Facing the toilet bowl, eyes squeezed shut, my fingers trace the wall to the toilet paper and tear off a thin, white square. The flimsy material sticks as I brush it over wet lips and chin. Can’t get the thicker rolls, plush ply is two dollars more and (as I’ve recently learned) a tighter budget is another symptom of a growing fetus. I pluck the pasted pieces off my face, flick them in the toilet. It’s the second time I’ve thrown up today. It’s not morning sickness. Rick would fall apart if he knew. I flush, pull myself to the sink, and try to avoid the poster on our bathroom wall: a woman with a fountain of springy curls framing round cheekbones. Ebony eyes radiate with an inner light, hands pressed against an enormous belly. The word gorgeous is taped beside it, letters cut from red construction paper like a child’s second-grade school project.
It’s stupid but sweet.
These posters are everywhere – pregnant women besieging our house, plastered with words like beautiful, natural, lovely, powerful, amazing…
Since I first held that pee stick with the positive sign, Rick has worked tirelessly to build my self-esteem. As if words and posters might change brain chemistry, force a self-image to reset. If only it were that simple. If only there were a pill for every ailment; like the formulaic equations in my head that provide the same solution every time. I face the mirror and the reflection curls its lips, wants to hurl again. There’s no inner light in those eyes. No gorgeous, just hooded eyelids that deepen to unfamiliar darkness. No beautiful radiance, just red, blotchy skin. No sexy, just enlarged breasts which sag, despite the supportive bra. I slap my right cheek. My face – flushed from vomiting and hormones – flashes a white hand mark that reddens to scarlet. Ugly. Disgusting. You make me sick. Mom’s voice, the raw undercurrent of my everyday existence, audible as the day she first spat those words. I was four.
And eighteen years later, I’d been fine on my own, had everything under control, a high honors student on a fast track to pharmacy school; my bingeing and purging episodes perfectly strategized.
And then, Rick.
Cute, insistent, blundering, adorable Rick.
He’d asked me five times to move in with him and I used every excuse as quickly as a box of condoms before I acquiesced. And once I was officially living in his secluded country home, a cold realization sloshed over me: how could I keep to my schedule?
“Bella…what are you…” He’d stood there, in the frame of the bathroom door, gaping, like someone shocked-still from images of war. Too late to hide the bottle of ipecac. I could see it in the sunken blue of his unblinking eyes, that bitter mix of who are you and how had I not known. He hadn’t known because I was an expert in secrecy, but he’d taken it as a personal insult.
“Promise me you’ll stop. This has to stop.”
And I promised, never again, cross my heart… like it was that easy. Instead, I upped my game, holding a strict schedule of fastidious intervals. But last year, after too much champagne on New Years’ Eve, I confessed – drunken idiocy. I’m still pissed at myself.
Now, one year of mandatory therapy later, I am cured. Was. Was cured. Only fairy tales have happily-ever-after endings. I can mix and create thousands of prescriptions that alleviate symptoms for hundreds of thousands of people, and not a single formula can solve my “problem.”