Skeleton Trees

By Camiell Foulger

It all began with a thought of someone smaller, the fleeting idea of starving for perfection while lying in bed counting blackberries and letting the dark juice run between the crooks of my fingers. Delicious, contrite, burning authority in my own distinction of healthy and not.  

It was pondering the concept of beauty and the tiny check-mark box if you are to fail all other criteria: thin. Thin as in the girls who we think have so much power over their animal instinct, who never fall victim to the sway of bestial want, nor the cruelty of impulse. They are the emblem of our visions, of magnificence and grandeur. I fall in the love with them every day.

And like them, I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be small, untouchable, impermeable, beautiful, and wonderfully disciplined. I wanted to be everything at once.

It was frenzy, mania glittering in the recess of my eyes. Running myself into the ground in order to not think of the dreaded thing: food.

It was love for the crooks of elbows, the edges of wings at my shoulder blades, the thin, haggard expression in my formerly round face, the angles of hip and of rib, the lack of creases in the twist of spine.

To be small means you are untouchable. Your control is infinite and sublime.

And slowly, I began to refuse life in the form of ice cream, crackers, bread, hamburgers, pasta, and the uncertainty in between. Everything was deleterious to becoming the image of beauty. Control. Grace.

People would whisper, My god, doesn’t she look great?” It became a poisoned arrow of reverence slipping between the shallow of my ribs. “You look stunning. I wish I were thin as you. Everything looks great on your frame.”

“Yes,” I think, “aren’t I beautiful?” Please feed this beast, it desires your love and respect.

It was counting calories, minutes exercised, hours spent pacing up and down the halls.

It was living off 300 calories a day, repeating to strangers, to family, to the trees, “I am not hungry.”

It was perpetual physical weakness and sheer mental determination.

I lived on nothing but oxygen and the finely tuned hate of a 16-year-old girl.

I morphed into an unknown creature of weakness and hardened resolve, of edges and borders. I was sharp to the touch, bitter like the rain.

I sat in class compulsively chewing gum until my jaws ached while my stomach pleaded and snarled its angry tirade. The jut of my tailbone grated into the plastic seats, and I tossed jacket after jacket onto my walking corpse. Being cold was permanent and familiar but immensely disliked.

And with the cultivation of the beast, gradually, the monster was born. She whispered, “do not eat.” She cried and it stormed the minute anything touched my lips other than carrots or yogurt. She became fearful of being alive. She wished to be invisible, desiring to fall into the cracks of the sidewalk, lost to the gaze of men and the biting touch of older women.

The monster had a name: anorexia. I never thought we would be close in my lifetime, but there we were, holding hands in the desert, falling in love with the essence of each other, clutching each other in the dead of night and uttering the same mantra: “You are fat. You are hideous. You are taking up too much space, too much time, too much life.”

“Come away with me,” she told me, “I have so much to tell you.”

And so I took her hand and we walked off into a loveless marriage.

“Do not eat. Do not eat. Do not eat.” The world screamed over and over and my mind stretched and sighed, curled into the recesses of infinite commitment to harm and sweet ideation.

I grew to measure my wrists, my ankles and the spaces between my vertebrae as they appeared. My gratifying skeleton trees of bone and direction were close to me, closer than skin, closer than life.

I remember my parents howling in the clutches of the kitchen: “Why is it so hard? Just eat!” The house erupted into tears and sobs, of one too many pleas.

Can you fix an addict?

It was lying in the hospital bed, bleeding and faint: 35 beats per minute. 40 beats per minute. My heart dying, my guts weak. The doctor fearful my organs were shutting down and me shivering, shivering, shivering. My period gone for eight months, my body a bloodless bath. Fear sent a shock wave into my skull and brushed away the weeds.

Terror of death cradled the desire to be thin, and finally I began to breathe something other than air colder than ice. I breathed in sun and stars, love and respect, olive oil and macaroni and cheese.

It was telling myself, quietly, you may eat. But there was a war of two different spirits — one of my ideas of allure, the other my own common sense. I binged peanut butter, cake, boxes of cereal, oatmeal, bread and bread and bread. I crouched on the floor of the kitchen, drinking liquefied peanut butter with French baguettes, the animal I had spent so much time avoiding. We were forever disagreeing on my actions, and anorexia would rage and win. My weight would slip two pounds, sometimes three and her fist would crack the night wide open. Her anger was toxic and startling pure in its aspirations. I still loved her, although deep down, I knew our love affair was pernicious to the ending of the game — the war that never ends, the fight that never ceases.

But after months of battle, she walked out one evening and didn’t come back.

Still, sometimes I see her from my window late at night at the corner of the street. She is still beautiful, but we do not speak.


Camiell Foulger is a college student at Furman University. She has no idea of what she plans on doing with her life, nor of whom she plans on being.

Editor’s note: Skirt! magazine publishes selected essay submissions each month as part of our mission to amplify women’s voices and issues women care about.