(trigger warning: eating disorder)
We wait for our orders. Dark grey sweats folded over a black leotard, pink tights inside out so the back-seam shows from upstage. We are starving: a thirty-minute break from the day’s long rehearsal. We should swallow smoothies, something green, but we’re kids, one of us sixteen with a license and her mother’s baby blue Astrovan. The Taco Bell is in the same shopping center as our dance studio, Edward’s Cinema, Red Lobster, and Roadhouse Grill. Between classes, we break Pop Tarts and a roll of BreathSavers from the vending machine outside the studio to fool our hunger. Some of us drink cans of SlimFast. We are teenagers. We’re thinner now than we’ll ever be, but we remember ourselves fat: costume seams letting loose, ordering one size up from Discount Dance Supply, skipping lunch. One of us before the callboard with a finger over the Nutcracker roles and names, her eighteen-year-old body wrapped in gauze after a round of liposuction. We eat Chalupas with the tops of our tutus folded down, sitting in stretching circles with the soles of our feet touching, company sweatshirts embroidered with our names to cover the way the sauce drip drips when we eat. In the dressing room, we quick-change, bodies beside bodies. In the lightbulb-lined mirror, our bodies are changing, but we only study the part of our leotard that bubbles and folds when it should be taut. I only eat Double Decker Tacos and fit into the same white tutu the anorexic girl wore when she was Snow Queen. Some of us in public restrooms before the show, the double flush. Some of us rehearsing the same sequence again, a Walkman in our hands, 5 6 7 8, our feet bloody inside the box. Before opening night, one of us always cries, disposable camera photos of her face before a Vidal Sassoon on low and cool, so her makeup isn’t ruined. We dance seven days a week. We rehearse seven days a week. We carpool to high school, and sometimes we skip fourth period, fifth period, sixth. I order nothing but Double Decker Tacos, I lie and round up on my driver’s license: 102. I am too small to shop at 5, 7, 9 in the mall. We do crunches during warm-up, the baggiest clothes we can find, those garbage bag shorts from Discount Dance Supply the professionals train in that fill with sweat and shrink inches on our thighs. Some of us smoke weed in the auditorium’s public restrooms before the run-through. Some of us empty ourselves in the stall. Some of us are coming down still: acid, our parents’ divorce, a depression settling. We have a thirty-minute break: pink and teal tiles, radio pop music loud, always a cashier asking if we want sauce. Our choreographer asking if we ate Thanksgiving pie, if we got to the Christmas cookies early this year. Some of us have granola bars with our tiaras in our dance bags, some of our mothers packed a lunch, some of us too nervous to eat. I chew on two Double Decker Tacos, mouth-closed, I swallow, and inside my stomach the food twirls and digests. The blisters drain on my feet, and I wrap both my big and small toes with band-aids, I use lamb’s wool, my shoes are Bloch. My boobs grew when I quit, and I could no longer wear a leotard without the embarrassment of a bra. When I quit, I went to the Homecoming Game on a Friday night, wore jeans, ate a hot dog. When I quit, the DMV asked, Do you want to adjust your weight? When I quit, I found a boyfriend, lost my virginity, cried in a tub. When I quit, my parents made me get a job: the Miller’s Outpost in the mall because I wasn’t skinny or cool enough for the Wet Seal. When we see each other now, at a wedding, when there’s a baby, during holidays, reunions, we are all big, and it doesn’t take long before one of us cries. I don’t dance anymore, and the woman in the drive-thru speaker won’t wrap my crunchy shell taco in a soft-shell taco. Once an ex-boyfriend disappeared for weeks, and when he returned, he asked why I didn’t look for him or show up at his house with a Seven Layer Burrito. I never needed any sauce.
Katrina Prow (she/her) lives and writes in Santa Maria, CA. Her writing has recently appeared in Sledgehammer Lit, decomP, Redivider, The Journal, Pithead Chapel, Passages North, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction from Texas Tech University, and she currently teaches Creative Writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. You can find her discussing pop culture (frequently) and literature (sometimes) on Twitter @katprow.