“Regina, every morning, when I wake up, I take my clothes off, I stand in my underwear, and I look in the mirror to make sure they’re still there,” she tells me as I take a sip of my Lagavulin. “Every morning.”
I had a feeling this would be the kind of conversation that would require Lagavulin. It is the strongest scotch on my shelf and I only bring it out for goodbyes and for serious conversations requiring serious alcohol. My assessment was right.
“Make sure what’s still there?” I ask her, pouring another finger into the glass, topping it off with the smallest splash of water.
She pulls her shirt straps down to show me her collarbones. “These. My clavicles. The proof that, after all these years, I am finally coming close to getting the body I want,” she says. “I’m finally going to be hot. Revenge body.”
I have watched her for months; watched her eat like a bird, watched her slow but steady disappearing act. I have watched her make herself small, quietly. A part of me wanted to tell her, you don’t need to do this, but a bigger part understood why.
“All my life, I wanted to know if this was the only thing holding me back from everything I ever wanted,” she says. “Think about it, the people who have everything — they’re thin, they’re beautiful. What’s a brain? What’s a personality in this day and age? What is kindness?”
Everything, I think. It’s everything.
I rest my cheek onto my palm, and I look at her with softness. My eyes say, continue. These are the things she will never tell anyone else, and I know she needs to say them. We have always had this uncanny ability of communicating without actually speaking. She knows I am listening.
A hint of a smile graces the corner of her mouth. “I have to admit that it’s been really gratifying to be told by practically everyone that I look great now,” she jokes. “Who knew fifteen pounds would make such a difference, right?” I quip back. “Twenty, actually.” She shrugs, and I can feel the mirth fade away.
“It’s been great, but I just—” she trails off, looking down at I know not what. Maybe her hands, hands that have always been slender. “I just need to be beautiful so I know that it’s not why they always leave me,” she finally admits. “Nobody ever gives me a chance to love them. They go right when I’m finally ready, to someone else. It’s another possibility crossed off that checklist I have in my head of reasons that no one ever stays, you know? One less thing that makes me not good enough to love. It’s one less thing that’s wrong about me.” She looks at me imploringly, eyes watery with tears I know she will not shed because they are a weakness she will never allow. Not even in front of me.
There is nothing wrong with you.
I could say it, but I know she won’t believe it.
Because late at night, every night, right before I slip into my bedclothes, I check for my bones, too.
I don’t tell her. I don’t have to. We know each other too well.
I wrap my hands around my glass. I drink.