It was almost dark on a winter day. I sat crossed-legged on my bed in front of my laptop which displayed a website forum. The headline read “You’re not the only one. Group help online.” I fiddled with the piece of paper in my fingers, and hesitation bit at my lip as the mouse lingered over the join button. I ran my fingers through my hair and exhaled.
The blinds were shut, but slivers of light peeked through the vertical panels, leaving streaks of pale gold light on my walls. In the shadowed corner of my room was an unpacked box, the only one left for me to dissemble. I hated it. I strictly remember wishing it wasn’t there, hoping that maybe a move away could erase the memories attached to the items inside of that one beckoning package. I wished I hadn’t brought it with me. But, how could I ever part with it? It was the only thing left I had of my family, of my real parents. The teddy bear Dad gave me when I was three that was missing an eye, the blanket my grandmother had sewn me before I was born, and the cheap bracelet Mom had given me that had a “B” bead on it were all in that box. I couldn’t open it, but I couldn’t throw it away. I needed to do something, anything that meant I wouldn’t have to face -
It was Carolyn. My aunt. She stood in the doorway of my bedroom. Her red hair fell in curls just above her shoulders, and her eyes were filled, naturally, with slight concern. She eyed my stare and noticed the box, and I could tell she was wondering how I was coping with it all. I guess time never really changes anything.
I closed my laptop quickly and cleared my throat, “Dinner?”
She swallowed and smiled gracefully, “Yeah, I made some meatloaf if you want. It’s going to be ready in a minute. Help me set the table?”
"Sure, I’ll be right down.”
Carolyn sent me her warm mama-bear smile and left the room. I waited until I could hear her footsteps reach the bottom stair before rising from my seat. I set the laptop on my desk and plugged it in, placing the paper slip down beside it. Maybe I’d be braver after eating, I thought. What a sentence.
At the table, Carolyn, John - my uncle, Emberly - my twin sister, and I all sat down for dinner. Emberly had just gotten home from dance and she seemed eager to talk about it. I rolled my eyes, picking at the meatloaf with my fork.
“... and Ms. Gardner said to us that if they were as flexible as me they would win the festival! Can you believe that? I mean, I didn’t even think I was that good of a dancer.”
I humphed. Carolyn sent me a look that was very unforgiving.
"That’s great, Embe!” John said, “When’s your first festival?”
"She didn’t mention that yet, actually. I’m guessing sometime in February? I’m not sure. She said that I shouldn’t have any problem getting up to speed though! Even considering I joined halfway through their sector.”
Wow, what an accomplishment. I rolled my eyes.
Uncle John cleared his throat, setting his fork down on his plate. “That reminds me, um, I don't think I'm gonna be here for your festival, Embe.”
“You're leaving?” she asked, all excitement leaving her voice.
“Yeah, and it’s going to be a little longer this time. But that's okay, because when I come home, we can plant flowers and start gardening again.” He tried his best to smile, but I had a strong feeling it wasn't as genuine as he wanted it to be.
“How long?” Emberly asked. Carolyn clutched her arm with one hand, a way to show her motherly support. We all knew Embe connected most with John out of all of us. She was always heartbroken when he had to leave for work.
John, with a look of defeat, muttered, “Three weeks.”
She didn't say anything. Carolyn whispered consoling words in her ear. I looked plainly at John.
He often left for work for long periods of time. It was usually only for a week, or rarely a week and a half. I didn't know what to say. John and I never had a great connection, definitely not like his and Emberly's.
“I'm leaving in a few days.” John finished speaking. He was very quiet, and when Emberly got up to leave, he opened his mouth as if to speak but didn't rise from his chair. He looked like a newborn pup who had just been put on time out for ripping up a pillow.
It was clear that she was John's favourite. Honestly, it made sense. She didn't have as many issues as me. Which was stupid. We both went through the same damn thing, why would I be worse off than her?
“Embe!” Carolyn yelled after her as Emberly stomped down the stairs. She sighed, and clasped a hand on my shoulder. She noticed my plate, which even though didn't have much food on it in the first place, I had barely touched it.
“Maybe you could try that group therapy site, tonight?”
She was always so concerned about me, which was fine, but it could get annoying after a while. She was just trying to be kind. She was a loving person, and she wanted confirmation that I was okay. She couldn't straight out ask me if I was okay. Today wasn't about me. It was about Emberly. It was always about Emberly. But she wanted it to be about me, just a little.
So to console her worryful eyes, I said: “Yeah, I will.”
She gave me a motherly smile before walking away to see if Emberly was okay. I looked to John, who was picking at his food with his fork. I decided now would be a good time to leave, to avoid awkward small talk with John. I scraped off my plate into the garbage, and scurried back upstairs.
I sat down at my desk and opened the laptop, which still displayed the therapy website. I thought about what Carolyn had said. I knew that I had to use the site eventually. She wouldn't be at ease until I did. So, might as well just rip off the bandaid.
I clicked the join button, and carefully typed in the code on the slip of paper. One final click and I'd be in. I'd be entered into a chat that was already formed, with other people just like me, all ages. I’d never known another person like me, y'know. I thought if one day I did, he'd be a good friend of mine, and that we'd be able to help each other or something. But that was all just a fantasy. I knew that once I clicked enter.
Four faces popped up onto the screen. One was older, one about the same age as me, another had a face that looked sunken, and the last had a voice like she'd smoked 10 packs a day for the last 20 years. But that's what they were, they were all women. They all immediately stopped talking and looked shocked the moment I entered the chat, and I knew they could see my face. They all had wide eyes and gaping mouths, they knew it was weird. They'd probably never even met an anorexic boy in their life.
I shut the laptop screen and put my knees up to my chest. I was breathing heavily, unevenly, and I just stared at the closed computer. A feeling washed over me, a sense of hopelessness I had become so familiar with, it just felt like a warm blanket sheltering me from the outside world. I wanted to throw the computer at the wall. Flames of rage crackled inside my bones and I wanted to know why. Why was it that I was different, and even when I was entering a place full of people like me, I was still different?
I just sat there, hugging my knees, allowing the blanket of desperation and defeat to swallow me whole, until I had enough courage to beat it away again.