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How to Get Away with Shrinking

        When you eat out, always order the rice. Or the pasta. Chew it excessively, until the risotto or the fusilli becomes a glue-like putty in your mouth. Never anything too solid; meat and bread do not comply with the post-dinner ritual, no matter how many sips of water you take between bites.

        Begin each morning with a breakfast you can hold onto. A spoonful of peanut butter. A piece of untoasted wheat bread. A handful of baby carrots. Burnt egg whites with spinach and salt. Savor each bite. Listen to the sound of yourself breathing as you indulge on seven crackers. Pull each strand of the string cheese off so carefully, individually, until all you’re left with is a single thread of mozzarella.

        Make sure you’re stocked up on routine essentials. Water bottles. Acetaminophen (which, yes, you can take on an empty stomach). Waterproof bandages, and, if you can spare it, the Band-Aid brand ones that are designed for your hands. You have— apparently— sharpish canines that will begin to wear on the skin of your pointer finger knuckle. Maybe some Neosporin.

        Exercise in the morning, while the dopamine from that serving size of almonds is still hitting. Your exercise-induced asthma is no match for the sheer power of your will. You are unstoppable so long as you get that 5k in before 8 a.m.

        Look at yourself in the mirror often. Vanity is a must, though not the sort of self-indulgent vanity that anecdotally won’t do you any good. You are your best critic. Stand in the mirror and place your hands at the small of your waist, rock your hips slowly, observantly, from side to side. Watch the way that skin folds over your hands.

        Feel shame.

        Get drunk on white wine at your best friend’s going away party. Get incredibly sad, begin to cry, and call your boyfriend. Tell him you haven’t been eating normal. Tell him you haven’t eaten normal in a while. He might suggest you have an eating disorder. Tell him it’s just disorderly eating. He might ask you if you’ve ever thrown up a meal. Continue crying and tell him that you puked three times at his aunt’s fiftieth. He might tell you to see a therapist. Tell him you’ll go, but mostly because you don’t want him to be mad. He’ll tell you this is an unhealthy mindset. Tell him this is all the more reason you should see a therapist. Go out and get two slices of pizza. Peel the cheese off, chew it, and do not swallow.

        Wake up the next morning at eleven-thirty beside a box of pizza filled with little saliva saturated balls of cheese. Feel very gross. Check your phone. Call a therapist. Schedule an intake appointment. Google the effects of stress on weight gain. Decide you might lose five pounds if you stop worrying so much.

        Begin to notice how your days and weeks fade into each other, how the sharp hunger pains begin to numb, and though you tell your therapist you’re keeping a food journal, you actually write in everything in the doorway outside of her office just minutes before your appointment. Let her smile and tell you she’s proud of you for eating half a dinner last night.

        Feel affirmation for literally no reason.

        Begin a mild dose of Lexapro and feel nothing at all.

        Buy a croissant on the way home. Look it in the eyes. Take off your gloves and really feel it in the palm of your hand. Brush your fingers against the flake of butter laminated against flour against butter, some two-hundred times before it was baked and placed in the alluring front window of a Greenpoint bakery, the soft light calling to you through a hazy dust of snow. Pick off a piece, put it in your mouth, and taste the fat and salt and starch. Swallow hard. It will taste incredible.

        Take the rest of the croissant and chuck it in the garbage can on the corner of Noble and Manhattan Ave. Put your headphones in and ignore a call from your boyfriend. Walk home.

        On the front steps of your building, fiddle with your keys. Think about your food journal and what magical meals you might imagine yourself pretend-eating. Maybe this week you will have a croque monsieur. You’re not even sure what that is, but it sounds fancy. When you get into your building let the warmth envelope you fully, tuck you into your bed, and dismiss your hunger.

        Have sleep for dinner.

        Awake the next morning to three missed calls from your boyfriend. He is mad because his roommates sat him down and told him they heard you throwing up in his downstairs bathroom. They didn’t want to raise concern, but when his roommate went in there it smelt “like straight throw up.” Tell him you shouldn’t have. Tell him you’re sorry, that you’re working at it.

        Think about working at it while you’re on your morning run.

        Decide you feel, first and foremost, embarrassed.

        Find yourself on the Brooklyn Promenade, surrounded by tourists speaking strange languages. Feel the sudden urgency to go up to one of them and tell them that you’ve been shrinking, slowly, and that you might not want to anymore, but that quitting at this point doesn’t feel like an option. Decide that even if the tourist does speak English, they still might not know what you’re talking about. Feel overwhelmed. Turn down the heavy metal music. Really listen the sound of the city. Really listen to your own breath. Feel incredibly small.

        Call your boyfriend. Tell him you’re sorry again. Begin to cry. He will tell you it’s okay, and you will tell him you know it’s not.

        Take the subway home. It is a longer ride than if you ran it, but your muscles feel weak and sinewy. Grip tight on the handrail and feel the heat rush into your palms.

        On the walk home, stop at a coffee shop. Order a small hot chocolate, maybe with almond milk. Hold it just above below your nose, and inhale the rich, nutty smell.

        Take a sip.

        Take two sips.

        Finish the whole thing and feel full and warm like you haven’t in so long.

        Go home. Kick off your running sneakers at the front door and sprint to your room. Pull your food journal out from the canvas bag it never leaves. Search for a pen. Settle on a pencil.

        Find today’s date and write in the first line: “Small hot chocolate with almond milk.”

Doria Wohler (she/her/hers) is social media coordinator and bartender based out of Philadelphia. She was a 2022 Bread Loaf Contributor and attended Temple University (MFA, Fiction). Doria has two cats, Miss Kevin and Grumpous, and one 2010 Prius.

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