“When did you notice that your illness was taking over your life?” Dr. Anderson asked from across his desk.
Like many other times before, Declan looked beyond the window. The mountainous Arizonan horizon carried his thoughts away to a place beyond this room, back to West Texas where he felt his heart belonged.
“It wasn’t really an exact moment,” he finally answered, “It was a series of events. At first, I dismissed the entire situation as just being part of my training, but then it became a crutch of sorts. As if I used it as a coping mechanism… Now, it’s evident that beyond it being a coping mechanism, I used it to gain control of what the situations I had lost grip of.”
Dr. Anderson leaned back in his chair and smirked.
“I’m wrong, aren’t I?” Declan inquired, furrowing his brow.
“Not at all, in fact, you’re completely right,” He leaned forward, “Addiction, or in your case, disorders are far more insidious than most people give them credit for. I’m glad you’re beginning to understand the severity of your case. You’ve come a rather long way since the first time you walked into my office.”
Declan smiled to himself, and returned his gaze to the mountains. Texas had become more of a distant memory than a common fixture in his thoughts as of late.
“Half turn.” Coach Johnson ordered with military-like infliction. They were in the midst of a work out designed to help them build the upper body control gymnastics required, and to help them ingrain what reaching full vertical felt like.
They turned their bodies in unison. Once he completed the half turn, Declan struggled to stay still; he put too much weight on his left arm and fell over, crashing into Skylar and Trace.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Decs.” Coach buried his face deep into his palm.
Skylar surveyed Declan’s face. He looked pasty, sick even. His rib cage was visible through his unitard, his collarbone and hipbones protruded.
He had developed suspicions that Declan had been going to unhealthy extremes to lose even more weight, but had avoided even bringing up the topic in conversation, lest he overstep his boundaries.
Declan shook his head and mouthed an apology to Skylar and Trace. He took a moment to collect himself, and returned to handstand. He was lightheaded, but he knew that was no excuse.
“Full turn.” Coach demanded.
This time, Declan took his time to complete the revolution. His subconscious urged him to quit, to sit out, but his will prevented him from it. He was going to finish this practice, and he was going to do so strongly.
“Open….” Coach instructed during their floor drills.
Declan’s body twisted with incredible might, but landed awkwardly, unable to complete rotation and slammed into the spring floor. Coach Johnson shook his head, angrily grimacing.
“I keep telling you, you’ll have that, once you lose more weight. Go ahead and get some water.” Coach Johnson pat him on the back as he walked off.
Skylar looked toward Declan, as the teen walked towards the water cooler. He couldn’t get over how emaciated he looked; the bags under his eyes were more noticeable than ever, his clavicle protruded, he could see his cheek bones, but he continued to go about his training.
For the remainder of the practice, Declan continued to miss skills. He was no stranger to off days, but this was unlike anything else he’d ever experienced; even the simplest of skills evaded him.
“Declan, come to my office.” He instructed, as the rest were delegated to their rotations.
“What’s up, Coach?” Declan inquired, as he stepped through the doors of his office.
“What the hell is wrong with you today?” Coach Johnson rose his voice.
Declan clenched his jaw; if only he knew the impact he’d had on him. If he hated anyone, it was Coach Johnson. The ridiculous amount of pressure he’d put on him had made him grow disillusioned just like all those years ago. However, gymnastics was his life, and he’d rather suffer through his emotional abuse than give up on his dream.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “Just having an off day.”
“Yeah, well, turn it into an ‘on’ day,” He nodded, “How’s the Shewfelt coming along? You need to lose a bit more weight, but you’re almost there, looks like. You should be able to compete it soon… Yes?”
To Coach it might’ve seemed like a compliment, but it only reopened old wounds upon Declan’s soul. If he only knew the extremes to which he had resorted to in order to shed even more weight. How little he ate, how much he binged and purged… The damage he did to his body when he did. He decided to disengage.
“Thanks,” he forced a flat smile and nodded, “The two and a half is… Coming. I’ve started landing it onto a mat in the foam pit.”
“How long until you can land it on soft surface?”
“I don’t know, you’d know better than me.” He shrugged again.
Coach Johnson violently threw the contents of his desk onto the floor. His brow furrowed. Something was different; Declan surveyed his face, it was dull, gaunt. Much like his own. He too had lost a considerable amount of weight post breakdown. Part of him hoped it was because he was punishing himself for what he’d done to him, the latter hoped he wasn’t still drinking himself into oblivion.
“Don’t. Give. Me. Your, insolent, fucking attitude, Declan.” He glared at the teenager.
“Coach, calm down,” He stammered, “I just figured you’d…”
“You figured? You FIGURED?!” He was yelling at him now, “HOW THE FUCK DO YOU FIGURE? ARE YOU NOT OLD ENOUGH TO DO THINGS FOR YOURSELF? HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING FROM WHAT I’VE TAUGHT YOU? NO BACK BONE. NO INITIATIVE. WHAT? DO YOU EXPECT ME TO HOLD YOUR FUCKING HAND, WHILE YOU’RE IN THE AIR?!”
He was spitting in Declan’s face, at this point. Declan could tell that he had, in fact, been drinking. Further survey of his face revealed his teeth to look unhealthy, as if they were decaying.
Declan stood there, taking in every single word like blows to his face. His body trembled in fear, he could bring himself to even open his eyes.
“I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. I PAID FOR YOUR GAS. I TRAINED YOU. I SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS JUST TO GET YOUR FAT ASS IN SHAPE, AND YOU COME IN TELLING ME YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’RE READY TO COMPETE A SKILL?”
Declan couldn’t handle it any longer; he felt the familiar prickling on his crown. However, it didn’t stop there. His face flushed, his stomach dropped miles past his feet, his sight began to blur.
“What happened?” His eyes wide as saucers.
“You passed out.” Coach helped him sit up.
As he looked around the office, he saw the rest of the guys staring back down at him.
“It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that.” Coach apologized. He couldn’t really tell, but Declan could’ve sworn his eyes were watering.
He shrugged it off and got up from the floor, “Well, we better get back to training.”
“You can’t train like this,” Skylar blurted.
“I can,” Declan furrowed his brow, “I’m fine. It’s not a big deal.” He pierced into Skylar’s eyes with ardent reassurance.
Skylar gritted his teeth, there wasn’t any stopping him. Declan walked past him and straight to the chalk bucket. He knew deep within him that he should stop him, but he knew Declan’s mulishness would win out.
“Declan, I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” He placed his hand on his shoulder.
“I’m not going to hurt myself,” Declan turned to look at him, “If anyone is going to get hurt it’s you, if you don’t get off my fucking back. Got it?”
He was taken aback; Declan had never spoken or acted this way towards him. This wasn’t the same morbidly obese boy who’d come in here full of vigor and willingness to learn. Before him stood a closed individual; jaded, affected… Skylar could see that the bulimia was beginning to consume Declan.
“Why were you such a dick to him? And why did you keep giving Gable money?” Karen asked as they walked through the halls of the clinic towards Declan’s physical therapy session.
She looked at him and shook her head, “I mean, when I was really sick, I pushed everyone away too, but… Skylar didn’t deserve that, so… Why?”
“Honestly,” he looked towards her, “I can’t begin to tell you why, but it hurt me the instant I realized I had snapped at him. But, I knew I couldn’t just apologize. I was so far gone and so lost within my own neurosis that it didn’t really matter to me. Looking back, I should’ve confided in him. As for the latter… I have no idea.”
“So, in a way,” she savored her thought, “It was a cry for help?”
“Definitely,” Declan nodded, “In some morbid way.”
They walked in silence through the optimistic beams of light radiating through the windows. Both of them knew the detrimental downsides an eating disorder can cause, both knew exactly what it felt like to close yourself off from the outside world, and both knew very well what it was like to want to be alone with your neurosis. It was an incredibly insidious mentality, but one that only someone as far gone as they’d been could understand.
“Hey,” the message read. Gable didn’t bother to respond to it. He was growing weary with this relationship. It was an abyss he’d willingly succumbed to. So desperately he wish he’d never taken an interest in Declan.
He rose from his bed and walked towards the window. The West Texas night sky twinkled with tenacious splendor upon his face; a stark contrast from the desolation radiating from within him. He was deeply conflicted, but subconsciously he knew the truth. He loved Declan.
His frustration continued to envelop him; he couldn’t control himself. Gable grabbed his letterman and walked out the backdoor. He walked down to the football field, hopped the fence and began to wander around.
He was lost in his thoughts; consumed by his own quandary. He knew that if he broke things off with Declan, he’d break his own heart. If he continued to acquiesce this torrid affair, he’d end up breaking Declan’s; it was inevitable. No one would come out of this triumphant.
He emitted a painful yell, and fell to his knees. He was fucked. Again, he rose and sulked over to a nearby tree. Without remorse, he ripped a branch from it and began to beat the branch into the dirt. He’d lost it. This was the only way he could externalize his personal rage without hurting someone, or so he thought.
“I’m not a fucking faggot.” Gable’s subconscious bellowed.
Tears surged from his ducts. He couldn’t stand to be himself anymore. He wanted to end this internal turmoil, but other than suicide, he had no idea what he could possibly do to quell these emotions. His fists assaulted the football field.
“FUCK.” He finally uttered, as tears poured down his visage and onto his bloodied fist and the ground below.
That night, as he cursed Gable’s name into the four winds, the stars gazed down upon him mockingly. There was nothing he could do to get himself out of this situation. This time, he couldn’t just buy him something and expect him to forgive him. This time, Gable wasn’t answering.
Gable had grown weary of having to deal with people talking about him behind their backs, but Declan gone against his wishes. He had become a man obsessed. Everything else in his life had begun to deteriorate. Maybe, if he tried harder to be there for Gable, things would get better, or so he thought.
The star spangled West Texan sky cast a horrible juxtaposition overhead. His gaze traveled across it, searching for an answer to a question he’d never even asked.
So many times Gable had told him that he needed space and time, but Declan had failed to adhere to those rules, because he felt as though Gable owed him something. What, exactly? He didn’t know.
As he began to come to the cruel realization of how unaware he’d been of his actions, the sky overhead continued to flicker, indifferent to his existence.
The old van he was in rocked backed and forth as he slammed his fists into the steering wheel after resending the text. He rest his forehead on it, before exiting the vehicle. His sorrow dragged him down onto the dirt ground with brute force.
The thing was that Declan should’ve wanted more out of Gable. Gable shouldn’t have been so selfish, but had he not, where would Declan be? Had he not been put through the highs and lows all Declan would’ve remained was a morbidly obese sheltered teenager without a story or struggle to tell. He wouldn’t have pushed himself athletically to make him proud. He would’ve been left with nothing but the shear thought of ‘what if?’, or so he had convinced himself.