There’s a painting on the opposite wall. It’s an oil painting of red apples hanging from a tree. An apple equaled an hour-long run. I don’t think my therapist would like my line of thinking. She would say something about being kind of yourself. She always had something cleaver to say in her calm voice. She also really likes metaphors.
“Imagine yourself standing on the tip of the tree branch. It’s wobbly. You have to scurry back to the trunk of the tree and hold on,” she told me once. “The tree trunk is your safe place. That is where you feel safe and it’s okay to go there and hang on.”
Another gem was, “You can’t change who you are. You can dial it down. You can dial it up. But you can’t change who you are.”
I thought she was nuts, with her seventies haircut, her loose-hanging clothing, and her metaphors. Despite all that, I had three appointments per week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Therapy was all my mom’s doing. It was her belief that I needed professional help after I had collapsed in class due to the fact that I hadn't eaten anything for five days. I had blamed the university for not installing AC in their older classrooms. It was really all their fault that they had called my mom and she forced me to drop out of college, to move back home, and to attend therapy.
“How are you feeling? What are your thoughts?” It was what Dr. Birk asked me every session.
Therapy was pointless.
A month into my recovery plan, my mom wanted to speak with Dr. Birk alone. I could just imagine what they talked about. My mom drove me to therapy, since she didn’t trust me to go. She had basically lost all trust in me after she'd found out about my little habit of not eating.
“Hey,” said a voice.
I turned and saw a guy. He looked to be about my age, with brown hair and blue eyes. I’d seen him at the office before. He saw the other therapist in the practice.
“What are you in for?” asked the guy.
“Eating disorder,” I said. I took in his navy blue shirt, jeans, and Converse, and guessed. “Depression.”
“No,” said the boy, “Anxiety.”
“Oh,” I said.
The boy smiled and said, “I always liked the idea of having an eating disorder.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because people can see it,” he said, “People understand what they see. They know something is wrong with you if they can see it.”
The office door opened and my mom stepped out. Her eyes were red and she looked like she was about ten seconds away from crying.
I got up. Before exiting the office, I shot a glance at the boy. His head was bent and his eyes glued to his cell phone.
I saw him in the office every Monday. He saw Dr. Ashworth while I saw Dr. Birk. I watched him from across the small waiting room. He always checked his phone when he sat down. I learned later that it’s what people with anxiety do. They check their phones so people don’t talk to them.
Seeing him was the only good part about therapy, and Mondays were the best day. It took me nearly a month to talk to him again.
My mom worked as a non-profit lawyer and the grant year was coming to a close. There were forms to be filled out, people to bill, and phone calls to be made. Thus, no time for driving me back and forth from the shrink.
“I can cancel it,” said my mom.
“No, it’s important,” I said.
“Call me when you get there and when you are leaving,” said my mom.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
My mom handed me her car keys. “Don’t text and drive, and remember to watch the speed limit.”
My mom’s cell phone began to ring. She looked behind her, torn on whether to rush to it or continue to talk to me.
“Go,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
My first thought was to skip out on therapy. Just go to the mall or do something. But I thought about the boy. I wanted to see him again, even if it was for a moment.
I went to therapy. He wasn’t there when I arrived. A part of me wanted to walk out of there, but since I had come all this way, I might as well stay.
Dr. Birk was running late. I patted my phone against my thigh. I was bored. I debated whether or not I should leave. The office door opened and the boy walked in. My heart fluttered as he took the seat next to me.
“Did your mom ditch you?” he asked me.
“I came alone,” I said.
“You’re what? Two months into recovery?”
“Three,” I said.
“My mom didn’t let me go by myself for the first four months. She was scared that I would ditch.”
“My mom trusts me,” I said.
He snorted. “That’s stupid.”
“Yeah, it kind of is,” I said.
“Eating disorder,” he said. “Right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Anxiety.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Not enough meds.”
I laughed, not because it was funny, but because it felt like the truth. I said, “I wished there was something to turn everything off.”
“I don’t want that,” he said. “I just want to feel alive. Just live.”
“I want to stop feeling,” I admitted.
“Feelings are okay,” he said. “At least that’s what I learned from coming here.”
“I’m Lynn,” I said.
“Owen,” he said.
Owen. I had never realized it, but I liked that name. It suited him too. He just looked like an Owen.
A pattern formed after that day. I went to therapy by myself while my mom stayed home and worked. The time spent waiting for the perpetually-late Dr. Birk was consumed with conversation between Owen and me.
“What is your favorite part about having an eating disorder?” Owen asked.
“People can see it,” I said with a smile.
“What’s the worst?” asked Owen.
“People can see it,” I repeated.
“Double-edged sword,” said Owen.
“Yeah,” I said, “My hair falls out, too. I keep it short, but it’s thin and brittle. And my nails break all the time.”
“Oh,” said Owen, “I didn’t realize.”
“My body can go three days before I get hungry,” I said, “Did you know that? Three days, then the discomfort starts, but it’s like a good discomfort. It’s like the pain is eating away the fat.”
“You’re skinny,” Owen said.
“I don’t feel like it,” I said.
“I just thought you should know,” said Owen.
I blushed slightly and I was thankful that Dr. Birk called me into her office.
My mom started trusting me more. Over the next few weeks, she left me drive myself to therapy and anywhere else that I wanted to go. I didn’t really leave the house if it wasn’t to see Dr. Birk. Most of my friends were away at college, leading amazing lives, while I was stuck back home. It wasn’t all bad. There was Owen.
“I named her,” I told Owen.
It was a rainy day and humidity clung in the air, even inside with the AC on. The weather reminded me of pineapple. I hate pineapple and how it lingers in my mouth after eating it. There was no escaping the taste of pineapple, just like there was no escaping the humidity.
“Named who?” he asked.
“Her. My disorder. Her name is Ashley-Kate.”
“Ashley-Kate?” he repeated. He was confused. He didn’t see the connection. How could he? He wasn’t a teenage girl.
“It’s like Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen,” I said, “But both of them combined. The Olsen twins are like me, you know.”
“Yeah, they were on the news yesterday repeated later,” said Owen, “They’re getting better, you know.”
“I didn’t,” I said.
Dr. Birk opened her door and called me in. I got up slowly and walked back. My mind was stuck on the Olsen twins. I couldn’t stop thinking about them for the entire session as Dr. Birk talked about my feelings. They were in recovery, just like me. It’s nice to know that you aren’t alone.
I hadn’t talked to her in a while. She hadn’t whispered in my ear. Ashley-Kate must have gone on vacation. Maybe someplace where it was warm and where no food was around. She was probably happy. "An improvement," was what Dr. Birk called it last week when I told her.
“What are you doing Saturday?” asked Owen.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I want to know if you want to get dinner with me,” said Owen. “Or would dinner not be a good idea?”
“I have meals planned,” I said.
“Right,” muttered Owen.
“Movies?” I suggested.
“Movie theaters make me anxious,” said Owen, “It’s all dark and the big screen freaks me out. What about a hike?”
“Not a good idea,” I said, “I’ll just walk for hours and I’m only supposed to walk for one mile. How about the zoo?”
“Looking at animals in exhibits give me panic attacks,” said Owen, “I over-identify with animals stuck in enclosures.”
“What about bowling?” I asked.
“Isn’t that too much of a workout for you?” asked Owen.
“Yeah, it is,” I said, “What about a soccer game?”
“Yes,” said Owen. “Do you like sports?”
“No,” I said. “I kind of hate them.”
“Me, too,” said Owen.
“That’s something else we have in common,” I said loudly. Looking back, I was way too eager, but that was the thing about Owen. He made me feel comfortable in my skin. I didn’t have to fake it with him.
“Therapy and dislike of sports,” said Owen.
“Yeah,” I said. “We make a good pair… I mean, kind of…”
“Except for I’m so anxious that I can’t go to a movie theater or the zoo,” said Owen.
“And I can’t go to dinner or hikes,” I said.
“You’re not fat,” he said to me.
“You’re not crazy,” I told him. He smiled like it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said.
Kristina Fedeczko is a graduate from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. She is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Lesley University. Her work has appeared in Aji Magazine, Heart & Mind Zine, Pale Ghosts Magazine, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.