Diet by Jean-Luc Bouchard
I tried to eat only what was good for me, and nothing else. But that proved difficult when the foods they labeled healthy on Monday were decried as fat bombs by Friday. The fatigue of trying—really trying—was new to me, and I slept twelve to fourteen hours a night, stress-dreaming about high school gym. I read newspaper lifestyle columns and watched daytime talk shows, and while I could aggregate some general rules—blueberries were good, dairy was bad, only buy organic lettuce—I still lacked the information and strategy necessary to take me through an entire day. I lost and gained so many percentages of a pound that I got dizzy staring at my scale and had to sit down with a glass of salt water.
Months of this routine eventually bled all the will from my body, and I was left a headache-ridden mess. I’d completely forgotten by this point why I’d wanted to slim down in the first place, and I now just wished to see any sort of change at all, proof that I still commanded some control over my body. Drastic changes were called for.
I stopped sleeping right away. That was an easy first step, and I saw results almost immediately—fatigue, unkempt hair, deep lines cut below my eyes and mouth. My body changed, and did it so obediently that I knew I was onto something. After sleep, I cut out carbs, and then fats, and then food altogether. After a few weeks, water was next to go, and then my medications, my apartment, my clothes.
My body reacted each time, and the evidence was written in my reflection as much as it was in my nerves and cells. Walking, talking, thinking felt different. My teeth shivered and ached in ways I’d only ever felt in my joints; my eyelashes fought for my attention with the skin bunching together by my waist. I was so happy I thought I might die or wake up, and both seemed equally unfortunate.
The problem came a couple months out. I enjoyed all these changes so much that I’d never bothered to imagine the horrors of running out of things to cut. Lost, I spun in circles, hoping I’d speed up fast enough to outrun the present. In a panic, I shaved my scalp bald, chewed off my nails, but the thrill lasted only a few days. I’d become accustomed to moving down, always moving, and the whiplashing jerk of this halt ripped out the few tears left hiding behind my eyes.
I recognized that I needed a friend—no, a mentor—to guide me out of this state, and I cursed my lifelong comfort with solitude. But as I crouched in an alleyway, fists banging knees, a mentor appeared and offered a thin hand veiled in shadows.
She took me out of the city and into the hills. As we marched, she refused to answer my questions, smiling and shaking her head at each inquiry into our journey or her identity. I gave up and followed, relieved at last to have found someone to help me do that which, for so long, had sat squarely and solely on my shoulders.
Days of walking brought us to a sturdy cabin built into the side of a rock formation. Its walls were made of dark, expertly chopped wood, and its roof was cut from thick slabs of forest moss. Inside, my mentor placed a cold palm on the back of my neck and steered me with kind certainty to a long, angled table with leather straps. And believe me, friends, when I say the howling screams of my joy hid tenfold the sounds of her sawing, as limb after limb fell to the floor, and liquid weight drained from my thriving body: change as I’d never felt it before, and so permanent you’d think I was born this way.
Jean-Luc Bouchard is a writer living in New York whose work has appeared in PANK, BuzzFeed, NANO, Umbrella Factory, Specter, Danse Macabre, The Molotov Cocktail, and other publications. His short story, “Arm and Arm, March On,” won second place in One Throne Magazine‘s “Joust” story contest. He can be followed @jlucbouchard, and his work can be found at jeanlucbouchard.com.