'Catalyst' by Claire Hennessy
After my death, Susan writes poems about me. They are terrible, but Dr Fields praises her anyway – she’s ‘processing’ her pain, not trying to be Sylvia Plath. Two of them even reference Sylvia; it’s all about how Susan thought she wanted to be tragic and poetic and now, after seeing death close up, she’s realized that she wants to live. To be tied to the earth rather than ‘floating’. The right kind of crap to tell your shrink.
In life I constantly felt I was letting Dr Fields down. She’d look at me, waiting eagerly but professionally for the confession that would explain it all. She was disappointed – no incest, no rape. Once the boy next door tried too hard to kiss me at some birthday party, when I was thirteen, but who hasn’t had that happen? And by then I was already en route, counting my calories like a good little girl.
After my death, Helen starts eating again and Erica stops throwing up. It isn’t instantaneous, but like Susan they will refer to my death – sometimes the ‘loss’ of me – as the turning point in their little disordered hospitalized lives. The moment when they understood that they had a choice between getting better or getting worse.
Helen had the sexual abuse going for her, at least. Her stepfather. We spoke about it once. It’s the kind of confession that can only happen on a psychiatric ward at two in the morning. Susan had a crazy mother, and thin red lines peeping out from under her sleeves. Helen screamed at her once, for that. I think Helen would have liked to have been a cutter. It’s a much easier way to go – easier to accidentally push that knife or razor blade just a little too far.
Death as an anorexic is long. If I’d known, I probably would have borrowed one of Susan’s razor blades – she was good at hiding them, even from the nurses – but then I’d have hated to have to ask her for one. Helen would have been easier, if she’d had such things. Helen assumed everyone else was as traumatized as she was. It was democratizing in the weirdest way.
After my death, Helen misses me. The others don’t, not really. In their recovery stories, my death is the catalyst. My life goes unmentioned.
I wonder sometimes, why it had to be me. But then I’d let Dr Fields down, in life. There was no reason for my slow starvation. Only life, the smallest of choices made day after day after day until they weren’t anymore.
In death, at least, I have served her well. The other girls recovered. Susan goes to college, then marries a nice man who truly believes her poetry is wonderful. Erica becomes a therapist herself. Helen works in a library, and cries herself to sleep every night, but at least she is alive. Survival is the goal.
And sometimes you need a human sacrifice to get the job done.
Previously published in Wordlegs, issue 11