Wednesday, April 11, 2012


This is a short story i wrote about anorexia for my Fiction Literature class. It is a modern retelling of "A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka. I drew from my own experience with disordered thought to write this.
In the College years, mom and dad’s interest The Girl’s anorexia suffered a marked decline. It used to be that she could never take a breath without being asked if she was feeling well, but College changed all that. High school was a different time. Back then the whole family was engaged in keeping her “healthy”. At first they didn’t notice when she stopped eating, but it was never long before her hollow cheeks gave her away. Parental involvement grew from day to day, suddenly they wanted to talk to her, suddenly even her teachers seemed to care. Two weeks would go by, maybe three, and then they would take her to see the “Doctor.” It was a new one every time. They examined her with stethoscopes, needles, and prying questions. Some nights, mom and dad would make her sit at the table with them for a talk. So she sat there, knee’s pressed tight to her sharp unpadded ribs, and pretended to listen. They would cling to each other for safety, and mom would sputter and cry. The Girl would smile and nod, and sometimes let mom hold her hands, (if only to let her feel how skinny she was.) But inevitably she would withdraw back into herself. She wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just feeling. She focused on that deep, delicious emptiness inside and took teeny tiny sips of cold black coffee through a straw.
Eventually mom and dad would give up on conversation. They would work together (for once) and take shifts discretely watching her, like guards. She often heard them whispering about drugs and boyfriends, trying to find a way to fix her. They thought she was troubled, or that she had become a victim of some kind. Sometimes they would lay traps for her, pretending to be late in picking her up from school, so they could watch and see what bad crowd she had fallen in with. Nothing was more frustrating to The Girl than these traps. They made her almost want to eat again, just to prove that she was fine. She stopped talking to all her friends, and would spend every weekend at home with the family. But this just made them all the more suspicious that she was hiding some bad influence. The Girl was quite willing to spend every waking hour with them, just to prove, again and again that there was nothing wrong with her. She was happy and well adjusted, and skinny.
Of course no one could watch her at all times of day and night, so they remained suspicious that she was harboring some deep psychological damage. Only The Girl herself knew that there was nothing wrong. She starved because she wanted to, because it made her happy. She knew that starving would completely satisfy her, if it were not for all the questions and doctors and worries and fears. There were other things that made starving unsatisfying for The Girl, things like Grandma’s eyes filling with tears at every family party. The little cousins were always afraid to come near her because they found the sight of her gaunt flesh too terrifying. She supposed they all thought she hated herself, but The Girl knew what nobody else knew: starving felt amazing. She made no secret of the fact that she was happy. She felt good and clean and delightfully hollow, but everyone insisted on pitying her. They all thought she was sad and sick, and she became more and more determined to prove them wrong.
The girl soon learned, however, that mom and dad would only withhold judgment for a little over a month. After about 40 days she would inevitably find herself in a cold white hospital bed, with vile, liquid nutrition being pumped in through a tube. They often came in the night, when she was lying deep in a mountain of blankets, hovering next to sleep. Dad would roll her up in the blankets like a straight jacket and carry her down the stairs while mom stood by whimpering and clutching at her nightgown. More than once The Girl had considered struggling, but she always found that her body was strangely weak and unresponsive. It never failed to make her angry. Why now after 40 whole days? Why did they insist on robbing her of her source of joy? She could have gone on so much longer, but they had no respect for her body, no faith in her choices. They would leave her there in treatment for days, and eventually welcome her back home with an obnoxious feast. “This time she’s cured for sure” they would say, and mom would spoon tiny mouthfuls of soup into The Girl’s dry mouth.
And so she lived for many years, with brief periods of “health” in between sessions of happiness. Eventually however, mom and dad grew tired. Grandma stopped crying, and the cousins got used to her horror story body. Every Doctor in town had long since given up, she was a lost case. They had all come to wrong conclusion, still after all this time, no one believed her when she said that starving made her truly happy. After graduation, she left for a college 9 hours east. It was a big busy place with a thousand new faces. There were people of every shape and size, and no one ever thought there was a thing wrong with her. They gave her a tiny room at the end of a hall, and she spent most of her time there with stacks of books and tiny little coffee pot that brewed one weak cup at a time. Sometimes she would leave the door open, and the occasional burst of young voiced would bring a surge of emotions. It was not long, however, before she learned that the voices were not coming her way. Every once in a while the Resident Assistant would stop by for a little chat, but even those visits became infrequent.
So The Girl turned her focus to starving. Soon she grew too tired to bother with class. She sat in the dark and felt the sweet shudder of the air slipping in and out of her lungs. She was finally doing it, starving for longer than she had ever hoped. The name tag on her door grew tattered and fell down as time lost all meaning. No one came to her door any more, of course they didn’t! They had nothing to be worried about. Finally they understood that she was perfectly fine. Starving filled her soul filled with unshakable satisfaction.  Days passed, the semester ended and another one began.
One day, the facilities manager happened to notice the tiny room at the end of the hall. “Why haven’t we rented out this room?” he asked. Then someone remembered the tiny girl, with feather soft hairs all over her body. “Did she forget to move out?” they wanted to know. They poked around in the dark until they found her, curled up under a mountain of blankets near the floor heater under the window. “Are you alright?” asked the manager.
 “Did I miss my finals?” she asked, her voice now a raspy breath. The manager gestured to his attendant to get to a phone. He mimed a 3-didget phone number, and then leaned down closer to the figure on the floor.
 “It’s okay” he told her, “they will forgive you.”
“I just wanted you all to respect me” she whispered.
“Why shouldn’t we respect you, you poor thing?”
“Because I HAVE to starve. I can’t help it. I can’t stop” The manager seemed moved by her pitiful words. He found her skeletal hand in the blanket cocoon and held onto it tightly.
“Why?” He sounded tearful, “why can’t you stop?” He moved his ear closer to her chapped lips.
“Because I couldn’t ever find anything else to make me happy. If I had found it, believe me I would have loved to live just like you and everybody else…” and those were her last words. The ambulance came, and calls were made to the family. Dad tried to sue the school for neglect, but The Girl had been an adult, and nothing ever came of it. The school cleaned that tiny room right up and rented it out to vibrant young soccer player named Maya. Girls congregated in her room every night, and caused a cheerful ruckus that kept the RA on her toes. Some people found Maya to be too boisterous and loud, but they mostly just braced themselves, surrounding her like planets to the sun, and never wanted to move on.


  1. Was this someone you knew? Or someone you think you could have been?
    It's a sad but beautiful story.

    1. i have struggled with disordered thought and eating my whole life, The Girl in the story is not me, nor is her reasoning the same as mine has been, but i find that most disordered thought has similarites. The hardest thing for me to realize was that i was lying to myself. If i hadnt come to that understandng, i may have ended up just like The Girl