“You will never see me again!” I screamed. I knew I was running out of time as we approached the airport. “I’ll die there! I’m never coming home.”
“Abby, stop. You’re getting yourself all worked up and we have to go inside now.” My father parked the car in the dismal parking garage. Ignoring my residual choking on tears, he got out of the car and began to pull out the suitcases, careful not to get any grease on his jeans.
Daddy always looked sharp, one more thing I hated about myself. In the last several years I had become more of a freak show than an attractive daughter he could be proud of.
“Abby, get out of the car.”
I debated for a moment, but knew that I’d never win. The wildest of my tantrums were no match for Dad’s strength, but until now, at least in the battle of wills, I had triumphed. Two days ago, my parents played their trump card.
“We’ve tried everything.” My parents had me cornered in their bedroom. Mom spoke because I listened more calmly to her. “We’ve been patient while you’ve promised over and over to try. We are really, really worried about you.”
Mom’s voice broke there. Dad turned and glared at my three little sisters eavesdropping from the bedroom doorway. Then he shut the door and stepped forward. “You promised to gain weight. Over a month ago, you agreed to the ultimatum that you would gain eight pounds. You’re nowhere near that. You need help and this is not a discussion. Remuda Ranch agreed to admit you, and we need to be there the day after tomorrow.” Daddy turned and left the room.
I slumped to my knees on the floor. “Please, please, please, Mom! Don’t send me away. I can’t be gone for two months. You might as well disown me. I’ll die there!”
Daddy and I walked silently into the airport. I had begged for Mom to take me. She was more compassionate and not fully convinced that inpatient treatment was the only option for my progressing eating disorder.
Dad carried both suitcases; he knew all my tactics: Burn extra calories by carrying extra weight. That morning I had snuck in 500 jumping jacks in the bathroom and 500 sit-ups. I knew that all exercise would be forbidden when we reached the ranch.
“Is she OK?” the flight attendant eyed me suspiciously, then turned her gaze toward my dad. We had settled into row 17. Dad always sat in the aisle seat because it accommodated his 6 foot 4 frame. Perfect way to slip in character description organically. Glancing at me, Dad waited for me to answer for myself. Crying had accentuated the perpetual bags beneath my eyes, and they glared red from both anger and the effort to dam up my tears.
“Yes, she’s fine,” Dad promised. “May I get a Dr. Pepper and she’ll have an orange juice.”
As soon as the stewardess walked away, I shot Dad a look that said, “Go to hell. I’ll never drink those 120 calories and you can’t make me.”
I could tell the stewardess wasn’t the only one peering at me from behind her thick-rimmed glasses. Everyone stared at me these days; it made me feel uglier than I already did. I snugged the flimsy red airline blanket high around my neck, hoping to hide the sharp angles of my chin and my craggy, bony shoulders.
“I’m freezing.” I whispered the first civil words to my dad. I knew he wasn’t angry with me, but I prayed my tone conveyed how furious I was at him and how much he was hurting me.
In a silent gesture of love, Daddy took off his casual bomber jacket and tucked it around my shoulders. Tears that I had finally corralled when we entered the hubbub of the airport threatened to ooze down my cheeks again.
“Do you want a section of the newspaper?” He flapped the pages lightly to spread the paper open. I only ever cared to read the comics, but I resented his effort to lighten the mood. He sat rigid next to me, like a stoic sentry, guarding his captive until he could deliver me to this place I didn’t want to go.
“Is the program really 60 days?” I meant to remind Dad of how long I would really be gone.
“Sixty days is the minimum amount of time for a minor.”
“What if I gain weight faster than that?”
“It’s not just about your weight, Abby. That’s the first important thing, you can’t survive like this much longer. But you’ll meet with counselors there who specialize in eating disorders. You can’t come home and do this all over again. Do you know what it is doing to our family? Do you have any idea how your sisters feel?”
I did have an idea, but I wished I didn’t.
“Dad, this is about me! I am the one being shipped off and abandoned!” I turned to glare out the window. In my purse were three handwritten notes from my sisters. Promises that they wouldn’t forget me, that their daily lives wouldn’t go on as usual without me.
“You need to stop saying that.”
“It is not true and you know it.”
He was making an effort to keep his voice down. I, on the other hand, already knew that everyone was staring at me, the grotesque stick-figure girl, so I didn’t care who heard.
“We love you. We are only doing this because we love you.” Dad’s eyes flooded with emotion. “Do you remember what the admissions person said on the phone? Even she said that your weight is at a critical place. Abby, don’t you see? You have to eat!”
“I’m fine,” I said and turned from his tears. It was a pointless argument, but desperation was closing in around me, pressing on my chest with each second we drew closer to our Arizona destination. “I’m fine but you don’t think so because I’m making waves in your perfect, Christian family. I’ve become the problem child and you have to get rid of me. Daddy, don’t you love me anymore?”
Just a short note to those of you who are following my story (soon to be book, I hope) here on Predatory Lies. The book has not gone through substantial editing yet and there may still be some typos or small corrections to be made in the chapters I am copying here. Please forgive them and feel free to point them out!