Keri looked like a bleary water color painting through my tears. Long blond hair, hung like a pale sheet to her shoulders.
I never noticed how plump her cheeks are, I mused. I don’t want to look like that! How on earth am I supposed to trust a fat therapist?
I wedged my hands between my bony buns and the seat cushion. The woven material left checkered marks on my palms. My fingers felt wooden, like fine branches on a winter tree, brittle and dead. Keri’s office was always 71 degrees, but I was so cold. My dietician, Cheryl, said that I was because I had no fat for insulation, I just needed to fill out a little.
Despite the chill, my belly burned with anxiety. Heat crept up my throat and dried my tongue. I dreaded these conference calls with my parents. It was terrible trying to decipher the inflection in their voices. Dad always sounded put-out or resigned. Was Mom on the edge of tears? Perhaps they’d rather be doing anything else. I was such an imposition.
Jenny and my folks left three weeks earlier at the conclusion of our Truth in Love week. Nothing had changed. Within hours of their departure, I believed again that they didn’t want or need me.
Safely out my sight, buckled into stiff airplane seats, surely they had commiserated. “Well, I’m glad that’s over,” I had imagined my dad saying.
“She still looks too thin. I don’t know if she’ll be ready to come home in a few more weeks,” Mom replied.
I never thought this day would come; slightly more than a week away from my original discharge date. But what if I couldn’t go home?
Keri and I stared at each other across her desk. She had that aggravating, steady, therapist-gaze of a person fully zipped up internally, leaking no emotion, giving away no sentiments. Keri had the perfect poker face. I knew she cared about me, she had said so. But I was just one of her five patients, part of her job.
“Barry and Janis, are you there?” Keri spoke into the speakerphone on her desk.
My parents’ voices crackled across the miles from Oklahoma to Arizona. “We’re here,
Keri.” Dad was always brief and to-the-point during conference calls.
I took a deep breath to quell my earlier sobs and suck back my tears. The taste of an abominable lunch, chicken nuggets, canned peaches and celery, clung to my taste buds. Lard seemed to be oozing through my pores; I watched my thighs flatten wide and fat against the seat.
“One less-healthy meal every now and then won’t hurt you.” Shani had tried to assure the eight girls at her table. “I promise.” Then dug into her lunch with pleasure. Like tortured prisoners, we followed suit.
“Abby, are you there?” Mom’s voice was slightly warmer than Dad’s.
Oh how I wished she would come rescue me. I wanted to bury my chin in her shoulder and inhale her mom-scent, a mixture of Amber Romance from Victoria’s Secret and the fading fragrance of Scruples’ coconut conditioner.
Keri’s office smelled antiseptic, belying the homey decor. I grabbed her neon pink Kush ball and twisted my fingers through the sticky, slimy tentacles. Adult voices echoed in an alien language around me. Insurance, doctors’ notes, insignificant issues to my teenage mind. I picked the legs off of the Kush ball and wound them around my fingers watching my fingertips turn blue.
“Abby was unable to gain the suggested three pounds since our conversation just over a week ago.” Keri’s announcement of my failure brought me back to reality. “Because of her slow weight gain, her treatment team is suggesting an extension of her stay here at Remuda Ranch.”
In my mind, Mom stepped out of the bedroom with the cordless phone so that she could see my dad tethered to the landline in the kitchen. He rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, palms up in resignation. Mom blinked on a tear, tilting her chin up to keep the waterworks dammed behind her eyelids.
Bile surged in my throat. As much as I wouldn’t have minded being rid of lunch, I couldn’t throw up. Then, they would accuse me of being bulimic and I’d never leave The Ranch.
“Whatever,” I managed. “It doesn’t matter what I want. You guys are calling all the shots anyway and what I think doesn’t really matter.”
The tension of suppressed sobs pushed tiny hiccups through my lips. I couldn’t hold it back much longer.