Left right, left right
by Eliza Mott
Well it’s better than here.
During my freshman year someone asked me about Maryland, “Why would anyone want to go there?” Sitting at a dining hall table at Elon University, a school that did not meet the “college is the best four years of your life” criteria I had imagined, I could only think to say, “Well its better than here.”
When the boy asked me this question I didnt think to respond, “Maryland is my home, it’s great and I am so excited to be from there.” Instead, all I could do was think of my home incomparison to Elon University, a place where I felt no sense of comfort or place. All I could think to respond with was thatit was better than here.
My parents ended up in Severna Park, the town where I grew up by no intention. There happened to be a job for my dad, the town was close to my extended family and the schools seemed good enough to them. They moved to Severna Park for proximities: the nation’s capitol, Baltimore, family and the Chesapeake Bay, but not so much for the town itself.
At my high school, kids would disappear. People that you knew would be in class one day and gone the next. Mono. That was one possible excuse. But if three weeks passed with them absent, everyone in our school knew what it meant: eating disorder, suicidal, self-harm, depressed, bi-polar. If three weeks passed, we knew where these kids were—not at home sick or suddenly on an extended vacation—if the shrinking girl or hollow faced boy was gone for more than three weeks, more than likely, they were at Sheppard Pratt, the youth mental hospital in Towson, 45 minutes away.
People we knew were falling apart all around us. It must have been something in the air, something about the place where we live. Here, girls suffered from shrinking bodies: their clothes would become too big too fast; their bones grew prominent and sharp. In Severna Park, 15 miles away from the Naval Academy, neat red marks appeared in parallel lines on wrists, cuts in rows, red and raw or sometimes scabbed and slowly healing.
Maybe it was something about the place, maybe it was something in the air. Afraid and terrified, we anxiously waitedour turn to fall victim to a seemingly inescapable and omnipresent contagion.
After my freshman fall at Elon University, I was so excited to come home for Thanksgiving break. I thought with such positivity about the things I could return to: D.C. museums, biking to Annapolis, hanging out at the river, running in town. I was so excited because there seemed to be so little to do at Elon, or at least so little that I wanted to do. I was uninterested in Greek life, didn’t have a car and since Elon was in the middle of nowhere (as in strip malls not nature) there was nowhere I could go to to try and find something else to do.
But when I returned home, the positivity I originally felt began to fade as the rituals and traditions of my daily life in Severna Park began to slowly wear away and reveal the reality of my experience at home. Brushing my teeth in my yellow tiled bathroom, I began to see not the true face in front of me but insteadthe dark baggy eyes from junior year of high school. I rememberwalking down the wooden steps unassuming, I remember walking down the steps and hearing the phone ring, I feel May 11th, the day everything changed, the day I found out. Standing and getting dressed in front of the long and tall mirror in my closet, the healthy figure in front of me faded and blurred, repeated glances at the reflective surface, and I could only see my former inverted stomach and poking hip bones. Performing these different actions, I returned to the past and would feel the familiar consuming high school pressure to escape, to leave, to get out of Severna Park.
Yet I didn’t have anywhere to go; I didn’t want to go back to Elon.
To escape these feelings and memories, the only thing I could think to do was to run. To move my body fast was the only way I knew how to escape. All I wanted to do was escape.
So I began the familiar ritual: tying blue-frayed laces, stretching my legs—putting left hand to left foot, right hand to right foot, then bending over and touching my toes, pause and go.
Running forward, I take a right down my street toward the bike path which I then follow up to the high school. Music plays in my ears and initially everything is wonderful—moving I feel I am home. While running nothing touches me, no memories can catch or pull me down.
Left, right, left, right, footfalls push me forward, and then I turn off the path.
Suddenly, I am struck by a memory. All I can see is her blond ponytail bobbing in front of me, all I can hear is Tracy’s voice and her wry laughter, all around us I see the rest of the cross country team running.
I squeeze my eyes and shake my head, turning up the sound on my iPod. Hitting my feet on the ground faster, I feel the reassuring pounding of bone on cement: left, right, left, right.
15 successful minutes of not remembering the past, and I make it to the high school. The leaves are changing, and I feel confident in my pace. As I move past the academic buildings, I turn my head, and my eyes land on the cement steps that lead up to the gym entrance. Looking at the stone ledges, I’m struck by another crushing wave of remembrance.
It’s the end of cross country practice, and Tracy is sitting next to me on the steps, her blue eyes and her nose ring glinting in the 5 o’clock sun.
I run faster, trying to outrun, trying to forget, but the memories hit me hard, and I can’t ignore the images or the feelings that come crushing down.
I had never talked to her before then—I had known who she was, but we had never spoken. I complemented her on her nose ring ,and then somehow we began talking about tattoos. She wanted to get one. Tracy had seena girl on TV who had gotten one of a cartoon character fighting off a beast, the girl fighting off her eating disorder and her depression. I had known then that Tracy had been to Sheppard Pratt, I knew she suffered fromshrinking arms and sharp bones. There’s a flash, and I can see the mermaid tattoo Rachel got for Tracy, the tattoo Rachel got after it happened.
Blurred memories consume me as I run forward: left, right, left, right.
I run and then there’s a traffic light, and I jog in place waiting for the light to turn green. I jog there in the same spot I had done the same thing a million times before, where the concrete of the sidewalk slopes down in sharp cracks to the asphalt road.
Stepping fast, I try to avoid seeing all the past memories that manifests in everything around me.
The light changes, and I cross the street. I see the field where I used to run up and down with her and the sidelines where we used to stand together.
Next to the field there’s the white-shingled team house and locker room. I look there and see Tracy in red converse practicing handstands while I sit waiting for 4:30 p.m.—the beginning of practice.
I move faster, trying to outrun the visions. I sprint down the asphalt road that leads down to West End Beach, the place we all went to eat white and pink icing cake after the funeral.
I blink, shake my head and move forward. The rest of my run goes by in a blur.
When I get home I rush upstairs to shower off. Standing there are all the coatings I had tried to ignore and can’t get away from. I pull off my clothes and turn the water onto the hot setting.
I want to go home, I think. There in the shower as a flood of water falls down on top of my head as a flood of tears falls out of my eyes.
The water turns cold. I shut it off and pull on a towel. I then go into my bedroom.
With stringy wet hair I sit on the white comforted bed. The room filled with my things feels hollow and empty, and the only words I can think are,
I want to go home.