Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Damage Control (FIC)



Leslie Joan Linder

Lola got home from school at 3:15. She walked through the quiet, ranch-style house and could tell there would be no one home. This was what she had hoped for. It had been a bad afternoon. She had to do damage control.

First she had been bad in the cafeteria. Her best friend, Margaret, had bought fries. She offered to share them with her.

“You never eat,” said Mag (that’s what Lola called her). She had looked at Lola with suspicious eyes.

Lola had played it cool. She was a pro by now. “I had four pancakes for breakfast,” she had said. “I eat a lot of breakfast. I told you. It’s the most important meal of the day, you know.”

Of course she never really ate breakfast. She told her parents that she ate a lot at school. “I’m a lunch person,” she said. “I get sleepy if I eat a big breakfast. And you can’t have carbs at night.”

That usually worked with her parents. Not always. Sometimes she had to eat. She knew how to do damage control. Eat what you have to and get them off your back. Later you can regain the ground.

She was having bad luck today. Mag had looked dubious. Lola knew that she had to share the fries. She had eaten three and a half. She spit the rest of the fourth into her napkin. She counted it as four just in case.

She felt pretty okay about the fries. It had been damage control. Still there would be no snacks. No dinner. No juice. She had to gain ground.

Then it happened. Her boyfriend, Dan, had driven her home. He always went through Starbucks on the way. He got a large mocha latte.

This was nothing new. He knew she didn’t want any. “Caffeine makes me hyper,” she said.

For some reason he argued with her today. “What do you mean?” he laughed. “I saw you drink two Diet Cokes at lunch today.”

Lola squeezed her eyes shut and tried to look calm. She forgot he had a free period during her lunch today. Usually they had different lunch periods. She didn’t have to worry about him. Today he was there hanging out with his varsity team friends.

Jesus. The whole world was against her. Didn’t she have enough to contend with between her parents and Mag?

“Come on,” he said. “Just try it. It’s chocolate.”

“It’s coffee,” she replied. She hadn’t been able to keep all the sharpness out of her voice. “It’s caffeine. I mean, not that. It’s the coffee.”

Dan had blinked at her. “What about it?”

“It makes me queasy.”

He rolled his eyes. “Just try it. The top is all whipped cream.”

She panicked then. Whipped cream?

“No!” she said. “Just cut it out! I don’t want to.”

Dan had looked at her – so hurt. He was quiet for about six blocks. She didn’t know what to do.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “My dad just makes it really strong. I tried it once and it made me barf.”

Dan looked at her. He was ready to smile again. “Well you should try it, then. This isn’t anything like that. Come on.”

She squirmed in the car seat. Her bare legs made the leather squeak. “I don’t want it.”

Dan looked her up and down. “What – are you on a diet?”

Then she felt it – that horrible shame. “No,” she said – way too loud. “Do you think I need to be?”

He stared at her in shock. “Of course not,” he said. “You’re acting crazy!”

Lola knew what she had to do. She needed damage control again.

“Oh, all right,” she had said. She grabbed the cup from his hand. “God. You’re such a baby!”

He laughed and shrugged as she took the cup. She smiled and sparkled for him. She was back in control. She could feel it. She just had to take a little sip.

She had lifted the cup to her lips. She could see what was coming through the clear, dome-shaped lid. The cup was filled with whipped cream. There were chocolate flakes on the top, along with a swirl of dark syrup.

A latte like this was about 1000 calories. She had looked it up on the Internet once – the first time Dan tried to get her to take a drink.

It was a week’s worth of calories for her. More than a week’s worth, lately. Prom was coming. She had to step it up.

She played it cool through all of this. She knew how to play the game. She took the straw between her dry, cool lips and took a tiny sip.

That could have been it. Maybe it was forty calories. She’d say fifty just to be sure. But the taste of it – it was like heroin for her. That’s why she never ate. She was addicted to food. She was a pig.

She was a pig and she proved it. She took a long pull on the straw.

She felt at least six mouthfuls worth of the creamy, chocolate sweetness slide down. Then came the euphoria that sugar and cream will give you after a two-day fast. It put her in a drugged sort of stupor.

“Thanks,” she had said. She set the cup down. “It was good.”

The rest of the drive went well. When they kissed goodbye she felt as if she would float away. She caressed Dan’s tongue with her own and tasted more of the sweetness in his mouth. Boy and chocolate. It was heaven.

Dan obviously felt her enthusiasm. He looked sort of dazed when she got out of the car. Prom was going to be good.

The truth hit her as the car was pulling away. She froze in her tracks half way up the walk.

She had taken in nearly a quarter cup of that latte. She was a monster. She was a pig.

Prom was coming and she would be as big as a boat. Couldn’t she keep from stuffing her face for a couple of goddamned days?

Her only prayer was that her parents weren’t home. She stooped down and peeked under the half-open garage door. It was empty. So far, so good.

The quiet house told her that she was right. She was going to be okay. Not perfect, but okay. She had time for a little damage control.

Lola walked down the carpeted steps into the basement. The cool air hit her face and comforted her. This was her special place.

Everything that she needed was down here. Her gym (treadmill, weights and elliptical machine) took up most of the central space. There were Nike ads and a collage of models pinned up all over the walls.

There were at least six paparazzi shots of actresses. Most of them had come from bullshit articles with headings like, “Dangerously Thin?” Lola had carefully cut out the words.

The pictures were what her chat group called “triggers.” They pushed her to succeed. People don’t get to look like that without a little pain.

There was an entertainment center against the wall. It kept her busy while she exercised. She did an hour and a half before breakfast and an hour and a half after supper. She exercised after those designated mealtimes, at any rate. It was not that she actually ate.

The other key features that the basement supplied were a bathroom and lots of privacy. She took advantage of the privacy and headed for the bathroom now.

The room was clean and smelled of Pine Sol. She had learned the hard way that she had to keep it clean. Once when she had just started she had not kept the bathroom clean.

She had to steal a note from the housekeeper, that time. It had been left on the dining room table.

“The basement toilet is full of what appears to be vomit,” the note had said. “I was a little concerned. Is someone very sick?”

Lola had just about pissed herself. If her mother had arrived at home, first….

She had taken the note and destroyed it. She lost sleep all that week. The next Friday, when the cleaning lady was due again, she had forged a note from her mom.

“Susan, I’m so sorry about the mess. Lola has been very ill. She likes to lie around downstairs. I forgot to clean that bathroom. Here’s a little extra for the trouble. Thanks so much. Mrs. Scott.”

She had left twenty dollars with the forged note. It was all her money from mowing the lawn. Lola had never been so afraid. She never made that mistake again.

Today she was making no mistakes. She reached under the bathroom sink and pulled out a fireproof box. It was the kind with a combination lock.

She had told her parents that it contained her “female things” and her “diaries.” They just nodded in that exasperated, parental way.

Lola turned the dial to 9, 4, and then 8, 9. It was Dan’s birthday. The box opened to reveal her tool kit. It was the secret to her success.

There were latex gloves so she wouldn’t leave those telltale tooth marks on her fingers. Plus she didn’t want to cut her throat with a fingernail. She wasn’t a sicko. She was just in this to lose weight.

Then for the arsenal of diet pills that she chose from them each morning like an artist might study her palette. Lola’s work of art was herself.

She had a box of Ex-Lax for quick fixes. Today she required more. She grabbed a pair of gloves and her “break glass in case of emergency” tool, her generic brand enema.

Self-loathing filled her as she snapped on the latex gloves. She still couldn’t believe she had done it. Her brain was struggling to estimate the damage.

She couldn’t remember what size latte she had looked up on the net, or what flavor. She decided to assume that she had ingested about 400 calories. She would say 500 just to be safe.

It had been a bad mistake. She hadn’t even been clearheaded enough to tell Dan that she hated the drink. Now she would have to find some other excuse not to share his lattes every week.

Once she had the gloves on, she decided that she might as well try and purge. She knew that she wouldn’t get much. She had been purging for four and half years. She knew how it worked.

After a fast as long as this, her stomach would willfully clamp down upon any small thing she consumed. Half of the latte must be in her system already, especially the fat.

She decided to try everything that she could. Prom wasn’t very far away.

Lola lifted both halves of the toilet seat and kneeled before it, as if in prayer. She bent her head over the bowl and adjusted herself so that her torso was relatively straight. It would come up better that way.

She braced herself and stuck her right index finger down her throat. She knew exactly where to push. Jump-starting her gag reflex at this point was as easy to Lola as punching a button on the remote control.

She retched violently and the pain came. It was like a length of pipe had been rammed up her torso. The agony was radiating out of her chest.

Lola gasped, but kept going. It was worst when her stomach was empty like this.

She lamented her stupid slip with the latte, again. She couldn’t have found a better way to ambush herself if she had researched it. She had poured liquid fat into her. It had soaked into her very skin.

She swallowed hard and rammed the finger down again. She stared hard at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Sometimes that was repugnant enough to make her gag without any help.

The spasms that the dry heaves caused made her spine buckle over the bowl. She lost her prime position, but she still managed to get some coffee up.

It wasn’t much help. The foamy, brown fluid burned all the way up and tasted like stomach acid. She had been right. Her stomach was defying her. It wanted her to be fat.

She stood up and washed her face. The gloves went into the trash. Later she would double bag the incriminating garbage and sneak it upstairs. She put all of that in her book bag and threw it away at school.

Her hands were shaking. Her eyes were full of tears. The retching had forced all the blood upwards, is what she thought. Her eyes and cheeks were puffy and pink.

The tap water helped. It at least enabled her to see. It was difficult to put on another pair of gloves and open the enema, though. Her vision was very blurry.

She coughed as she stripped all the clothing from below her waist – save the purple socks. She put the enema applicator in her right hand and lay down on the floor.

She felt her left side grow cold as it was pressed against the linoleum. She pulled her right knee up toward the waist. She was in the position now.

Lola closed her eyes tight and held her breath as the applicator went in. She hated enemas and her body defied her again.

The fear that she felt made her whole body rigid. The sphincter in her anus snapped closed. She felt more tears pooling in her closed eyes as she rammed the plastic tip home.

She cringed as the cold saline solution rushed into her. She should harness it – use this pain. She would know better than to stuff her goddamned face again.

It took five minutes or more for the enema to kick in. She had to stay on the floor until then. She tossed the applicator away from her and lifted her right hand.

There was a Quartz watch on her wrist. It was heart-shaped and blue. There were little faux diamonds floating under the face. She blinked back the blurriness to check it. It was 3:48.

She stared at the base of the toilet while she waited. It would probably take until four. She watched an ant crawl past her and toward the base of the sink. She knew that her mother would be home by 4:30.

She should have enough time to do this, get dressed, and get to her room by then. She would have to forgo the evening workout. Her only chance to avoid dinner was to fake another migraine.

She was such a monstrous pig that she couldn’t trust herself around food. But she could get on her chat group in her room. The other girls would understand. Even if they were not always kind, they would drive her to succeed.

A gurgling began in her intestines. It wouldn’t be long. She felt satisfaction even as cramps tore through her from tailbone to chest. She was being split in half. She would weigh much less.

She felt it coming. She grabbed the bare edge of the toilet and pulled herself to her knees.

Her mind flickered to those ads that the old people were in. They were spread eagle on the floor yelling, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” She wasn’t in much better shape. She could barely climb onto the bowl.

She released what felt like lots of water. It was the saline, plus that goddamned coffee.

There was probably a little of the apple she had last night, as well. The skim milk would be long gone.

Her body soaked up dairy fat like the mutant sponge that it was. She’d go vegan if she didn’t know that her parents would drive her straight to the nearest shrink.

Four ounces of skim milk was 45 calories. The apple (a Red Delicious) was tricky.

Who could tell what was “medium” and what was “large” in a goddamned piece of fruit? A “medium” red apple (raw and unpeeled) was about 140 calories. The one she ate was huge. Better say 200 calories. Two-fifty just to be sure.

It didn’t matter any more. She willed herself to believe that all of her sins were gone. She wiped and flushed and took a breath of free air as the whole day slid down the pipes.

She needed about two minutes to just sit there and recover. Then, feeling much better about things, she climbed to her feet. The cleanup went quickly. It was ritual, a mindless routine.

Lola was cleaned and dressed by the time she climbed the basement stairs. She stopped in the hallway by the front door to put the trash in her fallen book bag. She grabbed the bag and bolted up the second flight of stairs just as her mother pulled into the garage.

Her bedroom routine was as smooth as the bathroom cleanup. Clothes changed, makeup applied, hair done. She was headed down to the living room before her mother even started to call her.

“Oh! There you are,” her mother said. She came toward Lola with her arms wide and swept her into a hug.

“It’s okay,” Lola thought. “I put on perfume. She won’t smell anything.”

She hugged her mother back. “Hi, Mom,” she said. She was confident that her voice wouldn’t rasp. She had tested it upstairs.

“My goodness,” her mother said, “you must have had a good day. You’re as fresh as if you just got up.”

“I took a shower after Phys. Ed.,” Lola said. “How was your day?”

Her mother sighed. “Not bad. You know the usual. I’m a bit tired, really. I brought home KFC. You like the popcorn chicken, right?”

Lola felt herself go rigid with fear. Fried chicken? This was a miserable day.

Her mother pulled away from her and frowned into her face. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?”

Lola shrugged and rubbed her face. “I’ve got a bad headache,” she said. “I’m sorry, Mom. I do like the chicken. But I don’t think I can eat.”

“Oh, Honey….”

“I’ll take some for lunch tomorrow, okay?” Lola said. She was already backing away. The smell of the take-out had just reached her. It smelled like heaven must.

She was disgusted by her greedy hunger. She wasn’t even a real human being. “Goddamned, mutant pig,” she thought.

“Well, I guess you’d better lie down,” her mother said. She looked very worried. “I’ll bring you some aspirin in a minute. I need to microwave the gravy.”

Lola felt her stomach rumble again. She jumped up two stairs. She had to get away.

“I already took some,” she said. She kept climbing as she spoke. “I’ll be okay, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too, Honey,” her mother said. “I’ll check on you after dinner.”

Lola waved. There was no point arguing. She had done very well, all things considered.

She closed her bedroom door and immediately checked herself in the mirror. It was a full-body mirror, of course. She looked in it several times a day.

Back when she got this mirror, she was too young and stupid to care about her looks. She used to dress up in her mother’s clothes and shoes (she especially liked the shoes) and hold rock concerts. She had valued her hairbrush more as a microphone, back then.

The memory made her smile. Then another memory came. It was of that moment – the first moment when she knew that she had to change.

She had been a freshman. She had just barely started the ninth grade. Her first friend in this new world was Rita. She had come in from another middle school.

Rita was one of those gregarious types. She dared to talk to anyone and yet tended to say the wrong things.

Lola had seen her friend embarrass herself dozens of times. She didn’t know why it bugged her so much when Rita made her little slips.

They had met in the parking lot, fresh off the bus. Lola was wearing a white turtleneck and her new pink jeans. She was really proud of those pants. They were size three.

The girls had the usual round of greetings. Part of this process was to compliment one another on their clothes.

“I like your skirt,” Lola had said. “It’s cute.”

“Thanks,” Rita said. “I love those jeans! They look great. They hide all your….”

She caught herself and trailed off. She turned the same color as Lola’s pants.

“Hide what?” Lola had asked.

“Nothing,” Rita insisted. “Forget it.”

Lola sighed as she looked in the full-body mirror. That had been nearly five years ago. She never had figured out what Rita thought the pants “hid.” It could be anything. .It could be everything. She looked for the answer every day.

She turned sideways and scrutinized her profile. Her stomach was the prime candidate. It was still poking out despite all this fasting.

She hated that thing. It was against her in every possible way. Her profile looked like the celebrity photos where the beautiful, thin actresses had their bellies circled and the heading screamed, “Pregnancy Rumors – Baby Bump?”

She wouldn’t even try on her skinny pants today. She kept them hanging on the closet door. They were size one.

Lola had known when she saw them that the pants would show her the way. It was a spiritual sort of thing. The tag on the pants even said, “Skinny.” On the day those pants fit, all Lola’s problems would be solved.

She tried them on when she felt really good. The pants were her prime trigger, worth more than all the photos. Some days she could even zip them. It hurt like hell but it was a start.

Today was not one of those days. Lola scowled at the pants because she knew they would not even fit over her ass. Her ass wasn’t a human ass. It belonged on the back of a horse.

She sat down behind her desktop Dell and waited for it to boot up. She needed to talk with her group.

As soon as she was able to get the Internet up, she went to the bookmarked site. The home page was a beautiful, lavender color. The heading read, “Pro-mia/ana: A Lifestyle Choice.”

She looked down the list of topics. “Mia/Ana for Newbies,” was first.

No. This wasn’t her first week. She also skipped “Diet Tips.”

Then the heading, “Health Concerns.” It had a sub-heading of, “Tooth Decay, Bloody Vomit, Pica, etc.” Lola closed her eyes and scrolled down.

Then came, “Work that Body!” and “Binge Recipes: Taste great and Come up Better.”

She settled for “Thinspiration: What Keeps You Going?” The subheading promised that, “These will trigger you.”

The list of emails took a couple of minutes to load. Once they were there, she started to scroll down and read.

Most of them were old. She had posted a couple, herself. Hers were both scans of the actresses on her wall. They were the ascetic leaders of the movement, priestesses in the cult of Beauty.

She saw four new ones from a couple of girls who had been talking to each other, this morning. They were in the typical shorthand of chat groups, abbreviated and in lower case.

“i loaded the thinspiration pics from ur site,” the first one said. Her handle read, “candynrazorblades.”

“thanks. they’re open. it took 4-ever, though (LOL)!”

“no prob,” said the other one. Lola could see that “rocknrollbaby” was her handle. “remember, grrl-friend, don’t just look. do.”

“i know. i try. yest-r-day was bad.”

Lola felt a shiver of recognition. She read on.

“we all have bad days. pick it up again. diet soda, coffee, cigs, what-ev. would ur guy rather bitch about bad breath or a fat ass?”

“i know. thanks. i don’t know what i’d do if i couldn’t turn 2 this site. i used 2 feel so alone.”

“me 2. hang on. every1 has probs. c-u. gotta go 2 school.”

That was the end of their post. Lola smiled and slumped back in her chair. It all made sense again.

She was back on track. Soon she would go downstairs and offer a wan smile to her mom. “I feel much better,” she would say. Her mother would buy anything.

She would get through tonight with no food. She and Dan would be on the phone, soon. They called each other and then watched the same show. It was usually Survivor, or something. Dan liked “real TV.”

She could channel the throbbing ache for food into a pleasant though still aching lust. It would dissipate as soon as they hung up, of course. But that would take her to eight o’clock.

In the morning she could have another apple and four ounces of skim milk. That much food would feel like a feast.

“Don’t just look. Do,” the chat girl had said.

Lola was doing it. She was one of the chosen few.

The phone rang as if on cue. Lola picked it up. It was a bit early, but she was not surprised to hear Dan on the other end.

“Hey,” he said.


“What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” Lola said. “Stuff on the web.”

“Cool. Real Dates is on.”

Lola felt her stomach churn. She hated that show even as a trigger. It was mean.

“Want to watch it?” Dan asked.

She realized that she hadn’t answered him. “Okay,” she said.

“Cool. It’s on channel five.”

Lola went to her dresser and turned on the little TV. She threw herself on the bed to watch. She found herself staring at her size one jeans. Then she looked back at the screen.

A very plump blond girl was on camera. She was sitting at a table in an open-air café.

The camera zoomed in on a cute guy as he approached. They did an extreme close-up of his face as it registered horror and distaste.

Dan was laughing on the other end. “Oh, shit,” he said. “This is gonna be bad.”

Lola laughed, as well. “Yep, it has to be.”

She watched as the cute guy walked up to the girl’s table and sat down. They said hello. The girl gushed about how glad she was to meet him. She said her name was Sophie and that she had already ordered sodas.

The cute guy, who was apparently named Steve, squirmed for about ten seconds. His eyes kept flicking to the camera. Then he jumped up.

“Here we go,” Dan said over the phone.

“Sorry,” Steve said. “I just can’t do this.”

He bolted as if he were chasing a cab. They filmed him until he was gone.

The camera did an extreme close-up of Sophie’s horrified, reddening face. She smeared her makeup with the linen napkin while dabbing at her tears. Then she got up and rushed away.

Raucous music played and the host said, “Ouch! We’ll be back with viewer reactions right after this!”

The show went to commercial break. Lola felt nauseous, again.

“God,” Dan was saying, “it sucks to be her.”

“Yeah,” Lola said. “Hey, my mom is yelling at me, or something. I’ll call you back, okay?”

“Oh. Okay,” Dan said. “Love ya.”

“Love ya,” she replied. She tossed the receiver into its cradle as if it were hot.

Lola looked at her skinny pants. She felt as if she would puke. They had never looked so small.

She was just like Sophie, inside. She was the girl that no one could want. That girl was constantly trying to be a pig. She was constantly trying to get out.

Lola had to stop her. She would do damage control. No apple in the morning. No skim milk.

Sure, she would miss her evening workout. She could still do sit-ups in her room. It was her goddamned stomach that needed the most work, anyhow.

Everything would be okay. She was one of the chosen few. She had Dan. He didn’t know about the pig inside. She would never let him find out.

Lola was in control of this. It was going to be a great prom.

The End.

National Eating Disorders Association: http://www.edap.org/

Toll-free Information and Referral Helpline: (800) 931-2237


Gwen said...

The scariest part is that it's not far from the truth at all. This must have been so hard for you to write!

leslie joan linder said...

yeah, of course I wrote it forever ago but you're right. just reading it gave me the shivers and I had to take a couple breaks. some of it is personal experience but alot was my reaction at the time to my own horror and disappointment about what eating disorder "support groups" online or on campuses, etc. are really all about...making it worse! I bet it's even worse now with all the advances in technology. not okay!!!!