Control is everything. Self-control, that is. Control how you act, what you say, what goes into your body, and maybe — just maybe — you'll be able to control you are. Power is addictive; my drug of choice, but it comes at a cost. You see, what you don't learn until it's too late? Sooner or later, the need for control — controls you.
Generally, I’m a good kid. I pay attention in school, earning the high grades that decorate my report cards. I may not be especially popular, but I certainly have friends. I usually do as I’m told, don’t flagrantly disobey rules, and I try hard to please people. I retrace my steps in my mind, searching for the slip — the fall — that landed me here, on this cool, clammy table, wearing not much more than a requisite thin gown.
A crisp knock on the heavy wooden door to the exam room startles me, bringing my attention back to my predicament at hand. After a moment's pause, the door slowly swings wide, and a portly woman bustles into the room, a perpetual cross between a smile and a grimace resting on her lips. Swinging my legs back and forth as I perch at the edge of the exam table, I relish the satisfying thud of my heels against the metal and the vague sense of rebellion that this small infraction instills in me. The doctor, although plainly not pleased, refrains from commenting.
The chilly room seems to grow even cooler as her eyes travel over me from feathery blonde braids to mismatched socks; I shiver, wrapping my arms around my waist in an attempt to shrink, hide, disappear — anything to go back to my safe place, away from this office where they will steal my secrets and try to "fix" me. I don't like it here. I don't want to be here. I did not choose to come here. I don’t belong here.
Hello, she says. I am Dr. Rouse, she says. Do you know why you’re here? she says. You have no control, she does not say, but things unsaid can still be heard.
The litany of questions that issues from her lips is astoundingly long and excruciatingly personal. She starts with the easy ones, to lull me into a sense of false security: What is your name? How old are you? In what grade are you? With whom do you live?
And then she moves onto the intrusive: Do you think you have a problem? Are you sure? Why do you think you’re here? What do you eat? When do you eat? How do you eat? How do you feel about food? Do you make yourself throw up? How often? Since when? Have you ever thought about hurting yourself? How? When was the last time? Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Really? Are you sure? Have you ever taken diet pills? Diuretics? Laxatives? Ipecac? No? What’s the most you’ve ever weighed? When? The least? How much do you weigh now? Oh, really, your parents told you? Well, how much do you want to weigh? Are you still trying to lose weight? How do you feel about your body?
I stop answering. I do not speak. I pull my imaginary hands away from my imaginary ears, and I listen. I listen as this person whom I do not know but already dislike asks the question that no one else has the nerve to address.
Part of me wants to scream at her, scream that I know the truth and they can’t take that away from me. Scream that I don’t belong here, I don’t fit in here, I don’t look anything like the other girls in the waiting room, with their skeletal legs and the low-cut necklines above which you can clearly see every bone in their chests. The rest of me whispers to stay silent, stay strong, don’t give her more ammunition, evidence with which to accuse me. For the nth time, I wish myself anywhere but here.
Clothed only in the sickly blue-green gown, I curl myself tighter, further from her prying eyes and the steps I am blindly taking. In the stillness, my stomach growls loudly, and I try not to smile at the welcome feeling of hunger it heralds. Hunger, emptiness, a chasm inside me — a feeling that I love, because it means I’ve been a good girl today and I will be okay.
The brief moment of calm is broken by the gritty scrape of chair legs on tile as Dr. Rouse stands and retrieves a blood pressure cuff. The flexible plastic sleeve is almost too big for my arm, the Velcro barely catching its counterpart’s edge. This is inordinately pleasing to me, and I bite my tongue so that I do not laugh. I fidget as she takes my vitals, listens to my heart and lungs, but I freeze when she slides my gown off of my shoulders. I stare at the ceiling with stone eyes as she examines me for undiscovered cuts and scratches, scars that I have hoarded. My stone body, I tell myself, cannot feel her hands. My stone self does not care when she destroys the last vestiges of my dignity. I am a statue, and statues do not have feelings. An unbidden tear slips from the corner of my eye and traces its silver path down my face.
Her anything-but-cursory examination finished, she allows me to sit up, and the brittle paper crackles beneath me as I shift to find a comfortable position. Lately, when I sit, there are marbles embedded beneath my skin. They jab me mercilessly, making me wish for the cushions on the couch at home. I perch on my knees instead, where the bones belong.
The scale, the scale that I love and I hate, the scale by which I live. Her scale isn’t the imprecise graded dial type, nor even the clean and sharp digital display. In fact, I’ve only seen this type of scale once before — in a grimy veterinarian’s office. For dogs. The gritty bite of no-slip tarred paper curls my toes as she reaches up to one of the cabinets with the ease and sureness that tells me I am not the first to endure this ritual. The cabinet door swings toward me, blocking my view of the shelf inside; immediately an electronic doorbell chimes, alerting anyone in the near vicinity that someone is using the scale. She eyes the monitor inside, than jots down a figure on my chart. I do not have the privilege of knowing the number to which I have been reduced.
How ironic, I consider, as my new nemesis exits the room and so that I may change into my street clothes, that the very number that they insist I have an unhealthy preoccupation with is a principal measure of my progress here. We are two sides of the same coin, they and I; my number deflates, while theirs flies sky-high like a helium balloon. It all comes down to the issue of control, a battle of the wills: but then again, it was my so-called control that brought me here in the beginning.