed to talk, but she never for me. As she racked up more friends and our relationship grew increasingly strained, we spoke less and less and ultimately drifted apart. When we finally stopped talking, I continued to wear outlandish clothing, listen to the same music, read and write poetrybut it all felt empty without a partner.

People averted their eyes from me in the hallways. My science teacher made fun of my black and white striped tights in front of the class. One time, the surfer boys threw food at me during lunch. “Freak!” they called out and laughed. How come Nina could dress like that and be cool but if I dressed like that I was a freak? I ran to the bathroom, cried and wrote pained poetry. I read Sylvia Plath and identified with her, convinced I was the saddest, loneliest person on earth.

The more alienated I became, the more I felt the need to punish myself for being such a worthless entity. I scratched at my wrists with plastic pink razors, too scared to really go deep. I was jealous of Nina who could make such deep beautiful gashes with real knives in her arms. Blood made me squeamish; I didn’t have what it took to be a cutter.

One day after walking home from the city bus following a particularly lonely day at school, I slammed the front door shut, ran into the kitchen and flung open the freezer. I pulled out the half-gallon carton of cookie dough ice cream and set it on the counter. Then I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the tray of chocolate frosted brownies. Found a spoon. Inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, then tore everything open, a panting animal, ready to attack.

Spoon into ice cream carton, glob of ice cream on spoon, spoon into brownie tray, glob of brownie onto ice cream on spoon. Spoon dripping brownie and ice cream all over the counter, my shirt and the floor on its way into my mouth. Creamy brown goo oozed out the corners of my mouth, all over my hands. But I kept going, hovering hypnotized over the counter. Bite. Taste. Chew. Swallow. Bite. Taste. Chew. Swallow. Painful pressure on my belly. Empty head. Quiet house.

This became my ritual. Nearly every day, I came home, shaking with anticipation, then devoured cookies, ice cream, brownies, cereal, peanut butter, donuts, whatever I could find in the kitchen. Afterwards, I was always disgusted. I ran to the mirror immediately to cringe at my reflection. I wanted to scrape off my face, take a hacksaw to my stomach. My bones felt like jail cell bars. I dug my nails into my forearms, bit down hard into the skin above my bicep, slammed my arms and legs into walls.

When the school year finally ended, camp was a welcome reprieve, but in the fall I started high school and all the bad feelings rushed back in, sharper than before. Walking across the quad at lunch, watching the various group interactions with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I craved a way to stand out, excel, to prove I was talented, prove I was loveable.

I soon discovered what would bring the attention.
“Oh my god, you’re like, so skinny. Do you, like, eat or whatever?” girls in the locker room started saying, staring at me while we suited up for Phys Ed.

“Yes,” I said self-consciously. And I was eating. I had always been thin, inhabiting a particularly skinny pair of legs. My thighs never touched and my lower legs and ankles were especially bony. At five foot four inches I weighed ninety-five pounds. But until high school when weight became every girl’s obsession, no one had commented on my physique. Suddenly hearing “You’re so skinny,” over and over began to have a strangely intoxicating effect: it was tinged with praise and jealousy. Desperate for friends, I thought, I know, I’ll get even skinnier. Then I’ll get more praise, more jealousy, and maybe then people will love me. I stopped eating to see if anyone would notice, to give myself a purpose, to punish myself for feeling and wanting so much. I told myself I was worthless and didn’t deserve food until someone told me otherwise.

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