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august 24, 2008 – 10:50pm

errrrrrrrrggggg.

i hate my roommate. she’s too f*cking healthy.

hate her. i hate to look at her.

i hate her voice. she’s like “omg, did you see those pink uggs? aren’t they soooo hype?”

uggggg.

but, i need to be polite. so, we go to the dining hall. together.

she’s in red cornell sweats with a white cornell field hockey t-shirt and a red and white cornell trucker’s cap with her blonde ponytail pulled through the back.

the dining hall.

it’s modern and light and airy, but crowded, thronged with hundreds of first-year students. it’s like a food court in some suburban mega mall, not an ivy league school. they have all these glass troughs. some of them are cold and some of them have heat lamps. millions of calories, carbs, and fats. 

i’m completely overwhelmed. completely overwhelmed.

i feel so vulnerable. i need armor. just looking at all this slop makes me feel fat.

faking it through all the ice cream socials and barbecues made me seven pounds heftier, even though the scale says i lost three pounds. my therapist told me, “looking isn’t consuming…” but it doesn’t compute.

the sensation that everyone is staring at me is overwhelming.

are they? i don’t know. i know don’t fit in here.i just don’t. my therapist says, “this is just your inner monologue distorting the objective reality.” BS.

i’m wearing vintage rolled up levis, white jack purcells, an old, black nycb t-shirt, and a loose black cardigan. my hipbones are poking out of the top of my jeans, but i still feel like a cow. i hate the 24 pounds that the hospital forced onto my bones. i want to hide somewhere. anywhere. i want to be anywhere but here. BREATHE.

roomy’s bestie is all excited. she’s got a red f*cking hoody on. and these field hockey shorts. and she’s all tan. this is heaven for her. she is unafraid. this is freedom. she can eat what she wants. no mommy to frown. no stern looks from dad. i know she’s craving the chocolate cake. but she’s embarrassed because my thighs are as thin as her biceps. so, she gets grilled chicken and yogurt and tofu and spinach. and iced tea. 

i’m torn. do i come back to the table with three pieces of pizza, a swaddle of fries, two burgers, and two honking pieces of chocolate cake, then say, “what, you thought i was anorexic?” (lol.)

she’d respond, “no… i just thought….” and i say, “what, bulimic?” (lol.) “heck no. i just have a fast metabolism and i dance 6 hours-a-day.”

i can’t. bad vibes. i don’t “say” anything. better to play the part. sort of.

i ask the poor, scrawny, acne-encrusted grille guy to make me a chicken fajita. no sauce. he looks sick, like hep c sick, or some strange third world flu sick. and i wonder when he last washed his hands. 

i see roomy from across the the food plaza. she’s talking to a gaggle of hoody girls. i’m wondering: “why you need to advertise where you go to school when your already there?”

she motions for me to join them. i nod. I get my fajita.

on the way to the big, red hoody gaggle, i pass the chinese wok station. it smells like home. i want some low-mein. but, i’m stronger than that. I grab a hard-boiled egg and some sprouts from the salad bar. i think about getting some cottage cheese to fit in. but, it disgusts me. i think about getting some cranberry juice. but, i think that they’ll think i have a urinary tract infection. i get some water. but, i don’t want water. so, i get two cups of horrifyingly stale black coffee.

the place is crowded. Really crowded. All these freshmen. And I hate the term “freshmen.” Beyond the sexism of the term, there is also something ageist about. I prefer “first-year” or “freshwomyn.” i hate these people. they all seem to happy. so excited. so healthy. Their dreams are fully intact. They have not yet been crushed by a night-time prelim curved on such a steep slope that the cure for cancer might have been set back 20 years in their brutalizing, 1000-person first semester bio class at Cornell. To me, they are nameless shadow faces. Souls unseen beneath a shroud of purported happiness. 

i get to my roommate’s table. the hoody girls are all excited. i think they might be high. maybe. roomy introduces me. they all play field hockey. two of them are in the ag school. they’re from upstate. which scares me. two others are from long island. no comment. one is in the hotel school. the other is in human ecology (don’t ask). i tell them i’m going to be a college scholar (which means i can study whatever i want) and that i want to combine english, dance, anthro, psych, history, and film. They don’t know what to make of it. i’m am clearly “not one of them.” not only am i like thirty-five to forty-percent lighter than the skinniest of the group, I am from manhattan. i do ballet. and I care as deeply about the exercise of my brain as I do the exertion of my frame.

one of them has the chocolate cake and she starts to poke at it with her fork. i’m cutting up my hard-boiled egg. i want to remove the yolk and start slicing the egg-white into little 1/4″ cubes (i don’t). i take a bite of the chicken from my overcooked fajita. i chew and chew and chew. it tastes like salty, greasy, cardboard. i think to myself that being vegan might not be a bad idea. but, I hate the texture of tofu and it makes my reflux go totally insane, so vegan is not going to happen if i am to maintain a quasi-healthy weight above 105. the hoody girls are oblivious to this incessant inner monologue, the cacophony of conflicting thoughts racing through my brain. they are so busy laughing and talking and talking and laughing and fighting off their own inner dramas to even consider, for a moment, what might be going on behind my excruciatingly deliberate mode of mastication. i swish down coffee number one. 

chocolate cake girl is going nuts. the soggy slab of chocolate fluff and ooze is staring at her. it beckons her. it sparkles. its dark brown intensity glimmers under the eco-friendly lights like a hollywood star striding the red carpet on oscar® night. i know she wants it. but, she keeps poking at it. i’m wondering: “is she going to eat that thing? or, is she just torturing herself? is she ‘one of us’?” she takes a small bite. i start my second coffee. she asks if i dance, or if i “just want to write about it?” bingo. “one of us.” i murmer in my brain. i start eating an egg-white slice. “Both,” i say. “You?” She smiles. “i used to do modern. then, i hurt my knee…” (and now you do field hockey?) 

“sorry to hear about that. is it better, now?” 

“surgery. well, three of them.” 

hmmm. “modern?” i think to myself. “does that mean she was too fat or too muscular for ballet?” 

i down another big, bitter sip of the superstale black coffee.

i take another bite of pseudo-chicken. my roommate eyes the cake. i know she wants it. but, she’s afraid to look like a pig and get one for herself and she doesn’t know her new “friend” well enough to nab a bite of hers. i decide to give her some space. 

i sip some more bitter, black coffee. the dining hall experience is not going to work. i hate eating in public. i hate walking around with my food on display. i hate the “smiling, happy people.” i hate having to look at what they eat. or what they don’t eat. or what the want to eat, but don’t eat. i hate myself for not being normal enough to enjoy the experience, the company of some superbright, hardworking kids who may not have been cool enough, or driven enough, or connected enough to get into Harvard, but were sharp enough to at least get into cornell.

i excuse myself. chocolate cake girl watches me as i rise. “nice to meet you,” she exclaims. robotically, i reply the same. i feel bad for her. i shouldn’t. she’s a recruited athlete at an ivy league school. she’s from a good family. she’s got nice skin and pretty blonde hair. but, she could poke at the chocolate cake all day, never take a bite, but it won’t change her shape. she’s built for field hockey, not ballet. and it depresses her. i don’t think she wants to be me. i don’t think she’s a wannarexic. i just empathize with her pain. i don’t think she hates her body, but from the way she played with her cake, i know she wishes things were different. but, so do i. no matter what i do, i can’t be happy in my skin. i can’t be happy with my body at 85 or 95 or 105 or 83, because i can’t be happy with being me.

of course, none of this is said, even telepathically. it’s

all smiles and such, as i gather my bag and my plate and my cups. but, it feels like a perp walk, as i take my tray to the disposal area and i shove it on a conveyor contraption. i’m angry that i had to waste this food on appearances.

the dining hall experience is not going to work. it’s just not.

© 2008-2021 by ariana sexton-hughes

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