I started college at Colorado State University in the fall of 2004. During high school my weight had crept up and my eating habits, heavily dependent on my mood, had deteriorated. I started college weighing about 204 lbs and was so embarrassed about it I could hardly stand it. But, I found so much freedom in not having to follow anyone’s schedule or be accountable to anyone regarding food that new habits started to develop, over eating. This was made worse by the endless options and “all you can eat” buffets that come with dorm food plans and soon I passed the “freshman 15” and slid firmly into the “freshman 20.”
I lived in a coed dorm with a roommate and two suite mates who shared a bathroom with my roommate and I. It was here I met Kenzie. She was my suite mate and was notably thin. The kind of person people whisper about in the hallway. She was about 5 foot 10 inches tall with a gaunt face, long grasshopper limbs and an obsession for exercise. Every time I would see her she was always on her bike hustling to and from one side of campus to the other. I don’t know how we started talking, but we became fast friends. She was from Alaska but it turned out her cousin was a neighbor from my home town and I knew most of her Colorado family.
It wasn’t long before her eating disorder became a subject of discussion. We confided in each other and compared notes. Where I was obviously a failing anorexic, she was a master. She had spent months and months in several rehab facilities, (mostly in Arizona) during much of her youth amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for her family to cover the cost of her treatments. But she had been “cured” in high school, graduated and struck out on her own, thousands of miles from her whole support system.
We bonded, deeply and she became one of my closest friends. So close in fact that I failed to see what was really happening to her. She wasn’t cured, she was set free. Free to no longer be constrained to the limitations of covering up an eating disorder, no hiding her habits, she did what she wished. She was totally unhindered in her obsession. She would call her family frequently and give false updates about her health and wellness all the while refusing to eat even as much as a single french fry and spending literally hours and hours a day on a treadmill.
By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around Kenzie had caused herself irreparable damage. Being so close to the situation though, I didn’t recognize the issues. She had arranged with her parents to stay in Colorado for the week long break saying she’d spend the time in my home town with family. I offered her a ride, hoping to spare her grandparents the 4 hour drive, but she insisted that they wanted to come get her. I wished her well and told her I’d see her in a week.
On my second day home, I got a call from her aunt. “Is Kenzie with you?” she asked. “No.” I said. I explained the story about her grandparents coming to get her. They hadn’t. A web of lies began to unwind.
I ended up driving her grandma and my mom back to Fort Collins to find her. The dorms were closed for the week, no food or services available, but Kenzie had stayed anyways. At some point she left her room and came to the lobby for a soda. She passed out there and was taken to Children’s hospital in Denver.
By the time we got there, the picture was starting to come into focus. Kenzie was a master manipulator. Standing there in her hospital gown, for the first time I saw what was actually there. A 5′ 10″ tall, ghostly woman who weighed all of 71 lbs. She was so malnourished her skin looked translucent and flaky. Her hair was patchy and dry, giant bald spots exposed where before she had covered them with elaborate hair do’s.
It turned out on any given day she would typically wear two to three pairs of jeans and three or four sweaters to cover her skinny physique. I had no idea it was so bad. I had bought into her story about a blood disorder. A form of anemia that explained away her thin face. Looking at her image what sticks out in my memory was the thought that when you look at most peoples faces, the first thing you notice is the nose as it is what sticks out the farthest. But not for Kenzie. It was her teeth. Her teeth protruded out of her face, round and front and center because every other part of her face was so hollow. It reminded me a bit of a monkey.
She was sick and it took some time to sink in what I was seeing. She was irritated and belligerent. She wanted out of the hospital. She wanted to go home. We offered to take her to her grandparents house but the doctor rebuffed. He informed us the trip over the passes (the change in elevation) could cause her heart to stop.
I grieved for my friend. How did I not know? How could I not see what was happening right in front of my eyes. She was killing herself. She bent over to reach something on the floor. The hospital gown slipped down around her sides revealing big, stuck out- horse like hip bones. As she bent the thin skin on her back showed dark areas that moved under her skin. My mind wondered if I was seeing right through her skin to her organs.
Eventually her grandmother reached her mother and relayed the severity of the situation. They thanked us for our help and dismissed us. I hugged my best friend goodbye and followed my mother back to the parking lot. Once in the car I collapsed into tears on my mother’s shoulder. I could hardly believe what I had seen. At that moment I swore to myself I would never not eat again. I would never force myself to throw up again. I wanted to be thin. I didn’t want to die.