This Is Not a Story about Your Guilt

          You’d like to think you did more in your early twenties than steal from a Payless Shoes and smoke weed. You’d like to think you had more friends than your little brother and his buddies, a rowdy group of line chefs and shrimp boat workers who indulged you, maybe enjoyed you. You’d like to think you didn’t go through a bottle of tequila a week or talk shit about your roommate Mia when you were at work with Nicole.
          You’d like to think you didn’t notice how thin Mia got while you were busy partying with the guys. You didn’t have nightmares of her slithering under your bedroom door while you were sleeping to dress up in your clothes, a grim copy of you as a child in your mom’s blouses. You didn’t pretend not to notice her 5’9” frame disintegrating into a mere eighty-four pounds. You didn’t drive two hours to your parents’ house to sleep on the couch, away from her, though still you dreamt of her. This time dismembered limbs searching through kitchen cabinets.
          You told her she was beautiful when it was still true—you must have. But if you didn’t then you couldn’t now.
          Before this she had been yet another girl who didn’t want to hear, “I love you.”  Another girl who suspected nothing but friendliness in your embrace. Another girl with Southern blood in her veins who pranced around the house in panties or kissed you on the dance floor, living out the male fantasy of herself, going home to get fucked by boys who went to military school. 
          You started stealing shoes from work. You stuffed stiff, garish pleather with glue showing at the seams and peeling BOGO stickers into your bag. The manager trusted you. After all, you were the only white girl who worked there. She gave you the key, had you count down the drawer.
          You closed most nights with Nicole who was over six feet tall and had a daughter your age. She told you about a girl she once knew who was also too thin. You were both comfortable, removed from these women. Her boyfriend, Al, worked construction and brought you both chocolate Frostys when he came to pick her up. You set the alarm, waved them out, watched them leave, turned off the alarm.
          Maybe you got carried away. Maybe your closet was filled with tacky heels, already falling apart flip-flops, sensible loafers. Maybe there was a duffel bag full of children’s shoes with Pixar characters and glitter and lights in the heels. Maybe you tripped over men’s size-12 no-slip work boots when you got up to pee at night. Maybe you tried to give Mia a pair of lime-green pumps because her shoe size was the only thing that had stayed the same and maybe she had to waste some of her precious energy smiling and pretending she liked them. Maybe her hair was thinning and you made eye contact with the hideous heels while she spoke.
          When your boss asked if you knew who was stealing you became indignant. How could someone do this to us? One of our own? She fired Nicole who suspected it was you and every day at work you wondered what she was doing now.
          Then came the night you had dreaded. The night when you found Mia passed out on the living room floor in front of the TV. Food Network’s Ina Garten served brunch to friends in breeze-ruffled linen. The colors cast by crab cake eggs benedict and blood orange mimosas lit up Mia’s pallid skin in the dark room.
          When the paramedics arrived (at least you called them) you were in your room, frantic, hiding shoes. The stretcher was too big, her body too small.
          You couldn’t possibly have moved out after she got back from the hospital, after she was set up with the nutritionist, when the hard work was just beginning. You didn’t tell her the peace and quiet would be good for her when you knew phantom smells of meals would haunt her, scream at her to run off the calories. 
          Settled into your new apartment you don’t still make the drive home to sleep on your parents’ couch. You don’t throw out half your food or watch Top Chef marathons, ignoring the gurgling protestations of your stomach. You haven’t lost fifteen pounds in the last few weeks and your car isn’t packed full of shoes you keep meaning to drop off at Goodwill.

Chelsea Hickok is in the third year of her MFA at Arizona State where she teaches and is editor-in-chief of Hayden's Ferry Review.  

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