As a child I often envisioned my funeral. I’d be laid out in a stunning casket surrounded by pleasing purple flowers and poisonous people. Clocks would stop; stores would close in my honor; flags would waver at half-mast; and buildings would be veiled in black bunting as highway emergency reader board signs flashed, “Funeral procession in progress: slow-moving traffic next 3,000 miles.” But there was a glitch in my plan that I couldn’t ignore. I couldn’t die yet — not until I was thin and beautiful. I kept imagining people laughing at my body in the casket.

I never imagined being sixteen and getting busted by the high school janitor and guidance counselor, who, instead of mopping floors and handing out college brochures, decided to play Cagney and Lacey and stake out the boys’ restroom hoping to catch the pesky girl they assumed was sneaking in to throw up. Instead, they caught me. Now, I must confess that after years of hall pass abuse, getting caught was probably inevitable. I’d simply hoped it would happen when I was closer to reaching my target weight.

The sound of the restroom door opening caused me to flush the toilet. Flushing had become my conditioned reflex to hearing any restroom door open. Had this all happened say, eighty-five years earlier, I would have made a wonderful test subject for Pavlov.

But it was happening now, junior year, second semester, fifth period chemistry. Though merely twelve square feet and constructed of cold ceramic tiles and graffiti-resistant stainless steel partitions, restroom stalls had become my safe harbor, my private sanctuary. In the beginning, I would seek them out for temporal confessions: a quick purge of shame and I’d be off. During the in-between times, I would use its grab-rails to support past, present, and future sins. And during the bitter end, my body battered, broken, and anchors having long given way, I simply moored there.

“Whoever is in there, you need to come out.”

I recognized his voice immediately; it was Mr. Wolvers, the senior class guidance counselor. There is nothing remarkable or overly colorful about Mr. Wolvers. If I were casting a movie that called for a guidance counselor, he’d fit the bill. My voice now cracked and raw, I whisper.

“I’ll be out in a few seconds.”

What I want to say is, “I heard you, but you’re going to have to wait or come back later. I need time to get myself together.” I’ve been coming to places like this for the last four-and-a-half years. Instead, I take a deep breath, exhale, and exit the stall, empty and hungrier than ever …

The Stall
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