I like to watch my roommate through my lashes, covers pulled up to my nose. Sometimes I don’t even bother to squint my eyes- like when she’s sleeping with her back to me- and I’ll just watch her with my eyes wide open.
She sleeps a lot, my roommate, or certainly she spends a lot of time in bed. But then again, so do I. We’re hiding from the world, the pair of us.
I suppose it saves the nurses on the unit some trouble because they have to clean her bed sheets every time she gets up. There is always so. Much. Blood. So with the two of us in bed, there is one less trip to the washer. At least that’s what I tell myself when they appear in the doorway.
I think it must be painful for her to walk around the unit. She mostly wears sleeves and a hood, but it’s not easy to hide the fact that she doesn’t have hardly an inch of skin on her body. I’ve decided she looks like what I imagine a burn victim would look like. Red and black and scales.
She cringes at everything, and I can’t blame her. She has no protection. Watching her sleep is almost the worst. Sometimes she’ll start to roll over, or adjust, and suddenly gasp and freeze as her flesh rubs against the cloth.
Her eyes are what really suck me in. I don’t see as much of them as I’d like, since she usually is looking down or away when she’s out of bed, but when she does look up, her eyes are always a surprise.
Sometimes they are full of fire, chapped lips pressed into a hard line and teeth clenched.
Sometimes they are wild and twitch back and forth or stare intently, mouth sometimes gasping for words.
Sometimes they are empty, body slack, and it is here that she’ll usually retreat her eyes to the floor again.
I have seen her eyes flash through each of these emotions in a span of less than thirty seconds. Watched her go from aggressive to subservient in a snap.
I hate when her eyes do this, though I used to hate it for a different reason. I didn’t believe anyone could really feel so much, so fast, so deeply. It made me angry the way everything had to mean something to her. How nothing rolled off her shoulders. How she had to interpret everything.
But she had a visit from a guy one time, her boyfriend, I assume, and I was eavesdropping as she laughed at something he said. And she blurted “I’ve gotta tell you what I was watching yesterday. It was two guys- absolutely hilarious- and they were making fun of pop song lyrics…”
He glanced toward the window once. I don’t think he even noticed, but she did.
The volume dropped out of her voice, her eyes hit the floor, she mumbled “ha, forget it. It was stupid,” and her mouth stopped moving. Her whole body shut down.
I remember distinctly that he didn’t bat an eye. He gave a bark of a laugh and started telling her about the new Avengers movie. The light hadn’t fully come back into her eyes by the time he squeezed her to his chest and kissed her goodbye. “Oh no, I’m sorry,” he said suddenly as she winced away from his arms.
She waved him off, eyes on her shoes. “No, I’m sorry. It’s my fault,” but her voice hadn’t kicked back in.
That’s when I really started to watch her.
She keeps her head down. I think maybe she’s learned to. The nurses try to draw her out. Sometimes they get it, they whittle their way behind her walls without her really noticing. Sometimes she gets back out alive. Sometimes she burns up or melts down. Sometimes I don’t know what’s best for her.
I hate to watch her melt. I hate how her eyes sink into her skull as she folds in layer upon layer.
How her body deflates. How her smoldering skin flares up in patches.
We were at dinner one night, all of us gathered around our plates. I was staring at mine, fiddling like I do. I was cutting some chicken into pieces and pieces and pieces and tapping the exposed bones of my forearm on the edge of the table. She was sitting across from me and I heard her say, “you can do it, love. It’s okay.” But I knew it wasn’t okay. It was too dangerous. It was far too dangerous. What if I ate one piece and suddenly I had to eat all the pieces and then it was too much? What if the skeleton I saw in the mirror suddenly ballooned into the girl with a stomach that swelled and emptied and swelled and emptied?
My lungs got tight and I shook my head because I couldn’t do it, and I watched her sink against the back support of the chair and train her eyes on the lines that her fork was carving through her potatoes. I wanted to take it back. Considered lifting a piece of meat to my mouth just to bring her back.
But I couldn’t.
And she couldn’t.
So we both just played with our silverware and let our thoughts spin out in circles. She didn’t finish and, of course, neither did I.
Anorexia can be a bitch, but whatever she’s got really messes her up. Bare bones are nothing to charred flesh that still bleeds. Still opens after a partial heal. Still is connected to nerves that fire like they’re on steroids. All my neurons are long gone, I don’t feel much of anything. But this girl…I’m not sure what she doesn’t feel. The door to the unit drops closed and she shrinks into her sweatshirt like it was a personal hit in the chest.
I think she ought to lash out at them more. Build herself a better fortress to hide behind. Then she could bare her teeth at them from inside the walls and yell for everyone to let her be. Every once in a while she’ll snarl at someone, and they’ll retreat with little tsks hissed in her direction. My eyes cheer her from where I’m curled in a chair across the room, but she never looks at me, just lowers the pink shreds of her forehead into her scaly, melted palms. Sometimes her shoulders shake, but I don’t think it’s the physical pain then.
If I had any kind of heart left in my chest, maybe I’d look away.
Shannon Stone is a Wisconsin veterinary technician college student hoping to someday work in wildlife rehabilitation or horse rescues. Somewhat excitable when it comes to having her writing published, she will likely be donning a Cheshire Cat grin for at least a month after this one.