Emma was a difficult baby. She’d fuss, but when I tried to get her to nurse, she’d just turn her head away. If I pushed her too long, she’d begin to howl, a sound that started out low and built into a scream of defiance, “ananananananaNANANA!” and when she finally ate a little, it seemed like she’d spit half of it back up when I burped her.
Still, it didn’t mean much to me at the time. She was my first, so I figured it was just a baby thing. There couldn’t be anything wrong with her, she was my perfect little girl.
She loved playing with her dolls. There was Parker the dog, and Runny Bunny, and a plush R2-D2 that was, inexplicably, named Tom, but the one she refused to be separated from was a big-headed, hollow-eyed terrycloth ragdoll named Annie. To this day, I don’t know where that damned doll came from, I just found it in her crib one day. Todd denied having anything to do with it, but when I took it away, Emma went ballistic, screaming like I’d never heard before.
So the doll stayed.
When she was four, she asked me if it was true that the pork chops we were having were “piggies”, and, upon learning that they were, declared herself a “vegabularian.” Annie had taught her the word, she said.
She said Annie would be angry if she ate piggies and moo-cows.
It was a struggle, but we finally managed to banish Annie from the dinner table. Emma said it didn’t matter, Annie was watching, and would always know.
When she went to kindergarten, I put my foot down and said that Annie had to stay home or she might get lost. On the forms, I left the “Special Dietary Requirements / Allergies” box blank.
She came home with a note from her teacher. She’d refused lunch, saying that Annie didn’t want her to eat it.
Every day, every meal, became a struggle. She went from being a vegetarian to a vegan by the time she was seven, and then, when she was nine, she learned about celiac.
Even the most carefully prepared meals went unfinished; we’d find hidden napkins full of things we thought she’d eaten. She grew dangerously thin. The counseling helped, but only for a while.
We did our best. It wasn’t good enough.
And when she died, we found her notebooks, notebooks going back years, full of drawings of big-headed, hollow-eyed girls, with a list of “The Thin Commandments,” a horrorshow of self-hating nonsense about starving yourself pretty, starving until your ribs show, never being skinny enough, and the phrases “Ana is watching me, Ana is always watching me,” written over and over on the pages.
Emma is gone now, but the little hollow-eyed girl is still there.
Todd tells me to eat, and I know I should, but I don’t feel very hungry anymore.
Because she’s watching me. Ana is always watching.
*I’m happy to announce that this story was the winner of the 43rd Flash Fiction contest at Writingforums.org