Someone To Love
I hug Antonia tight. “I’m so glad you said something.”
“You guys are the first people I’ve told,” Antonia says, smiling as I let go of the hug. “Except for her, of course. I’ll eventually tell my family, but they’re open-minded. I’m not worried.”
“Dude. From the track team?” Sam says. “You’ve got some serious game.”
“There’s a problem,” Antonia says. “Better give me another drink.”
She takes the bottle from me and sends another shot down her throat.
“What is it?” I ask as she wipes her mouth.
“I think she’s scared,” Antonia says. “She doesn’t want to be labeled. You know? Her parents are pretty old-fashioned. She said her father won’t even watch a TV show with a gay character. At least that’s what she tells me about him. Real loser.”
“Screw that guy,” Sam says, taking the bottle from her. “Do what makes you happy. You should definitely go for it.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I’m so here for this. For you.”
“Thanks, Sam.” Antonia squeezes his bicep and winks at me. “So now that I’ve made my confession...you guys can’t leave me hanging. We’ve barely seen each other in like three months. There must be some new deep dark secret you’re dying to tell us.”
“I don’t know,” Sam says, looking down at my carpet.
“You must have hooked up with some hot surfer chicks over the summer.” I take another swig from the bottle. It’s finally starting to make me feel like the warmth is radiating from my bones. “Come on. You know you want to tell.”
As soon as I say those words, I regret asking about other girls. If there are any or have been any over the summer, I don’t want to know. Thinking of him with other girls creates knots in my stomach. Even though I don’t want Sam to be overprotective, I suddenly feel protective over him. Everything about our relationship feels like a paradox.
“Yeah. Right,” Sam mumbles. He looks up at Antonia. “Let’s talk about something else, please?”
“Come on.” I swing my arm around Sam, leaning my head onto his shoulder. “You can tell us. We always talk about everything.”
“Yeah.” Antonia shakes her index finger. “No secrets.”
“It’s really stupid, but I keep having these dreams about my brother,” Sam says. He absentmindedly tucks his hair behind his ear. “We’ll be surfing, joking around, racing each other to catch a wave, but then he disappears under the water. I can never save him.”
“Sam,” I say, hugging him, remembering how he cried into my chest the day he found out his older brother, James, had died. It broke my heart. It still does. “You okay?”
James died last year from a drug overdose at their house. It was completely unexpected. He was a super nice guy who would stop anything he was doing to help someone else. James had been visiting home from the University of Chicago, where he was on the crew team. We didn’t know until later, but a doctor had prescribed heavy painkillers for a back injury that happened during a rowing competition, which I guess led to James getting involved in doing harder drugs.
I was shocked when I found out. He’d only been back three days for Christmas break when he overdosed. Sam found his body. We’ve only talked about what happened once or twice, but Sam doesn’t say much. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I can help him with. I can’t take away his pain or erase what happened. Whenever I think about what Sam must have had to go through, I get a lump in my throat. I feel helpless.
My problems seem so trivial compared to Sam’s loss. What right do I have to fall apart when there are other people who’ve been dealt a hand much worse than mine?
“Yeah.” Sam pulls away. “It’s just a really weird feeling. I wake up and the only person I want to talk to about James’s death is...James.” We all go silent for a moment until Sam takes the bottle from me. “Anyway. I took my turn. Fair’s fair. Liv?”
“Oh man,” I say nervously. It’s my turn to do some talking about my personal issues. I think about how depressed I was this summer and how much I wanted to tell them that I felt like a ghost haunting the real world, but I couldn’t, because they were living their best lives and I didn’t want to be selfish and ruin their happiness.
Because Sam and Antonia were both gone, I started spending a lot of time online. I started looking up tips about purging and I stumbled onto a pro-bulimia forum. Then I found myself making an account so I could talk to other users of the site. My thoughts about food started getting more obsessive the more I read the posts. One night, I saw a thread where the original poster asked for photos of other people’s binge foods.
I scrolled through and examined the dozens of food photographs. The one that got to me was all of this half-eaten food spread across a table with all the wrappers—leftovers of a takeout chicken shawarma, a slab of meat lasagna, cookie batter, a chocolate milkshake. I couldn’t stop thinking about how good a nice big binge would feel. Just looking at the food made me feel excited to eat, so I went downstairs and raided the pantry. I took everything that was either leftover or premade: bacon and cheddar potato skins, three microwave burritos, a can of sweet corn, three hot dogs, a container of cake frosting, a quarter of an apple pie, carrots and hummus, a small bag of pita bread and half a jar of peanut better.
Looking at the pictures while eating made me feel so much less alone. It’s not like I can talk to Antonia or Sam about my bulimia. What would I say? That I’ve started wearing ponytails because my hair has thinned out so much? That puking actually feels like a relief? I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s uncomfortable and disgusting. But knowing other girls are bingeing too is so cathartic. It’s the easiest thing to eat.
So simple. So animalistic.
The sensory experience of chewing and tasting was euphoric. Finishing off one thing made me immediately want to start on the next. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I had to give in to it until I was so full I literally couldn’t stuff anything down my disgusting throat. Then I vomited and vomited until there was nothing left.
I’m almost certain Antonia suspects something’s going on with my eating habits after I kept hesitating every time she asked whether I wanted to eat with her. She knows me too well. I need to throw her off that trail, because she can be relentless.
“Dad says he’s running for governor,” I finally say. “He hasn’t announced yet though. He’s keeping it on the down low until he hires a campaign manager.”
“And that’s a problem?” Sam asks.
“Duh,” I say. “Get ready for your little Liv’s face to appear on the front page of the Los Angeles Times when the announcement happens. It won’t be as easy as his other elections. He’s not going to be the incumbent this time, which means a lot more media coverage. TV appearances. Articles. That kind of thing.”
“That actually sounds pretty exciting,” Antonia says.
“Mason’s coming home next weekend too,” I add. “I’m not looking forward to that either. We’ve had our share of problems.”
“That’s not a big problem,” Antonia says. “That’s just family.”
“I guess you’re right,” I say, but I don’t really agree in my heart. Not when family is my biggest problem next to a certain boy named Zach. Just thinking about him motivates me to keep restricting and purging until I reach my goal weight.
I have to talk to him again.
And I have to look good when I do.
e i g h t (#u1995046c-ced6-510f-bc7e-f1466276fb70)
“Most bad behavior comes from insecurity.”
“So, Sam told me something interesting,” Antonia says, pulling her messenger bag up over her shoulder.
Even though I want to know the gossip about Sam, I’m having a hard time listening right now. I can’t concentrate. I’m so hungry. I was starving when I woke up this morning, but I stuck to my morning grapefruit and tea. It’s working at least.
“Wait. What?” I ask.
“He joined debate club. Forensics or whatever. Why do they call it that? I thought that was supposed to be related to some kind of CSI crap.”
“He did?” I wonder why he didn’t tell me. I suddenly feel a little hurt—like maybe Sam is getting back at us for going to the party without him. “When did he say that?”
Students are spilling out into the hallway. Eastlake Prep, home of the “most talented student body” in the Los Angeles area. The pressure to be successful, to set yourself apart from everyone else, is ridiculously high. How else are you going to feel, when most of your classmates are actors on cable television and world-class athletes?
I glance around the hall. I’m desperate to see Zach again. I start to feel butterflies just thinking about him—his dark hair, his defined jawline—but then I get queasy.
Antonia slams her locker shut. “When we were walking out to our cars after we studied...I mean, after we drank in your bedroom.”
“That was like...” I start counting in my head “...a week ago.”