Life prides itself to be simple. A short, straightforward road from life to death that each and every person strolls on. We have been taught to follow this “golden” road with the promise of lifelong happiness and healthiness. We have been taught that life will be so stupidly simple as long as we follow this path to prosperity.
I used to be so sure, so intensely confident of my path. I would study hard from the day I entered the school system to the day I left with a diploma in my hand. I would go to college in science or engineering or something of that sort and get a degree qualifying me for work. I would find a decent job, find a suitable, loving husband, and raise beautiful children. Fast forward some decades and I would retire, enjoying the last fragments of my existence until the path finally ends. It all seemed so simple, so elegant, honestly. Just a single straight road for me to follow until the day that I die.
But was it really that simple? It wasn’t simple for her. She followed the same path, the same methodical avenue of life that I did. She read off the same textbooks that I did. She completed the same math problems that I did. She took the same courses that I did. Yet, she was forced off that path. She was dragged out by demons. Terrifying, merciless, bloodthirsty demons that made her fear even the thought of eating. Deadly, destructive demons that encapsulated her frail soul with their long, dark, pointy fingers, and made her starve to the bone until she could starve no more.
I remember those days when the demons haunted her. She would always skip every single meal, usually by trapping inside the impenetrable fortress that is her bedroom. Those meals were silent. Only the quiet clink of the fork against the plate and the muffled sound of chewing filled the stagnant air. When she was forced to eat, she could do nothing but struggle to swallow the smallest morsel of food, as if her esophagus closed shut by the sharp fingers of the demons. In tears, all she could do was spit it out on her plate and sprint back upstairs into her room. I silently witnessed this as I continued eating.
She exercised constantly in secret, in the distorted effort to burn calories that she did not even have. There was always a constant subtle thump thump thump that would emanate from her room as I went along my daily life. I drowned the sounds out with headphones and loud music. She would linger for hours in the family bathroom, staring at her body through the mirrored walls with an indescribable hatred and sadness. One day, I accidentally walked into the bathroom when she was inside once. She was groping her stomach, her arms, her thighs, pinching the shrinking flesh on her body. Her face contorted with visible disgust. I closed the door before she could notice me. I always knocked after that.
She got thinner by the day. Her bones began to protrude more and more, like blunt spikes all over her body, as the clock of time ticked by. Permanent black spots surrounded the peripherals of her exhausted eyes, which resembled bright full moons in a pitch-black midnight. Clothes hung more and more on her clothes hanger body as once fitting attire became visibly too big. She was always slow in her movements and actions as if constantly plagued by the rusty chains of fatigue. I saw this deadly transformation before my eyes. Yet, I ignored it and kept on studying. I kept ignoring it until the demons finally consumed her whole, and her bony body was replaced by a static, grey tombstone.
Again, I ask: was it really that simple? She had been following the same, seemingly straightforward path that I was, yet her heart was ultimately pierced through by the sickle of death and dragged off. She had been walking on the same “golden” road that I did, yet the demons slithered up from the bloody gates of hell and dragged her down with them, clenching her with their terrifying palms. What makes me immune to the same demons that took her? Why did the demons choose her and drag her out of her path?
Why didn’t I help her fight those demons?
Ah. I know why I did. I was disillusioned by the path. A rigid path that is so unrealistically perfect that any alteration to it would result in disaster. A path that had blinded me to the problems and issues of my surroundings in the arbitrary pursuit of excellence. When I heard the thumping from her room for hours on end, I ignored it because it was not part of the path. When I saw her groping herself with such disgust, I closed that door because it was not part of the path. When I saw her getting thinner and weaker, I looked the other way because it was not part of the path. I allowed her to suffer for the sake of staying on my path. I allowed her to die in the arbitrary pursuit of my envisioned future of perfection.
And because of that, I have veered off as well.
I cannot let myself fail others the way I failed her. I cannot leave others behind in the strive for a perfect life. I cannot ignore the cries for help from others simply because it did not fit into some obscure, mental agenda. I have strayed off of that original path quite significantly, no longer bound by its invasive restrictions. I am now on a new route. Not a predetermined path, exactly, but a path that was creating itself the further I walk.
Yes. I have taken a new route. I have taken this route because life had told me that my old route was wrong. Life has told me that my way of thinking was dangerous to myself and those around me. I am not sure why life chose such a morbid way to tell me, but it has told me nonetheless.
I broke out of my trance. I wonder how long I was daydreaming for. I seem to always remind myself of her. Perhaps it is because she was so important in driving me to this new life. I sigh in acceptance. She’s gone, and I know that. I look at my watch. I have an appointment with a patient in five minutes. I got up from my desk and left my office.
Behind me, the wooden door closed shut. Adhered to the door was a copper sign. In capital letters, the sign said:
ATHENA ZHOU; EATING DISORDER SPECIALIST