Marie felt a weariness settle in her bones that felt all too heavy; heaviness that felt wrong. She was supposed to be paper-airplane light. Bones made of nothing and skin made of even less. Less, less, less. That was her mantra. The soundtrack to her life. Less food on her plate, less fabric in her clothes, less numbers of the scale. She could do it. She knew she could. Just one less something, and she’d be free. Marie was sure, so sure that if she could just become small enough, hollow enough, she’d finally know what it felt like to fly. And it would feel so very good after spending wasting away in the deep, dark hole she had been buried in for years.
But the strange thing was, the lighter Marie became, the deeper and darker the hole seemed.
Her father worried, her mother cried, her sister pleaded with her to eat just one more bite, but Marie could only laugh to herself because they just didn’t understand; didn’t know what she did. She had tried to tell them so many times, tried to get them to see how close she was to reaching the sky; just a few fingertips, just few pounds away. But that had only made them sadder, and Marie had given up. If they wanted to be that way then fine. She would fly with or without them. And when she finally did, they’d be sorry they didn’t believe her sooner. It wasn’t like she needed their dead weight holding her back anyways.
Day by day, Marie would stare at herself in the mirror, lovingly tracing the cutting edge of her ribs with sharp-knuckled fingers. Each pang of hunger felt like a breathtaking victory, a step that brought her that much closer. Then she would take out the scale. Her parents had tried to wrench it from her, but she hadn’t let them. The scale was everything. It was her God. Her Devil. Every drop was heaven, every rise, hell.
Marie assured herself that once she was light enough to fly, there’d only be heaven. She had spent too many days in hell to settle for anything less.
Because there had been a time before Marie knew she could be light enough to fly. A time when each disgustingly heavy footstep had seemed to sink her further and further into the ground. Into the terrible teasing. The words and names that cut her the flesh on her body to the bone and left nothing but shame behind. Marie had vowed that she’d be sharper than those words. Sharper and more terrible. More beautiful. No one would dare say anything to her then. That was when the starving started. The drugs, the purging, and the excessive running had followed, but Marie had never felt better. The hollowness was everything she had ever truly wanted. Once she was empty, there’d be no more tears, no more hurt, no more pain.
But it had been four years now, and Marie was tired beyond belief. She had tried her best, but it hadn’t been enough. It was never enough. The goal was always just out of grasp, and Marie’s arms were too weary to keep reaching. At school, the loud teasing had become quiet whispers in the hallway and sideways look of pity. Frustration and desperation had long ago stretched their claws into her heart and mind, and there was no escape. Not for Marie. She was a goner. Maybe she’d always been one.
So she planned at date. There’d be no more waiting for Marie. It was time fly.
The day was a Saturday, bright and cold, with just the right amount of breeze. Perfect. Marie went down to breakfast that morning with a new buoyancy in her step, eyes shining with excitement. Her family of course noticed.
“Are you feeling alright sweetie…?” Her mother asked, hesitantly shifting her eggs around on her plate.
Marie’s father and sister stared at her with similar expressions of bewilderment.
Marie smiled back, the movement feeling tight and wrong. “I’m fine, Mom, really,”
Her family seemed even more confused that she had delivered the familiar response with none of her usual bite. Marie took a seat at the table, pretending that the smell of all the food didn’t make her stomach turn.
“So,” Marie began conversationally, “I think that I’ll spend some time outside this morning. It’s such a lovely day.”
The three other people at the table exchanged glances. “That sounds nice, darling. It’s good to see you thinking on the positive side.” A pause. “Would you like one of us to join you?” Her father asked, words slipping out slowly as though Marie was reticent animal that could turn tail and flee at any moment.
Marie looked up sharply, “No. I’m fine by myself.” Her voice came out harder than she had meant it to but there was no taking it back. The room lapsed into uneasy silence.
Marie felt a twinge of guilt in her stomach. Maybe her family had never believed in her dream, but they were still her family. She wanted to think that they had done what they could, and for this day of all days, there shouldn’t be any heavy feelings weighing her down.
Marie knew what she had to do to make it better; she cleared her throat and asked her sister to please pass the plate of bacon.
The expressions at the table couldn’t have been anymore shocked if they’d tried. But underneath the shock was relief and maybe even a hint of joy. It’d been so long since anyone had looked at her like that, that Marie was momentarily stunned, hand freezing above the plate. After a few more beats of increasingly tense silence, Marie plucked a slice of perfectly crisp bacon and held it before her mouth. She had to pretend that even the sight of the oily sheen didn’t make her want to gag.
But Marie was brave; or so she told herself. She could swallow just this one bite – one bit of nauseatingly fatty, greasy meat. The longer she held it there, the sicker the smell made her, so before she could back out, Marie closed her eyes and savagely ripped off the end in one lightning-fast bite, barely chewing before swallowing it. Then it was over. When Marie opened her eyes, her family was looking back at her with smiles on their faces, and she decided that it had been worth it.
After breakfast, Marie headed to the rooftop. Opting to take the stairs, as she always did, Marie’s legs felt slightly weak as she emerged after sixteen flights of stairs, gasping but triumphant. She walked to the edge of their apartment building’s roof and stared at the tiny cars on the street below. Her heart was pounding wildly in its fragile cage as she carefully climbed onto the crumbling ledge. This was her moment. Her arms were spread wide, feeling the howling wind rush beneath them, chin titled up to feel the morning sun’s rays on her face. A flock of pigeons soared overhead and Marie stared wistfully at them. She’d be with them soon.
For a few moments, Marie just stood there, rocking dangerously on the edge of oblivion, rail thin body teetering with the gusts of the wind and skirt snapping angrily around her ankles. She wasn’t afraid. This is what she’d spent countless sleepless nights dreaming, and Marie was beyond ready make it reality. Her reality. With fluttering wings beating in her stomach, Marie looked out at the crazy sprawl of the city around her one last time, memorizing its lopsided buildings and zig-zag streets. She knew that it’d look different from above.
Marie leaned out just that one inch further, feeling the pull of the air around her, tasting the invincibility on her tongue.
Then she was falling, plummeting, to the earth far below. Going, going, gone in the space of a single breath. In. Out.
But for a few seconds, it had felt like she was flying. And for Marie, that was enough.