A Healthy Woman

            Like emptying a trash bin.

            The spoon fit so neatly in her mouth, it was becoming more and more difficult to think of a time when it wasn’t in there – not that Ella spent much time attempting to do so. A year ago, a friend took notice of the pruned pads on her middle and pointer fingers. Ella found it significantly less conspicuous to carry a spoon or fork in her purse. Don’t worry, she explained to her therapist with a laugh, I only use the butt-end of the fork.

            She didn’t even have to close her eyes anymore.

            Twelve-year-old Ella would be… impressed? Was that the right word? Twenty-or-so years later, would she be considered a pro? She felt the cold bowl of the toilet in her left hand and tapped on it, like she always did – a ritual greeting she developed in middle school; just something kids develop; a habit she performed without thinking. This was old hat – a play she’d put on a million times. This isn’t something I’m supposed to be proud of. But she was. Every part of her was proud. She imagined her throat, raw and weak, giving her a thumbs-up from a hospital bed like a loved one having just donated a life-saving organ. A necessary, slightly painful sacrifice. She and her twelve-year-old self had a right to be impressed, she decided.

            Internal vanity is fine as long as you don’t expose yourself.

            That is, preaching self-love and sustainable happiness is great – Ella really felt she was helping other women with her best-selling books showcasing bright pink covers and healthy, smiling women looking up at each self-conscious reader with hope – but so is feeling like a 10. What about discussing negative ways to achieve weight loss? Her editor once asked right before her second book was due at the printer. Maybe you could write a chapter on anorexia or bul-.

            Ella choked involuntarily on her vomit.

            I wouldn’t really know what to write, she lied. I don’t have any experience in that area.

            You didn’t have any experience with those Orange Theory classes until you signed up to research them.

            I’m not sure what you’re implying.

            Just – do some research. Talk to women who’ve been through it. I think it’d make a great angle.

            It’s just not an angle I’m comfortable with, Sam. Drop it.

            From this angle, everything looked like the garbage disposal after dinner. Ella wondered if there was ever a time she felt an ounce of regret, before or after her career took off, for binging and purging. A diary entry from her sophomore year of high school came to mind, in which she discussed her “puking” to be so sporadic, it didn’t even count. Just when I’m feeling unbearably full… it’s not as if I’m doing it daily, just sporadically. The mantra sustained her for most of her teen years. Sporadically. She wondered if fifteen-year-old Ella had gotten the word from Cher Horowitz in Clueless. Of course, back then, she only made herself sick once a week, if that. Her frequency had since increased, and at thirty-four, she was throwing up twice a day, every day.

            But Ella never felt unhealthy.

            She didn’t feel like her body was shutting down or wasting away. She wasn’t bleeding internally: she checked. She had never been admitted to the hospital. She had only passed out once, but that was after giving blood, and the nurses gave her a cookie. She rid herself of that cookie an hour later with no negative side effects. I don’t even consider myself – bulimic, she once told her therapist. Look at me; I’m not gaunt. I haven’t smashed any of my mirrors at home. I haven’t shied away from friends or family.

            I think you’re watching too many movies, Ella.

            The point is: I’m fine.

            She rose to her feet a little too quickly. Whoa, girl, she thought. She reached out and flushed with her right hand while tearing off a few sheets of toilet paper with her left. Meeting with the publishing house at one. She dabbed her forehead and the corners of her mouth. I have to be sure to tell them about my vacation next month. Soap spilled on her hands as she lathered. Oh – a bikini wax! That’s what I was forgetting to schedule. The cold water from the sink felt nice splashed onto her face. I need to take an aspirin for this headache. She reached for her hand towel. Now I know I have something to do the week before Hawaii – can I move that to-. She lost her footing and stumbled. Oh no, that’s the speaking engagement at the Women’s… Fair – Women’s Fair? That doesn’t sound right. It’s a – an expo, maybe? She gripped the sink. Get it together, Ella. Is it a conference? She pictured herself on stage with a small microphone taped to her cheek, dressed in a killer fitted dress in jet black, skin glowing, eyes focused, opening her red-painted mouth to speak. Health, imaginary Ella started. What does it mean? How does one define being a healthy woman today?

            Feet giving way, her healthy body connected with the cold tile of the bathroom floor – an old friend ushering her into darkness.