I take the bowl of rice being handed to me and carefully scoop out three spoonfuls, the melted butter drizzling off the spoon and onto the corner of the tablecloth. I peek up to see if anyone is watching but the small speck goes as unnoticed as the babbling children crammed at the table in amongst the adults laughter and clinking wine glasses.
My stomach growls as I fold my hands into my lap and wait for the rest of the meal to come my way, wishing that I hadn’t left the bagged sandwich that mom had handed me this morning at the bottom of my locker. Mom laughs about something with the woman beside her, the plate of chicken paused in midair and I silently will her to hurry up as I squirm in my seat, my gaze locked on the plate in her hand. I sigh inwardly, knowing that I have to sit still and not complain; we have company. I pick at the lint on my black leggings and wait, thinking about the tuna sandwich sitting, uneaten, at the bottom of my locker. Wondering if it will still be okay to eat it tomorrow.
When the various plates finally make their way around the table I have to consciously stop myself from devouring the food on my plate frantically. The woman who stands too close when she talks to you and laughs too loud when someone makes a joke pours herself another glass of wine ignoring her plate of food as I take another heavenly bite, content to be invisible as the little boy in the chair beside me pushes away the “airplane” of food his father tries to swoop into his mouth in vain.
“No”, he asserts firmly to the numerous attempts of the spoon to pry open his lips as his father negotiates “just a few bites, Bailey”, “just three bites, Bailey”…”just one more bite Bailey”.
I am quietly helping myself to more rice when my father’s arm intercepts the man’s futile attempts to reason with Bailey who is having none of it. He leans in and although quiet in the noisy room I hear his words perfectly in my left ear.
“Don’t force the kid,” he tells the man matter of factly. “You should never force a kid to eat”. He leans in a bit closer and gestures towards my younger sister and I. I can feel my body brace itself as if preparing for an impact.
“If you do they’ll end up like this”.
As if on cue, little Bailey flails his arms in protest and knocks the half empty glass of his juice onto the tablecloth. I remain perfectly still and stare blankly at the purple liquid spreading onto the unnoticed speck of spilled butter as the adults flutter around beside me armed with napkins and paper towels. I steady my gaze, my breaths carefully aligning themselves on an invisible balance beam of nonchalance as Chelsey takes another bite from her plate, her oblivion shielding her from the blow.
The shame slithers up my skin, embarrassment wrapping itself tightly around my chest as it squeezes my insides like a snake. Hunger curls itself up into a ball of shame as I lay the fork down on my plate and sit quietly, waiting for enough time to pass before I sense it to be appropriate to leave the table. My humiliation is as disguised as the purple speck of butter on the tablecloth as I walk over and dump my half uneaten dinner into the trash can before placing my plate into the dishwasher. I nod my head “no” when I hear my mother call out to see if I want dessert.
I make it to my bedroom before falling from the beam.
Heaving shoulders slumped in defeat as I muffle a child’s sobs and weep into my pillowcase of self loathing. I wrap the blankets tightly around myself and dig my fingernails into my skin, disgusted by the feel of the soft flesh of my belly and an inability to somehow be as small as I feel. My pain seeps into the pillowcase and absorbs into the softness of the cloth until it, too, is an unoticed stain on a tablecloth. I wait for the waves to subside, for the faimliar shield of numbness to slowly encompass me and close my eyes.
I can still hear the sounds of my little sister laughing with Bailey as I finally drift off to the escape of sleep. For hours afterwards.
For years afterwards.