The Literary Way
a newsletter for Xavier University of Louisiana's English majors, minors, and honors students
I could feel the questions she was asking herself as she sighed over this new, foreign me. I was asking the same questions. It's only natural when you see someone after a very long time to wonder where you would be at that moment had the event that separated you never happened.
It's very possible that if I hadn't come to see Meredith now, I would have gone my whole life avoiding this woman who spent the last six years reeling from a loss unlike any other. It wasn't the same for me. Natalie and I might have grown apart in college naturally. It happens all the time. I was able to fly 1500 miles away and try to drown my sins in that fact—even if it was unsuccessful—because I wasn't tied to Natalie like Meredith was.
I remembered how badly Meredith bullied herself in the months after Natalie died. She would be catatonic for days. Then she would spend the next few days crying inconsolably. She believed she single-handedly killed her daughter. And I let her. Sure, I told her repeatedly she wasn't responsible—like everyone else did—but I never told her she was letting herself take the blame for my indiscretions.
I was going to go to Meredith the first day I realized Natalie had taken her diet too far. I knew it was wrong. Eating healthier turned into rationing and skipped meals which turned into not eating anything at all but diet pills. I'd been disgusted. I was going to go to Meredith ASAP after school and make sure she knew the lengths Natalie was going to. Natalie begged me not to tell. She pleaded. Said she was going to stop as soon as it was summer. She just wanted to look nice for the senior beach trip after graduation. That's it, Sam, alright?
It was literally that easy for her to convince me. So I covered for her. Told Meredith she was eating dinner at my place or we were going out to dinner. When Natalie's hair started to thin, I cut her hair—which was becoming straw-like anyway—into a cute pixie cut everyone loved. I cut my own hair to match. I kept baggy sweatshirts in our shared locker because she couldn't stay warm.
I kept Natalie's secret for four months and gave people the excuses she gave me. In May, Natalie collapsed at school. When she got to the hospital, the nurses peeled off three sweatshirts and two pairs of pants and there was barely anything there. Natalie died a couple days later. She was 80 pounds.
I think subconsciously, Meredith knew. It wasn't soon after I left for college that I received a call from a friend who lived down the street. Meredith was miraculously doing a lot better. I expressed my happiness at Meredith's recovery, but guilt really made a home inside of me. Eating away at me for months like anorexia had eaten away at Natalie. I was trapped in this paralyzing world of self-hatred and it wouldn't let me go home. I knew Meredith would see it on my face.
I started to cleanse myself by volunteering at an in-patient clinic for eating disorders. I saw hundreds of girls and I projected my guilt onto them because, to me, each and every one of them was a reincarnation of Natalie. I blamed myself for the ones who didn't make it. I was sure the ones who started to recover weren't doing it because of me. It never really made me feel any better. I felt just well-enough to make it through until I could volunteer again.
Nothing ever fazed me either, until Victoria showed up. I'd known immediately that this girl was going to test me the minute she showed up, and I shied away from her. I winced internally every time she started to speak in group. Then finally, after months of waiting for her to drop the hammer, she did.
"I hate to eat," she said, "but I'm at the point where I'm glad my best friend said something to my parents."
I sat frozen for the rest of the session. When it was over, I drove home in a daze and started to pack my bags as soon as I walked in the door. Victoria's words were eating away at me. I was flooded with the memory of every opportunity I'd had to save my best friend's life. Every chance I hadn't taken. And then the burden I'd placed on her mother without any reprieve.
I was scum.
I was on my way out the door when Aileen, my boss, showed up. My reaction to Victoria hadn't gone unnoticed. The things I confessed to Aileen tasted sharp and sour as they spilled out. Like razor blades covered in lemon juice. How else were they supposed to taste?
I could tell my words didn't hit Aileen pleasantly either. She was shocked at my story and even more shocked at my sudden decision to reveal myself to Meredith. Aileen was blunt about it. "She's going to hate you, Sam. For the rest of her life."
I was prepared for this, but took Aileen's advice not to arrive on a whim. Two weeks went by and every time I saw Victoria, she unknowingly mocked me. I called Meredith to tell her I was coming, made other arrangements, and bought a plane ticket home.
Meredith invited me inside. The memories hit me hard, wrenching me, the minute I stepped in the door. I had to resist the urge to vomit.
"I'll go make some coffee," Meredith said, trying to leave me to reminisce, but I couldn't stand it.
I followed close behind her towards the kitchen, avoiding the life story she displayed on the walls of her front hall. Instead, they flew past my periphery and I only caught glimpses of the pictures that followed Meredith from her childhood until the death of her child.
I sat at the table I'd sat at a million times in a kitchen I knew in the dark. I knew Meredith probably sat at this table most nights by herself and she had for six years. It was something that, if things had gone differently, if I'd done things differently, would have seemed normal. Meredith would have welcomed it. But it was a bitter experience now.
Meredith placed a mug in front of me and I pointed out she'd made tea.
"What?" She was confused.
"You said you were going to make coffee. This is tea."
I was being rude, but I didn't know what else to say to her.
"Did you want coffee?"
Our conversation after that was forced, formal and falsely pleasant. Meredith wanted to know what I had been up to. How college had been. She was surprised when I told her about the clinic and I realized I was surprised, too. I buffered my way around the topic of college because it had been the worst four years of my life and I didn't have the heart to lie.
I let the conversation stay this way because I needed one more moment of normal. Meredith and I wouldn't be the same anymore. It would be closure, but the kind of closure that ruined everything. When this was finished, I would be finishing a chapter of my life I could never come back to. I'd tried to skip the end, but I, the rest of the book would never make sense. The ending was a lot happier than it was supposed to be.
When I'd steeled myself, I opened my mouth to finally Meredith the truth but she spoke first.
"I'm actually very glad we haven't seen each other in so long, Samantha."
I was taken aback. "Why?"
Meredith sighed and went silent again for a moment. "I don't think we could have been ready before now. There was so much to process. A lot of anger and confusion to work through. Guilt—" I stiffened. "—and shame. And I think you and I needed time to work it all out." Meredith wrapped her hands around mine. "And I think it's something we can put behind us now."
I opened my mouth to reply, but Meredith shook her head.
"I think Natalie has forgiven us. That's important. Now that we realize that, we can go about forgiving ourselves. Then, in turn, we can forgive each other. And I'm ready for that now. You are, too. Neither of us was really ready until just now. We weren't ready until just this very moment. And that's okay. We don't really need to say anything else, alright?"
I nodded and even though I felt like I should be crying, even though I wasn't actually sure why, I knew it wasn't the right time. I just nodded.
"Let's eat, Samantha," Meredith said, "It's time."
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