She was a ghost.
A voice called out, “Elle?”
Elle turned her head, where she saw a nurse standing by the door, looking into the room that housed Elle, her father, and the admissions specialist. Elle stood up, but it was brief, because the world started turning black, and she could see only the outlines of everyone near her. She had to sit back down. Her body was so tired of fighting.
“Hey, it’s okay,” the voice said again. Now the nurse was crouched down right in front of Elle. “I’ll help you up.”
The nurse wrapped a gentle hand around Elle’s wrist, as if Elle might break, and another across her shoulders, supporting Elle as she wobbled on her feet.
Elle glanced back at her father, who held a face of stone. His jaw set tight, and his eyes bored straight ahead. Elle could see it in her father’s eyes: there were tears building, just waiting to flush out the dam.
“Let’s go on back,” the nurse said.
Together, they left the room.
Down the hallway, the nurse held her badge up to a door and ushered Elle inside, though she could not move without the room spinning. She led Elle to a smaller room, inside a medical station, with an examination table and a scale.
“This will be easy,” the nurse said. “I’m going to get your weight, ask you some questions, and perform an exam. Then you’ll be done with me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Elle whispered.
She couldn’t hear her own voice.
“Call me Q,” the nurse said.
Elle nodded her head ever so slightly that she was not sure Q even noticed.
Q began the questionnaire that Elle knew all the nurses asked all the patients, but something about it felt tailored toward Elle. Perhaps it was the way Q asked the questions, soft and delicate, with a fluttering tone that showed no criticism or blame; there was no judgment involved, only concern, and a regard for Elle’s wellbeing. Once Elle answered all of the questions — how old she was, how long she had been showing symptoms of anorexia nervosa — the time came for the part Elle had been dreading most.
“All right,” Q said, handing Elle a paper dress. “I’m going to ask you to change into this, and then we’ll perform the exams.”
Elle’s eyes widened, and her breaths lodged in her chest. She did not want this woman to look at her body. She preferred it hidden under the layers of clothing she wore, of sweatshirts and sweatpants that used to belong to her father, that kept her cold in the sweaty summer months.
“I’ll take you down to the bathroom,” Q said.
She helped Elle up again, placing one of her hands on the small of Elle’s back and the other on her shoulder, and guided her to the bathroom. Inside were three stalls, two sinks, and three showers. The mirrors, Elle noticed, only showed the very top of her face. There was no chance of taking a glance at her body in them. Q stood in the doorway and motioned for Elle to step inside a stall and change.
Elle locked herself in a stall and stepped out of the clothes that kept her guarded from the world and into the nearly see-through gown Q had given her. She glanced down at her body before she tied the hospital dress in the front and cried.
Everything she could see — it was not what she wanted. The lines of her body, bulging and spilling out of her clothes, over the waistband of her underwear, and the skin of her arms, hanging too low, was all she could see. But this was not the same for those around her, as she had been told. No, others claimed she had bones upon bones, and Elle could not appreciate her body in the way she should.
But that was why she was beginning this journey, wasn’t it?
Ciera Lloyd doesn’t know a world without writing. In May of 2021, she will attain her BFA in creative writing, minor in English, and Certificate in Publishing. After graduation, she hopes to attend graduate school, where she will earn her MFA in creative writing.