Jul 08, 2009, 08:04AM

52 Stories

In 52 weeks. 

No. 27, "Proximity," by Diana Spechler, author of the novel Who By Fire.

Saturday morning, Estelle doesn’t show up for treatment. In lieu of her presence is a note scrawled in magic marker: “It’s sunny out. I’d rather play than work on my ‘problems.’” Funny that she wrote “problems” in quotation marks, as if she doesn’t really have any. Estelle is twenty-one years old, stands at five feet eight inches, and weighs eighty-five pounds. She has a second personality (six-year-old Estelle), skin and hair the color of teeth, and teeth the color of sepia. Last week, she asked me to go into business with her, to collaborate on art projects and sell them at the Denver Farmer’s Market. By art projects, she meant her art therapy paintings—mostly primary-colored stick-figure families—accompanied by entries from my food journal. Eventually, she concluded, we’d have an exhibit at MoMA in New York City.“Very manipulative,” Dr. Rose says now, tapping the note with a long hot-pink fingernail. Dr. Rose, the shrink at the North Boulder Center for Eating Disorder Recovery, is what my mother would call “big-boned,” tall with powerful legs and a wide face. She teases her platinum blond bangs. She wears blue eye shadow. She looks like a glamour shot. But I always imagine the friends she must have, four or five other ladies with teased hair, giggling together at the food court in the mall, bright lipstick prints on plastic straws, fingers touching casually, cozily, over a cardboard boat of French fries.Dr. Rose used to be bulimic, too, two decades ago when she was in her twenties. Now, she says, if she buys a binge food, she’ll eat until she’s full (she’s learned, unlike the rest of us, what “full” feels like), then shove the rest down the garbage disposal. “Starving children in Africa?” she always says. “That’s lost on me. Hell if I’ll feel guilty about throwing away food.”The first activity of the day is to make lists of things we want. I write:1. J.D.2. Friends.3. To eat like a normal person.I cross out number two so Libby and Rhonda, the other two patients, won’t know I don’t have friends. Then I cross out number one because Libby and Rhonda think J.D. is my boyfriend. They think my life is perfect in every way. A couple of days ago, they ganged up on me about it: “You have a boyfriend!” they chanted at me like ugly cheerleaders. “And you’re pretty! And you just finished college!”Right. It’s not like I’m some supermodel. I wasn’t even decent-looking until I finished high school and left Durango and got it through my head to stop dressing like a sexless ski bunny in fleece pullovers and wooly socks, and to lose a few pounds.Also, J.D., the bartender at Sugar’s where I’m a cocktail waitress, would never call himself my boyfriend. If he did, believe me: I wouldn’t be here. What would I need with therapy, with food, with anything, really, if I consumed J.D. the way he consumes me? I think of J.D. all day, how he tips the pint glass beneath the tap to let the foam off, how he keeps a rag and a bottle opener in the back pocket of his jeans, how, when he yanks the rag out, the faded white imprint of the bottle opener shows on the denim. I think of the way he moves around behind the bar like no one’s watching, and also like the whole world’s watching (all two hundred twenty pounds of him, the muscles in his arms, the beer belly that he’s proud of); how he can crack a different joke with every customer; how he can say to a beautiful girl he’s never met, “What’s up, Slick?” and she’ll giggle and keep stealing glances at him for the rest of the night. Me, on the other hand, I never say anything funny. Sometimes I think funny things, but I’m never sure if they would sound funny out loud.


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