Why can’t doctors show up on time for their appointments? Every month, my mom and I rush madly through our morning routine just to get out the door on time, and every month we are forced to sit alone in tortured silence as we wait for him to show up. Today we are the only ones in the waiting room except for the nurse, who is busy sorting through files. Pretending to be absorbed in the picture book I picked at random from the table beside me, I watch my mother. Not one action, not one sound, not one sigh escapes my notice. I analyze every minuscule movement, every time she slides her fingers through her hair, every time she crosses her legs. Is she mad at me? Is she as nervous as I am? I bite my nails. Then I stop biting my nails, trying to be calm, trying to act unconcerned. You’re not worried, she’s not worried, nobody’s worried and it’s all going to go fine.
The doctor finally arrives, and hands me a paper smock. It’s faded yellow and decorated with crudely drawn illustrations of butterflies and ponies that I can’t imagine would have pleased a five year old girl, let alone a 14 year old angsty teenager. I already feel humiliated enough walking into my pediatrician's office. Murals cover every wall, storybook scenes of ducklings waddling in the rain, sunflowers with smiling faces, trains that travel atop clouds. A baby is wailing in the next room over, and a three year old is babbling incoherently to her mother in the hall. The nurses don’t know how to treat me, not a child but not yet an adult. They escort me everywhere, as If I haven’t been coming to this doctor my whole life. With a smile, one of the nurses guides me into room 12 and slides the door shut. It closes it behind me with a soft thud, and the peace of being alone, if only for a second, quiets my shaking hands. I begin to undress. The waxy paper that they put on the seat to keep it sanitary crumples beneath me as I sit down to slip my socks off my feet. As I pull my dress above my head, I catch a fleeting glance of my body in the mirror above the sink. I notice the way the skin slides across my ribs in ripples and waves, the way the shoulder blades poke out from my back like wings. I try not to think they are beautiful. I slip the paper smock on quickly, turning away from the mirror. I have to tie the string around me twice. I slide the door back open timidly, and the cheerful nurse guides me over to the scale. My mom is leaning against the wall, playing Candy Crush on her phone, feigning disinterest. Look at me, I will her silently. Smile at me. Glare at me. Just look at me. I step on the scale backwards and stare at my feet, blue toenails, freezing cold on the steel platform. The nurse slides the markers on the scale, the abrasive sound of metal and metal. I have no idea why they don’t just invest in a high-tech digital scale. This old fashioned one is two pounds off, and it takes forever to get an accurate measurement. They probably keep it around to build suspense. The nurse finally settles on a number, and I hear her make a low concerned sound as she jots something down on my chart. I look at my mom out of the corner of my eye, straining to see her in my peripheral vision. Her glance shifts from the nurse, to the scale, back to her phone. She frowns.
The car ride home is frigid, stagnant. Mom is all sharp corners and hard edges, gripping the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. I want to tell her I’m sorry, but she’ll just say I’m not. I want to tell her I’ll try harder from now on, but she’ll insist that I won’t. Which is probably true. Definitely true. Instead I curl my knees up into myself, trying to make myself smaller, small enough to disappear. I pretend to be fascinated by the raindrops racing down the window. The air outside is freezing cold and the only warmth comes from the waves of anger radiating off my mother. I don’t dare steal a glance. I don’t dare turn on my seat heater, either. It would be a sure sign that I’m cold and cold means too skinny, just like how ordering Diet Coke means I’m dieting and how getting sorbet instead of Ice cream is a sure sign of my self hatred. When you don’t speak, every action says more than you mean it to. So I turn my knees back in her direction, telling her I’m not mad. I scroll through my phone, telling her I’m unconcerned. I say “what are we having for dinner?” To show her I’m willing to admit to hunger.
“I’m not really ready to talk right now”
“Sorry, I’m just trying to lighten the mood”
“I just wish that you’d try a bit harder”
Hackles rise, and I forget everything I was trying to accomplish with my little peace offerings.
“Mom, I am trying.”
She raises her voice, speaking at a volume I might call yelling but she definitely wouldn’t.
“87 pounds is not trying, Ruby.”
“You don’t understand.” I am fully aware that I sound like a cookie-cutter teen character from a badly written movie, and I cringe.
“I just don’t know where to go from here. If you won’t put in effort to get better, than I don’t know how to help you.” Her voice cracks and I suddenly wish I were miles away,I want to be anywhere but here because I can’t stand to listen to her, this quiet voice that’s somehow worse than the yelling. “You’re going to have to help yourself.”
I don’t reply. Instead, I grow small again, retreating back to the window and the raindrops. I feel something thick and aching rise up in my throat. I think, I wish I knew how.