ROSEWOOD
by Kate Selker
SECOND
PLACE
GeminiMAGAZINE
2013
Short Story
Contest
$100 PRIZE
EXCERPT
Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier
to purge food than to get rid
of bad thoughts. One’s quick
and painless; the other is
long and slow and hurts.
Which would you choose?
I like to think of all the girls at Resi as my
family, because they understand me more than my
real family ever has. The Resi family makes no
pretensions: of
course nobody wants Thanksgiving
or Christmas; let's cancel. Of course nobody wants
to chat after dinner. Your Resi family gets it when
you cry first thing in the morning, and then again
later, and again later, and again later, and they don’t
try to fix you, because there are Trained People for
that. And anyway we’re all like, Stay Strong Oh My
God You’re So Brave Stay Strong Oh Baby Darling
Sweetheart You’re Beautiful I Wish You Could See It
It’s Like You’re So Much More Beautiful Than Me
and Also Look at My Cellulite I Have Worse Cellulite,
and then, Sorry Sorry I Didn’t Mean To, Oh My God
I’m Here For You, and then finally if we cry loudly
enough—or don’t cry at all (repression is a problem)
—one of the counselors comes in and hands us the
Sheets About Feelings to fill out so that we feel
better.

Our Resi family sits down to dinner at six o’clock
each night, except you’re allowed to give or take five
minutes, depending on when Group ends, because
they don’t want us getting too rigid. Like dinners, still
living at home with Mom and Dad and Shira. This
one time, Mom said we’d be eating at five and so it
was okay that I hadn’t eaten lunch, because it was
three when she told me, and three was basically four,
and four meant there was only an hour until five, so it
was really just lazy of me to want a snack when all I
had to wait was an hour. But then Dad didn’t come
home until seven, so I was actually uncomfortably
hungry, but I didn’t want to eat anything when six
came along, because I knew I’d have to eat later and
I didn’t want to waste my chance. So I starved until
seven fifteen, which is when we finally actually sat
down, and then I ate three beets, a bite of chicken,
and one spoonful of rice, spread out across three
smaller sparse little spoonfuls. I couldn’t have much
because I’d be asleep by ten and sleeping is lazy
and doesn’t burn calories.

But our Resi family sat down this Wednesday at
actually six o’clock on the dot—and though it wasn’t
supposed to be so exact, the precision was totally
satisfying.

You have half an hour. Dinner will be over at six
thirty p.m. Do not engage in Behaviors while eating.
Refrain from Food, Diet and Weight Talk. If you are
having trouble, please notify a Counselor. You are
required to finish your meal.

The counselors reminded us about the food groups.
Tonight it was rice (2 Starch Exchanges), chicken (3
Proteins) with this disgusting (2 Fat Exchanges)
weird sticky some sort of sauce, broccoli
thank God
(2 Vegetable Exchanges) and chocolate pudding for
dessert, which doesn’t even fill an official exchange
other than Cruelty Exchange 2 billion. (The worst part
is, I love chocolate pudding.)

We usually play games at dinner to distract
ourselves. Tonight we did epithets—I thought I could
be Careful Carrie, but then Alexa suggested I was
Caring Carrie, and Alice agreed. Sarah was Silly
Sarah, which I thought was funny, because everyone
had to be thinking Skinny Sarah, but we clearly
couldn’t use that. Skinny is not a feeling. Fat is not a
feeling. We made Lizzie Loveable and somebody
said Tall Trisha for Trisha but then Rachel piped up
“no body comments” so Trisha became Thoughtful
Trisha instead.

Alice was Awesome Alice, but I thought “anorexic Alice”
in my head. Alice is my roommate, but she’s worse off
than I am—as in, she’s probably going to be in Resi
forever. Alice was scraping the sauce off her chicken
with the side of her fork. This is never allowed, but
Rachel, our dinner counselor, hadn’t noticed yet, and
none of us were going to say anything, because
otherwise Alice will just think we’re trying to make her
fat. And let’s be honest—we always are. In the
meantime, I scraped the sauce off my chicken, too. It’s
only fair. It formed a little puddle of orange goo, and it
reminded me of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the one that
killed all those nice whales.

My Wise Mind looked at me and Wise Mind was like
Whoa, your stomach wants the Exxon Valdez inside
it, Bitch.
Except it doesn’t say Bitch, because it’s
Wise Mind. It’s me who says Bitch to me inside my
head, because I’m not so much a fan of me,
because my normal mind isn’t Wise. But Wise
Mind’s some evil magic, and she’s got eyes that see
right through to the lunch that isn’t in my stomach
anymore, and she’s like this:
Carrie, just because
Alice isn’t going to eat her sauce doesn’t mean you
can’t eat your sauce. Alice’s body isn’t your body.
Eating the sauce will make you get better, even if it
is two Fat Exchanges, and Fat Exchanges can be
okay—

I didn’t let Wise Mind say anything else, because she
had said I’m fat—because
Alice’s body isn’t my
body,
and Alice is skinny. By the transitive property
of fatness, then, I’m fat. Besides, I love Alice and
she’s like my sister, and she loves me so if I didn’t
take off the sauce in solidarity with Alice it would be
like I was abandoning her. Of course if we got caught
and Rachel made us drink an Ensure, which is 500
calories of chalky vanilla Not Worth It, then I’d rather
not be in solidarity with Alice any more. (To be
honest, I’m wanting it less and less.) You know?

I would never tell Alice this, though. We named
ourselves the Rosewood Sisters the second night
we were here. We both came on the same day, and
they set us up as roommates and we bonded
because Alice and I both didn’t have anything to
decorate the room with. You sort of forget, when
you’re going off to Rosewood Residential Treatment
Facilities at the Trent Alternative School, that it’s
actually
home. You feel like it's maybe a hospital
because people have been using the word
“recovery” so much and “treatment” and talking about
the strong support staff and the doctors on-call 24-7
and the expertly trained team of social workers and
therapists and that kind of thing—you forget it's
going to actually be your home for a while.

Since we didn’t have posters or anything, we snuck
downstairs to the waiting room and pretended to
look at the magazines—all super-calm ones like Real
Simple and Garden Life and National Geographic
(the copulating lions aren’t calm!) and West Coast
Home. They were boring to read, but they’ve got
great pictures, and no diet tips, and no skinny
celebrities (just greyhounds). Alice distracted the old
overweight lady at the front desk by asking if she had
a copy of her birth certificate. “To hold at night,”
Alice said, when the woman asked what it was for.
Where did she
get these ideas, I wondered.

While the desk lady looked for the certificate in back,
Alice made a motion for me to slip the magazines
into my purse. I rolled them up and zipped it shut.
The desk lady came back, and I felt all sorts of
shivers all over my body. Did she know? I’d never
stolen anything before. Alice was so chill. When the
woman handed her the birth certificate, she took it,
and didn’t forget to say “Thank you. I’m Alice.”

“I’m Elise,” said the lady.

“Hi, Elise,” Alice said, sweetly. I felt very illicit.

We went back up to our room giggling—we used the
elevators, because Resi girls aren’t allowed to use
the stairs unless they’re explicitly permitted, and we
weren’t going to break
two rules in one day—and
when we got back, we shut the door right away. I
poured the magazines out on the floor, and out fell
the toothbrush and toothpaste I keep in there just in
case, and the little Altoids box in which I keep my
laxatives, which opened all the fuck up and spilled
everywhere.

“It’s okay,” Alice said. I must have looked scared.
“Do you want to keep them?” she said, bending
down, picking up the pills slowly, then putting them in
her fragile pink palm one by one.

I thought about that question. I thought about what
Alice wanted. Would she keep the pills for herself if I
said no? Would she throw them away? Would she
throw them away and the counselors would find
them in the trash and get us both in trouble? We
could flush them down the toilet, but then would all
the turtles and fish in nearby ponds get the laxative
water and die? I know that if you eat too many
laxatives, you die. Take too many laxatives, I mean.
You can’t eat them. They’re not food. They don’t
count, not like that.

If I said yes, would she hate me? Would that make
her eat less if she knew I got to get rid of my food
every time? Would she get skinnier and know I was
weak because I needed the pills for help? If I said
yes, I’d get to keep the pills. I remember thinking how
necessary that seemed—now it's not such a big
deal, because I know that laxatives only make you
feel lighter. You just lose water—you don’t lose
calories. (Same with throwing up—useless). If I kept
the pills, I’d use the pills. If I used the pills, I wouldn’t
get better.

“Yes,” I said.

Alice looked at me and I guess I thought she looked
disappointed and like she didn’t want to be my friend
and I thought something along the lines of OH GOD I
NEED A FRIEND HERE, so I changed my mind.

“No.”

“Okay!” she said, and smiled. She blew her nose
in a tissue, then put all the pills in the tissue, too, and
wrapped it up, and threw it away, and covered the
trashcan with three more tissues. “Now they won’t
look,” she explained. Right from the start, Alice and I
were a team.

Then she put on Taylor Swift and we sat on the floor
together and ripped the best pictures out of the
magazines. We did it really carefully, by folding the
pages and licking the crease and
then ripping them,
so it would come off in a straight line. We weren’t
allowed scissors at Rosewood unless we were
around Staff Members. That was one of the rules we
signed off to right at the start, in a packet Elise had
handed us, before we had known she was Elise.
When I had signed that sheet, I felt like crying.

Alice and I ripped up the magazines, and it felt good.
I liked the sound it made and I liked to see what
types of pictures Alice ripped out—boats, flowers,
animals, stable-looking men. I’d been ripping out
flowers too, and fields, and trees, and also pretty
table settings. When Alice saw my pile of table
settings was growing, she looked upset.

“Can we not put those up?” she asked. “They make
me hungry.”

I got upset that they didn’t make me hungry, too,
because at that point I thought that when you’re
hungry you’re burning calories (not true). In a way,
though, it felt really good—it let me know that Alice
was messed up too.

“Sure,” I said. I blew my nose in a tissue and
crumpled up the table settings and threw it away.
“Destroyed the evidence,” I said, and we laughed. It
was really nice that night.

We moved from Taylor Swift to Dar Williams, and
Alice brought out some tape (in a week, they’d find
the dispenser and take it away—too sharp) and we
made our walls beautiful. My bed was in the flower-
forest, and hers was by the ocean. We’d even found
some planets from the National Geographic and
stuck them up on the ceiling by standing on the
dresser and jumping a little (5 calories). It looked
great. I felt safe. Also lonely—it was only our second
night. The first night Alice and I hadn’t spoken much.
We had both arrived, said little “hellos” and nodded,
and brushed our teeth near each other. Now that we
had helped each other out, we were safe. We got
close, those next few weeks. We kept helping each
other. For a while, I thought we’d both get better at
the same rate. I really did. We were getting to be
really good friends.

On week two, maybe, Alice got into bed with me in
the middle of the night, holding her birth certificate
against her chest, all wrinkly and soft (she had been
keeping it under her pillow). She was shaking. I didn’t
notice her walking across the room—I’d been
asleep—it was maybe four o’clock in the morning. I
noticed her little body shaking—as soon as I opened
my eyes, I could feel her shoulder bones against my
arm. I wanted to know if she could feel my shoulder
bones, too, but I didn’t ask. Instead I hugged her,
and I could feel her ribs. I counted five across my
palm, maybe more. She was crying. I didn’t ask what
was wrong for a long while. Or it was the third week,
maybe—we’d had some heart-to-hearts about boys
and things, nothing that mattered too much, like what
we wanted to be when we grew up (she a
neonatologist, me a social worker), and how
annoying our parents were, (but how of course we
loved them anyway). In all the group therapy
sessions downstairs, I noticed that the big deal thing
to do was to
listen, and so I listened, even though
Alice wasn’t talking, just crying. I let the little heave-
heave of her breaths and the snorts of her nose all
fill my ears and my mouth stayed silent so they could
fill up all the air and then finally Alice said something.

“Yesterday I let everyone down,” she sobbed. “I want
to be a speck on the wall.”

“Okay,” I said. “Okay. You are the best speck.”

Alice breathed in.

“Lisa asked me if she could have the stress ball while
we were in Group last night, and, I...” It was hard to
hear her through the sobbing.

“You...?” I asked, leaving space for her words,

“I didn’t give it to her. I told her I needed it for a little
bit longer.”

I thought back to how Group had gone the day
before. Alice had been upset—she’d had to eat the
cheese on top of the chicken patty. It was not only
fried, but it was cheese. And Alice said she really
didn’t like cheese and could she please please not
eat the cheese could she please just pick the cheese
off and they said
no, unless she would rather have a
PB&J with equivalent calories or an Ensure. So
Alice had, grudgingly, tearfully, munched down her
cheese and chicken patty in the allotted thirty minutes
and grabbed the orange stress ball the moment we
got into Group.

“But you
did need it longer,” I said. “It’s good to
express your needs.”

“I am a bitch,” Alice said.

“No you’re not. You just needed the stress ball.”

“Lisa needed it more. Lisa’s
mom died last year. Her
mom, Carrie. Her mom. I was just fucking freaking
out about the fucking chicken patty.”

“You know the chicken patty wasn’t just the chicken
patty,” I told her, getting used to the language of
therapy. “You know it…it...represented things, and....”

Alice squeezed my hand tightly. We were two
skeletons in one coffin holding hands. “I hate Lisa,”
she said. “She makes me feel like a bitch.”

“I hate her, too,” I said. I did not and do not hate
anyone. Alice knew this.

“Good,” she said. And we fell asleep there next to
each other.

Before I came here, I rarely felt safe. Anything could
do it to me—I never knew when an opportunity to eat
would arrive, who would force a cupcake on me next,
or offer me a soda. I never knew when the treadmill
would break or when it would be too rainy to run
outside. But I know that I’m safe here at Trent
School, because they promised their goal is not to
make me fat. It's true—they really understand the
whole thing at Rosewood. It is the only specialized
building at Trent. I assume this means we are of a
special variety of Messed Up, but I try not to think
about it too much. I want to be here—I didn’t at first,
but now I do. They’re here for me, after all. They told
me this right away. I thought they were lying at first
but then I kind of knew I was lying, too, and had been
for sort of a while, and I was tired, you know? I’m still
tired, though, even though I’ve stopped lying so
much.

Luckily, we sleep a lot in Resi. They make us go to
bed at ten thirty, which at first was really frustrating
because I could have spent
way more time studying
for my tests and writing my essays, but the truth is, I
always have first drafts done by then. That’s the
point. They don’t want us to be perfect at Resi.
All of
us finish our homework on time. We just want to stay
up late and re-do it, which we realize is anal-
retentive, or, as they call it downstairs in session,
obsessive, and we can’t be that way any more.
Either way, we always get better grades than the
girls from the other buildings. Anorexic girls are
always the smartest. Bulimic girls are also smart, but
sometimes give up. Often they were anorexic first
and then gave up, too. Hence the eating. Hence the
throwing up. I don’t really want to think about that
right now. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to purge
food than to get rid of bad thoughts. One’s quick and
painless; the other is long and slow and hurts. Which
would you choose? Obviously!! People outside of
Rosewood always say they don’t understand why
anyone would do that, but they’re just naive. It's just
that they haven’t figured how easy it is to throw up. I
wish I’d never started. It’s the worst easy thing there
is.

Anyway, on Wednesday at dinner, at six, I was
reminded how sick Alice really was. We were so
over scraping the sauce off, I thought. And there I
was doing it. Alice was making me sicker. Bitch. I
didn’t say that. I felt terrible after I thought it, like I
was going to be nauseous for being so mean. I
might have even felt a little nauseous. I’m often
nauseous. Watching Alice was really difficult for me,
to be honest. I’m getting better all the time, and I
worry she holds me back. The counselors say I am
insightful—they say I am starting to understand my
motivations and my traumas. Last week I cried about
the time when I was eight and my parents got in a
fight and I heard my dad tell my mom he wanted a
divorce, but they never got one. Though I am not all
that great at avoiding Behaviors (I still count out
exactly twenty-four peanuts for my Fat Exchange,
and I still sometimes purge), I can understand why I
do the things I do (I feel like I am smarter if I don’t
eat too many peanuts, and I feel less guilty if I vomit
after a meal, even just a little). This is what the
counselors have noticed, mostly in our therapy
sessions. They might move me down to Day
Program next week, which is downstairs, and you
don’t have to sleep in the ward—you get to sleep in
the Main Trent buildings, but I can’t imagine what it
would be like to go there without Alice. Alice doesn’t
know her feelings, yet. Day is for girls who know their
feelings. Resi’s for the ones who are still too numb.

If I lived in Main Trent, I would have a new
roommate. Someone who might decorate their room
with punk band posters, or Audrey Hepburn shots. I
don’t want a new roommate. Alice didn’t know that I
was going to be moving away until last night. She
saw the “residential discharge” papers on my desk.
She shouldn’t have been snooping. But she saw
them, so I told her I was doing really well—hadn’t she
noticed? She said she hadn’t. I didn’t cry and I tried
not to feel hate because she’s just sad she’s not
better. I told her that I would still get to see her when
I lived in Main Trent. In a quiet voice, she said she
would miss me. It wasn’t vindictive and it wasn’t
mean and it wasn’t jealous. It was flat. The hate
came, even though I didn’t want it to. The hate is
what made me do what I did, I think, when it came to
the sauce.

Tonight at dinner, when Alice scraped off the sauce
from her chicken, Rachel finally saw. She walked
over quietly—we don’t do public confrontations at
the dinner table. I saw her put her hand on Alice’s
shoulder, I saw her say something into Alice’s ear,
and Alice looked up at me, briefly, and we locked
eyes. I couldn’t stop watching. I hoped Rachel
wouldn’t see my plate. Alice could see my plate.

Alice breathed deep—I saw her chest rise; it was
embarrassing, all the girls were looking, everyone
knew—and scooped up the sauce with her spoon (she
didn’t get all of it, but mostly) and put it back on the
chicken, and began to eat, bravely. I ate my scraped-
off chicken quickly and put my napkin on my plate to
signal I was done, and also to sop up the sauce I didn’t
eat. They didn’t see me. I washed my plate quickly in
the Group Sink (they are teaching us to live on our
own).

When the five-minute post-meal bathroom ban had
passed, I went. I hadn’t eaten the sauce, but it wasn’t
the sauce that made me do it—it was the betrayal. I
did it quietly, between the counting (they make us
count aloud to the person outside the door so that
we don’t have time to purge between numbers; it’s
entirely demeaning). I did it, though—because who
doesn’t figure out how to beat the counting by day
four? I walked out and Alice was there, even though
I’d specifically asked Julia to be my Bathroom Buddy.

Alice handed me the stress ball the moment I got
out. I felt like a bitch. I also felt like she was a bitch.
But a bitch that understood me, I guess.

“Here,” Alice said, straight faced. The ball was
orange. I smooshed it in my hand. If it were a real
orange, it would have dripped.

“Thanks,” I said. “I was feeling bad.”

“I know,” Alice said. “Do you feel better now?”

“No.” I wondered if she was going to try to go to the
bathroom, too, in retaliation.

“I know,” she said. “I know someday you’ll feel better,
Carrie—I mentioned to Rachel that you’ve been
struggling.”

“Struggling? You told Rachel?”

“I know that with your boobs and your hips coming
back, it’s been hard. I think that your hips look so
great but I think you probably can’t see it.”

“I’m fine. You told Rachel?”

“I just want you to know that I’m here for you. You’re
my best friend.”

I looked at Alice and I took five pounds off her in
my mind. I imagined them all going away and her
cheeks sucked in. Then I took ten more pounds off
of her. She was in a concentration camp. Then I took
off ten more. She was the weight of a dead child.
She was the weight of a breeze. After that I took off
five more pounds from Alice in my mind.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
Kate Selker is a writer and former teacher living in
New Orleans. Her writing has been recognized by both
Boulevard Magazine and Yale University. She hopes
her stories can help people feel less lonely in the
world. She is currently working on a collection of short
stories and hopes to continue writing in ways that are
meaningful to others.
_______________________________________________________________________________________