I saw an echo of a soul today. Sweet features shadowed by protruding facial bones, skeleton jutting forward as if in protection of skin. I’d rather think of her as an echo of a soul than a walking skeleton, but either way that’s what she was. She smiled and the skin creased and folded, nervously, as were her eyes. “Please pack them light,” I saw her mouth to the bagger, “I’m so sorry…” she smiled broadly and her skin curtsied into folds. She looked ten years younger a few months ago. I knew from five yards away why she needed the bags light; not so the handles wouldn’t break but so that they wouldn’t break her.
I knew she couldn’t see me but that I should mask my expression incase she somehow did. So I let the horror etch the inside of me instead of across my facial features. Tears threatened the thresholds of my eyes and I said no, no you can’t come out, not here. Not where she can see you. Not where you could cause her any more pain than she’s already in.
Her sweater hung loose on her frame, successfully masking the emaciation beneath it. But the frailty that was exposed gave her away, it screamed of sorrow and control and a deep, pitch black pit of hell that had shackled her to the bottom. I know this because it’s the very same pit of hell whose shackles I escaped years ago. Six years ago. Six years feel like sixty seconds when you see a face like hers. I never got that bad, I didn’t get even close to that bad and I’m so grateful for the human buoys that tugged with all their might to break me from the fetters that bound me.
My stare was guarded. I didn’t gawk, but I didn’t take my eyes from her either. I searched her for a clue, I wanted so badly to leave my register, leave my customer and their groceries because they were healthy and whole and they didn’t need me. I wanted so badly to close the distance of those five yards and take her feeble hands in mine and say, “Are you okay? You’re not okay. Come with me. I will help you. I love you. You’re not alone.”
I know one cannot say that to someone with this disease. I know one cannot tell an anorexic they’re not okay. She’s not told me she’s anorexic, in fact she’s never told me anything at all, I don’t believe she’s ever come through my line. But I know. It’s like a cutter seeing scars on a strangers wrist; they just know. One just knows. I just know.
I feel so sick not being able to help her. I feel so scared that she won’t wake up tomorrow. She is a walking structure of bones, the anatomy of her face literally visible from beneath her skin, her fingers crumpling beneath the weight of skin, legs like forearms in a denim veil.
What does she do with the food she buys? Is she shopping for others? I used to. Is she eating only some of it, in itsy bitsy portions each day, the same food day after day after day? I used to. Is she unaware how terrifyingly thin she looks? I was. Is she blinded to the fact that she’s fifteen pounds past the need for hospitalization?
I saw her fifteen pounds ago and felt overwhelmingly frightened for her. Today I went into a trance watching her. I heard nothing that was said to me and saw nothing that was in front of me, except that echo of a soul in line at register four. My spirit called out to her please look at me, please read my mind, please know that you can make it if you stop now. PLEASE.
I felt responsible. I don’t know why. I felt this way about another girl, but she’s clearly being treated. I see the torture on her face every time she comes into the store, which is rarely, now that she’s been made to put on weight. She wears sunglasses inside and avoids talking. Her mother comes in, pearls in her ears and bows in her hair, and buys the two crowns of broccoli, the one cucumber slice, the splash of vinegarette, the raw oat cake, and the one oyster mushroom that can’t go in the back with everything else or her “daughter won’t eat it.”
This lady is different. She’s older. Probably in her thirties, which scares me most. I feel fortunate to have been treated as a teenager, I’m blessed that I was still a minor at the worst stage of it. I didn’t have a choice but to stop or be hospitalized. So I chose the ensure. The ensure and the Costco muffins (to think of it still makes me shudder). The girl in the sunglasses is young enough to be swayed, too. I hope she will keep fighting. I hope the torment that I know thrashes on the other side of those black lenses will subside, in time. I hope she keeps the sun on her face.
And I hope for the woman in line at register four that she gets help. I hope she wakes up tomorrow. I hope the Universe sends her my thoughts in some kind of tangible vessel. I hope she realizes she’s worth more. I hope she looks in the mirror and finally sees what she’s become, what she’s losing, what’s beneath it all. I hope she comes through my line, and that I can communicate to her that she hasn’t any time to waste.
She hasn’t any time to waste.
None of us have any time to waste.
How do I help her? Please tell me. I need to help her. I need to help them all…all of the suffering souls who are starving their beautiful bodies into submission. Oh God how do we help them? How do we stop it? I see my face crumpling into tears in the mirror and I remember the folds of her face, the skin that once embraced the full cheeks of a girl now cowering beneath the heavy weight of a disease that is taking her down. She’s not winning. No one wins unless there’s an army.
I’m so Goddamn thankful for my army. Mom. Dad. Claudia. Dr. Hensley. You four saved me. You reached into that pit of black scalding hell and pulled me out, gingerly, careful to ease my fragile frame out from under the chains. You gave me the tools that kept me from falling back in again. How do I pass these tools on to a perfect stranger? Is it my place to cross that line? That line placed between human beings by society? I’d cross them in a heartbeat if I knew it could save her life. I would go out on a limb and assume. Perhaps it’s another disease, it obviously could be, but would that matter? Wouldn’t she be grateful for the extension of pure human love? Maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she’d be offended. Maybe I’d even get in trouble for offending a customer. I don’t care. I wish I’d followed her out today. I wish I’d told her that she doesn’t have to share with me, but that I lived a scary hell of my own and if there’s anything anything anything she could possibly need…I want to help. I am here. I know her, even though I don’t. I want her to know that I know her. I hurt for her. I cry for her, right now, in my home, hours after having seen her. I hear the haunting echo of her soul, and mine answers her cry.
We cannot fight one another’s battles, but we can do everything in our power to serve others; to let others know they are not alone; to reach out to those whose shoes in which we’ve stood. If that’s all we’re here for, it that’s our only purpose, to help the souls whose burdens we too have carried, then we are a beautiful gift to this world. We are a beautiful gift to one another.
Who can you help? I know my answer. I know what I will do. I know I must be fearless in doing so and I know I may never see the woman from register four ever again. I know I may never see the girl in the sunglasses ever again. But I know that I will always assume, with love and kindness, and I will always extend the fiercest love I can convey to a perfect stranger. Because we see the reflection of our own suffering in the soul of another. We can smell the thick stench of the hell in which we’ve been before. It’s our duty to help one another. Not everyone has an army to pull them out. Be their army. Be one another’s army.
I am only one person, but I put up one helluva fight. And I will fight for that echo of a soul everyday. I will fight for them all. Every single day that I’m breathing.