By: Donna Cooner

“People lose weight all the time.” Briella flings a ponytail over one shoulder and glares at me. “You eat less and you exercise more. It’s science.”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? Diets and exercise don’t work for me.”

“Then do that surgery. I saw that actress had it. She lost hundreds of pounds. You could do that.”

“And it will just magically go away, right?” Everyone thinks there’s a simple solution I just haven’t thought about yet. Drink protein drinks for breakfast. Eat only apples one day a week. Buy some jiggling dumbbell from an infomercial.

“Yeah.” She leans in toward me, excited now with this brilliant idea. “They make your stomach smaller and then you lose a lot of weight.”

“Or you die,” I say.

She looks confused.

“Sometimes people die when they have that surgery. Of a blood clot or some other complication.”

“So you know about it?”

“Do you think I don’t watch TV?” She is so amazingly stupid. “How would you like it if someone told you to cut yourselfopen and rearrange your body parts? That then you could be normal?”

“It’d be better than . . .” her voice trails off, and she realizes she’s gone too far.

“Get out, Briella.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes, you did,” I say. I want to hurt her back, and I know how to do it. “No wonder Lindsey is the popular one. You’re The Great Lindsey’s little sister, but who are you next year when she leaves for college? You’re nobody.” I feel bad the minute it comes out of my mouth. She lowers her eyes, but not before I see the pain. It has hit home. Hard.

“Congratulations. You’re fat and mean,” Skinny says.

“Never mind. Lie here and do nothing. I don’t care.” Briella leaves finally, stalking out the door and slamming it behind her. The noise wakes Roxanne, and she comes back up on the bed. She flops down along the length of my body, lays her head on my stomach, and looks up at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. I rub her silky smooth ears until her eyes close to slits, and she starts to puppy snore. It doesn’t matter what Briella thinks about me. What I am is too far in for her to see. I can’t be found. By anyone.

I pull out a half-pound bag of M&M’s from under my nightstand drawer, trying not to wake the sleeping dog, and tear it open with my teeth. It’s no use. Roxanne’s head perks up with the tiniest rustle of the bag, and she turns toward me with a hopeful gaze.

“Chocolate Labs cannot have chocolate,” I say for about the hundredth time, and Roxanne flops her head back down on the bed. I grab a handful of M&M’s and pour them into my mouth. My hands are like oven mitts. The fingers indistinguishable from one another. I eat two more handfuls before I slow down. I shove the music back deep into my ears, but it doesn’t stop the noise in my head.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about the surgery before. But if I have the surgery, I could die, and that scares me. I have a door inside my head. It’s a black door with big red letters that spell out one word: DEATH. And even though I’ve kept myself from getting too close, I know something of what’s waiting behind that door. It’s a black, swirling tornado, like the kind I’ve seen on TV and in the movies with the cows and the houses swirling around inside all that black wind. But it’s different, too, because instead of pulling me up into the sky, it pulls me down, down, down into a world that is different from everything I know — into a world where “is” becomes “was.”

Memories of childhood go swirling by mixed with all the houses and cows and fence posts. And every memory has my mom in it. My mom when I was little, helping me bake cookies for the first time — I got to lick the spoon. My mom bringing out my birthday cake when I was seven — the candles lighting up her beaming face. My mom putting a big yellow trash can underneath my mouth, while holding my hair back from my face, when I was throwing up from too much candy corn at Halloween when I was ten. And at the bottom of that swirling horrible black tornado there is no mom.

Even worse than the dying part, is the hoping. If I hope for normal, and it doesn’t happen, then what? I lose five pounds. Ten pounds. Hope raises its ugly head, and I start to believe. I can do it. I can lose the weight. I can be normal. But then something happens. It starts to go back the other way. One pound. I slip up. Five pounds. I try to make it stop. I can’t. Ten pounds. Don’t. Twenty pounds. I’m back there again. STOP. Thirty pounds. I’m worse off than when I started. I’m hopeless. It isn’t like I can hide it. I wear my failure for everyone to see. When the diet fails and the pounds come back, I know what they think.