Running On Empty
The weekend holds so much promise of careless mischief and wild teen parties for the small town kids of Whisper Woods. They’re scattered throughout town catching late night movies, laughing over burgers and shakes, cleverly sipping vodka from water bottles in the neighborhood parks, beating high scores at the local arcade or making out in the alley behind it. Everyone has a safe place to commit the oldest sins. One girl in particular prefers her vices done alone in the privacy of her own home.
The savory smell of roast beef and steamed vegetables filled the air, casting a powerfully blended sense of utter starvation and dizzying nausea on Harla as she sat motionless, afraid to make the slightest movement for fear she would faint right out of her seat. She stared off unaware of her fingers picking at a loose string hanging over her lap from the tablecloth set before her.
“Sit up straight, Harla,” Margaret commanded in a soft yet firm tone.
“Sorry, Mom.” She sat up briskly without a second thought and felt a wave of vertigo overpower her every sense.
Don’t faint. Don’t fall down.
As if she could control it with her thoughts alone. Just then, her mother set a plate of food in front of her, smiling briefly before sitting down across the table. Her portions were significantly less than what was served on the other plates. Margaret noticed Harla hasn’t had much of an appetite lately and preferred not to waste a perfectly good meal on her knowing it would only end up in the trash. Harla looked at the meat smothered in a hearty gravy, trying to hold back an obvious look of disgust. She couldn’t fathom how it could look so delicious and so revolting at the same time.
“Eat, girl. You’re too skinny. Isn’t she too skinny, Margie?” Richard pointed out blatantly.
“Oh, leave her alone. She just has a small frame. She gets it from me.” Margaret shot a proud smirk around the room as if waiting to be praised for her slender figure.
That was Richard’s cue, “Of course, darling. You look wonderful.”
Somehow, conversations in the Fox household always revolved around Margaret. She was quite the attention seeker, no doubt leaving Harla feeling like an old, faded piece of furniture discarded in the back of the most unused room in the house. Her mother’s ego was far too sickening to withstand any longer and she quickly shoved every last piece of food in her mouth before placing her plate in the sink and making her way to her bedroom in a very rhythmic and rehearsed walk so as not to draw attention to her swift exit. As soon as she made it to the room she locked her door and waited, finding anything around the room to distract her for just a moment longer.
As soon as her parents turned on the television, she snuck quietly into the bathroom just down the hall. She closed the door gently making no sound at all, she had it down to a science. Where to step in the hallway without making a creak, how slowly to turn the door knob so it didn’t click, waiting for a loud commercial break when her parents would talk amongst themselves so her heaving couldn’t be heard by even the most sensitive ears.
She stared at herself in the mirror. It was more of a glare actually as she detested every flaw she could think up. She studied her figure, lifting her shirt up midway to see her flat belly starting to sink inward. She thought she would be satisfied with the image staring back at her but it wasn’t enough. Why did she still look so big? Why could she pull at her skin when there was barely a trace of fat? Nonetheless, she was proud of herself for sticking to her guns and refusing to give up so easily. Soon, very soon, she will be beautiful enough. She will be so thin that there will be nothing left but skin and bones and for some reason, that’s beautiful.
But tonight, she would overdo it and life would change instantaneously.
Margaret and Richard laughed at a silly ad playing on the television when they were startled by a loud bang from inside the hallway bathroom.
“What was that?” Richard asked as if Margaret would know more than he in this instant.
Suddenly, Margaret’s face transformed and she wore a worried expression as she blurted out, “Harla!”
They rushed to her bathroom, opening the door so abruptly that it bumped forcefully against Harla’s leg. They pushed the door open a little wider to find their daughter passed out on the floor with the stench of vomit emanating from the toilet bowl and polluting the air.
“Oh, my God! Harla, wake up! Wake up, sweetie, wake up now.” Margaret was immediately hysterical, holding her daughter’s listless body in her arms and lightly tapping her face.
“Honey, calm down. We need to get her to the hospital. She could have a concussion. Get her a bag ready, I’ll carry her to the car.” Richard lifted his daughter with ease, giving no thought to her lightness as he strapped her in the car and sat in the driver’s seat trying with all his might not to look back at her lying in the backseat unresponsive. He was weak though and he turned his head briskly. It was a huge mistake, the biggest because as soon as he laid eyes on her face, the tears streamed heavily down his face and his head bobbed as he cried for the first time since his mother died when he was only thirteen. He couldn’t bare to see his little girl like this. Even if she was no longer his little girl, she was still his and still she was. Margaret practically threw herself in the car, glancing briefly at her husband. She did a double take when she saw him silently sobbing with his head resting against the steering wheel. He turned and gave her a look of defeat.
“Oh, Richie. She’s going to be okay but we have to get her there quickly.” She tried to sound brave but the tears falling from her glistening eyes spoke otherwise. She had never witnessed him cry in the whole nineteen years they’ve been married and it scared her to see him vulnerable.
He wiped his tears away with his jacket sleeve and shifted into gear. The car bolted out of the driveway, screeching down the street of their quiet, little neighborhood. He drove like a madman, marking the streets with his brand new tires.
“Careful, Rich! She’s falling off the seat.”
“Well, pick her up.”
Margaret climbed in the backseat to sit with her daughter, holding her close and checking for a pulse every few seconds. The trip felt long and she thought they would never reach their destination. Finally, they arrived at the nearest hospital and pulled up to the front so fast, he almost didn’t see the wheelchair rolling out of the doors with an elderly lady in it. He flew out of the car and opened the back door to help his wife and daughter out. They rushed her inside leaving the car running just out front with the doors wide open.
“Rich, I’ve got this. The car.” She pointed just outside and his attention shifted.
Soon they were impatiently settling in the waiting room to hear news of their daughter’s condition. After an hour, a Dr. Peck called them to the back to see her.
“Your daughter is going to be fine, the blow to her head wasn’t too bad but she is very weak. It’s not surprising since her blood work shows a loss of vital minerals. We have her on an IV in the pediatric ward where she’ll stay for a few days if you decide to keep her here. I recommend that you do. She’s suffering from slight malnutrition and drastic changes to her diet can be dangerous.”
“What? That can’t be. She eats every meal. She doesn’t eat a lot but she does eat,” Margaret assured the doctor. It was apparent they didn’t know what was going on right under their noses.
“Did you know your daughter has an eating disorder?”
“Oh, God.” Richard dropped his head in his hands.
“No. No, Rich, it’s not rue. It can’t be.” She gazed at her daughter in the hospital bed, disbelief was written across her face as she put the pieces together.
“She admitted it to one of the nurses when she came to. I don’t think she was aware of her surroundings though and she fell back asleep soon after.”
“I told you she was too skinny. I knew something wasn’t right.”
“No,” Margaret whispered to herself. She couldn’t believe any of this was happening. She never saw it coming, never noticed the signs. What kind of a mother doesn’t see the signs?
“She’s in a bad state but it’s good we caught it before she could experience serious risks such as heart failure…” The doctor’s voice trailed off. Margaret couldn’t hear anything, just the sound of her own heart beating fast. She placed her hand on Harla’s chest timing her faint heartbeat to her own. Looking closely at her, she could see just how thin her daughter really was and closed her eyes in anger for not seeing it sooner. She planted herself in the big chair next to her daughter’s bedside in hopes that she would be the first person she sees when she wakes up again. All she could do now was wait.
To be continued..