There is a three-second pause between the moment my mother knocks on my bedroom door and when she comes barreling into it, a whirlwind of quick words and vanilla scented perfume.
I scrunch my face up and try to ignore her scent as it begins to take over the small space.
She positions herself in front of the full-length mirror attached to my closet door, angling herself so that she can observe her appearance carefully. As always, she is the perfect combination of professionalism and knock ’em dead gorgeous. Her maroon pantsuit is ironed with precision, a crisp line running down the center of the slacks, and her black flats match the shirt worn under the jacket to a T. Her platinum hair has been rolled tightly into a bun, a thin layer of makeup brushed across her flawless complexion. Hell, she’s even managed to add a sharp wing to her eyeliner without downplaying the ‘take charge’ look she is obviously going for today.
My mother looks like a cutthroat lawyer, not a reporter, but I guess she is trying to come off as serious as possible.
Her lips tighten into a thin scowl as she turns towards me, taking in the destroyed black jeans and oversized gray sweater I have thrown on. She makes a disapproving sound as she undoes the sloppy ponytail that my hair was pulled into.
“I spent eighty dollars at the salon last weekend for that cut and blowout that you got and this, this is how you chose to style your hair?” Her fingers fuss through my thick locks, untangling the knots that always seem to form from thin air. “You should wear it down more often, it frames your face perfectly now. What is with this shirt? Ugh, it’s a mess. Here, give it to me and I will iron it. No, there is no time for that, just wear something else.”
I let out an annoyed groan and swat at her hands, but I don’t move quick enough. She tugs at the bottom of the frayed sweater and I watch her eyes go wide with suspicion and concern.
She clutches at fabric, lifting it up to expose my ever-shrinking waist and the ribs that have begun to press against the tight skin. “Eveline! Please tell me that you haven’t resorted to starving yourself! Just look at you!”
“Seriously?” I twist away from her, pulling down the thick sweater before storming out of my room and into the kitchen. I locate the muddy boots I left by the backdoor when I arrived home yesterday, relieved to find their insides dry as I slide my feet into them. “I am not starving myself, that so-called ‘fast metabolism’ you have been telling me about for years has finally decided to do its job. It’s a learning process for me and I think I just need to increase my food intake to keep up with it.”
My mother, who has spent years informing me of the long term benefits of taking up a healthier lifestyle, was over the moon to see the amount of weight I had managed to lose during my trip to California this summer but, after only two short weeks of being home, she has begun to grow suspicious of the small appetite that has returned with me.
She flattens her palms against the counter by the sink, letting out a heavy sigh. Her face shifts from suspicious to the look she reserves only for when she is about to deliver one hell of a guilt trip to me, the one where her eyes go sad and she damn near pouts. “Is there something you didn’t tell me? You’ve been a different person since you came back from spending time with your father, distant. Not only that, but you came back looking like an entirely different person and I feel like I am missing something. I have read things you know, in magazines, about the kinds of things that can happen to a kid who has spent most of their life overweight. It starts off harmless, they lose a few pounds here or there by cutting some of the junk out of their diet, but then the whole thing spirals out of control and, before they know it, they are living off celery, water, and caffeine pills. It ruins their lives and they end up hooked up to feeding tubes. And the parents? The parents of these kids are always this divorced couple that barely pays any attention to their child and work so much that they miss some very clear signs. The parents are always so self-involved in their own lives that they never see it coming until it’s too late.”
I am glad she has her back to me because, try as I might, I fail not to roll my eyes.
She has been doing this frequently since I returned home, going into guilt mode at the smallest thing and then blaming herself for something that never was a problem to begin with. It is as if, the older that I get, the more fragile she believes I will become.
“Mom.” I sigh, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder so that I can turn her to face me. “I am not starving myself, you don’t neglect me in any way, and you are far from self-absorbed. I do not have any form of any kind of secret eating disorder, okay? I have just been watching what I eat and it is starting to show. This is what you have been wanting, right? You have spent years asking me to get healthy and now I am, that is all. Everything is fine and, if it wasn’t, you are the first person who would know.”
It is only when we are close, which is a rarity these days, so I realize have much more I favor my father than her.
My mother, who even dressed in what she would consider ‘manly’ attire, manages to come off as feminine and curvy, something I could never do. She is tall, but something about the way she has learned to stand keeps her from coming off as too intimidating, but I have been known to scare a person or two simply by standing near them.
In fact, aside from the fact that we both stand five foot nine, we have zero things in common in the looks department. I possess none of the curves that she does because, as it turns out, all of my curves went away when I stopped eating donuts at every meal. Instead of inheriting her alluring green eyes and goddess-like hair, I have been ‘blessed’ with my fathers frizzy as hell midnight hair and eyes that can only be described as ‘dirt water brown’.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I am unattractive because I know for a fact that I can turn a head when needed, it is just that I know that I pale in comparison when standing next to my mother.
The timer on the coffee maker goes off, cutting our bonding moment short. I rush to pour some of the caffeinated goodness into my travel mug before she sees that as some sort of sign or finds something new to worry over.
Ever since she accepted the position as an investigative journalist for our local newspaper, she has been not so subtly beating herself up for the decrease in hours she spends at home or with me. This has led to an increase of Amazon orders, almost all of which contain parenting books for the ‘modern mother’.
Her lack of parental supervision, however, currently sits at the very bottom of my list of complaints when it comes to her. There might have been a time in the past when her not being around would have irked me but, after spending large quantities of time by myself this summer, I have grown fond of the silence that comes with an empty house.
“Here.” She shoves a large blueberry muffin in my face and the thick smell of cinnamon causes my stomach to churn. “You’ve been looking a bit washed out lately, maybe it’s low blood sugar or something. Did you spend any time outdoors while visiting your father? Most kids your age would have died to be that close to the beach but you look like you spent the whole time holed up in your room. Did something happen while you were there that you haven’t told me about? Was it something he did or something he said to you? You know he isn’t himself these days, so you can’t dwell too much on anything he might have said. I don’t know what it is, but something seems off about you. You never mentioned making any friends. Did you make the wrong kinds of friends out there? You know that you could tell me if you experimented with drugs or are thinkings about experimenting with drugs, right?”
“Good lord, I am not on drugs! Though, if you keep harassing me over every single thing I do, I might actually consider taking up a drug habit just to dull the pain.” I take a large bite out of the unappetizing pastry and try not to cringe as the dry crumbs make their way down my throat, forcing the fakest of smiles onto my face. “Yum, delicious. See, I still enjoy food just as much as I always have, only now I enjoy them less often. Happy?”
She nods, smiling a bit, but I still notice the flicker of distrust in her eyes. I might have veered her off the path for now but I know she is not convinced that everything with me is as normal as she would prefer it be, she just hasn’t figured out how to put it into words yet.
Her shoulders go slack, a sure sign that I have temporarily won, and she leans in to plant a quick kiss on my cheek. “I have to head out or else I am going to be late, but this conversation isn’t finished. I am working on something kind of big right now so, if I am not home when school lets out, don’t be alarmed. Have a great first day! Oh, and Eveline, do change out of that outfit before you leave the house, you look like a homeless person.
There it is, her well-intentioned but poorly worded comment of the day. If she went a day without dropping one of those suckers on me, I might worry she is suffering from brain damage. Well, either that or her head would explode.
I thought that giving her some time to herself this summer might help break that nasty habit of hers, but when I returned home she made it a point to comment on how I had let that horrifying perm she forced me into go to waste. A few days later it was about how I was sleeping too much and might be suffering from depression. Yesterday it was how I hadn’t laid one finger on any of the makeup palettes she purchased as a ‘Welcome Home’ gift and how my being smart wasn’t going to ‘catch the attention of the boys’.
I seriously don’t think she can help herself at this point and, some days, I think she believes she is actually being helpful. From what I have been told, her upbringing wasn’t exactly hugs and kisses and I think this is the only form of parenting she knows.
However, and I hate to be the one to break it to her, but should I ever develop one of the many issues she thinks I am hiding from her it will most likely be because of her harsher than normal parenting techniques.
As soon as her silver Beamer pulls out of the driveway I toss the muffin into the trash can, washing down the crumbs that have wedged themselves in my throat with the largest glass of water I can make. Thanks to her hovering and abnormal concerns, I now have to choose between changing my outfit and arriving late on my first day.
Timeliness wins, as always.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection if the decorative mirror by the door, taking note of the paleness my mother had mentioned. Maybe she is right, maybe I should have spent more time at the beach and less time worrying over my father. Luckily, unlike I was lead to believe from the comments about my resemblance to a skeleton, the weight loss has not wreaked havoc on my face. My face has still retained some of its roundness but now, instead of looking like a squirrel preparing for winter, high cheekbones stare back at me.
Being overweight was something that never really bothered me, and then I hit high school and all of that changed. Up until then, I had taken great pride in sharing some of the same curves that my mother had but, once the taunting began, I realized I was less curve and more circular.
I noticed the change in eating habits while at my father’s but, once I returned to Idaho, it practically vanished. At first, I thought it might have been a side effect from all the stress I had dealt with but nothing has changed in the last two weeks.
At this point, I have begun to set alarms on my phone to remind me to eat and, even when they alert me, I often find an excuse not to obey them.
A warm breeze dances across my skin as I step onto the porch, stray hairs flying in front of my face. I check the sky for clouds, pleased to see none of the darkness floating above that has been there since I returned.
Leaves skitter down the street, their autumn colors swirling together as they move. Living in McCall might have a plethora of downfalls but this time of year, when fall creeps to an end and winter peeks around the corner, is not one of them.