Cat on a Leash Review
by Abby Rose Beck
The first thing I noticed about Cecily Eugenen was her hipbones. That particular feature often goes unnoticed completely within a friendship, and it certainly has no great importance that needs to be recognized right off the bat, but it’s hard not to notice when the sharp ridges of bone collide with your thigh and give you a bruise in the shape of a half-moon. The collision happened during the scuffle to turn in papers on the second day of our sophomore year. That was the year I qualified for state in basketball but couldn’t play because I was scheduled to get my wisdom teeth broke my from my skull. That year was also many more things, but most importantly, it was the year I came to know Cecily Eugenen. Hipbones, floral prints on maroon or pale pink Bodycons, strawberries for breakfast, dance practice in the evening, lipsticks in all shades pink and red and violet. She looked like a walking aesthetic. I would pair her with gleaming skinny skyscrapers, Instagram ice cream photos with the cone spilling over, and bouncing ballet flats.
But people can not be reduced or built up to the aesthetics they seem to embody, and I learned that first with a hipbone collision, then a partnership in Biology, then a common table in Algebra, and eventually her eating yogurt bars at my lunch table and her spending the night with her quilt threaded in baby pink in tow. When I thought her voice would be as soft as a sunset, it cracked and snapped as if a violent firework had torn right through it. When I thought her temperament would be as stable and poised as the foot of a ballerina, it wobbled under the currents of neurosis and mood swings.
She could be pink and project joy. She could be furious reds, greens like tar and pine needles, and gray like a winter storm. She could embody the very thing that was eating her alive, and I only wish I had figured out what it was before she turned a sickly yellow.
Sophomore year was dominated by basketball and hairspray-birthed buns. Junior year was consumed by my mom’s SUV and her little white FIAT. Senior year was the year for our futures, but at the time I was drowning in worry because the underlying feeling of every year, month, and day since I crushed her hipbones was coming back up in the vilest of blacks. I didn’t know what Cecily Eugenen would become when I left her behind.
It seemed odd for someone as outwardly composed as Cecily to depend on someone like me, but I knew the truth of things with those hipbones. I’d spent evenings at her home, eaten her mother’s tofu salad, walked around in her Oxfords until they blistered, and smelled the heavy French perfume that fumigated her room in lavender clouds. I’d seen her dance recitals and every costume that went along with it- tight leggings, cage-like leotard, skirt with a waistband for a wrist. Most importantly, I’d heard ridges in her mother’s voice, seen panic in her eyes when grade reports were handed out, and tasted the tension in the kitchen when her mother was making dinner.
She once told me her biggest fear was that one day she’d become her mother. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I saw her mother’s temper and perfectionism in everything she did.
The last time I saw Cecily Eugenen, her hipbones were covered with a lilac dress adorned with rose buds. That didn’t matter- I didn’t have to look at her hipbones. I could look at her cheekbones, collarbones, wrist bones, anklebones and see that under each new pastel was a skeleton. We sat in empty bleachers, surveying the football field that still sparkled with the tons of discarded glitter thrown up at graduation. I was going as far away as I could while still getting instate tuition. She was on the wait list for some East coast dance college.
I didn’t know whether or not I wanted her to be accepted. On the one hand, her acceptance would get her away from her mother and her perfect house, but then again, what would a fancy dance school bring? An onslaught of bone and muscle with no fat in between. I figured with what little knowledge I had in the field that the starvation rate among those rows of pixies was higher than it was in our sleepy suburbs. Cecily would blend right in, and no one would ride out her waves of anger, sorrow, and obsessiveness.
I don’t think Cecily knew which option she wanted either. She sat with me in the bleachers misty-eyed and silent, and in her mind I don’t think the sun ever came up. For all I know, she’s still where I left her: lavender cloaked in darkness, skin stretched thin around her cloudy eyes.
It had been a relief to be tossed into the mix of average people again. College seemed to wrap its meaty hands around my head and hold it tightly whenever I thought to turn around for Cecily. Gone were the mood swings, the outbursts, the strawberries in the morning, blueberries in the afternoon, and tofu salads in the evening. I wasn’t faced with the physical manifestation of disease swaddled in pink anymore. Day by day, it became easier and easier to forget.
Other people have sharp, protruding hipbones. It’s a trait seen outside of suffocating ballerinas. My roommate, who had put her middle finger up in the face of the Freshman Fifteen, jolted me back to sophomore year only a few months before we were set to start our second one. Wedged into a twin bed to watch Netflix revivals, I leaned over for the popcorn bowl and felt it: Cecily Eugenen’s hipbones.
I don’t finish my college years sitting in bleachers next to a skeleton. I finish it shuffling boxes around with weights on my ankles as ballerinas flit back and forth in my mind. I don’t tell my companion about these moments, and if she comes back early from the grocery store I will wrap myself up in pretty colors so she can’t see the bones of my former friend.
I do not know what happened to Cecily Eugenen. Some days I forget about her just as I did freshman year. Other days, I imagine her with hipbones cushioned in flesh and wearing a sundress that fits loose. She speaks with her mother only through Christmas cards, she has started working towards being a dance coach, and she’s finally at peace with the storm. Maybe she dyed her hair to match her favorite lipstick, maybe she got engaged to someone that knows her beyond any aesthetic, and maybe she lives on the coast where she can hear seagulls. Those unimportant details fluctuate. What remains the same is her kitchen, wherever it may be. In it is cabinets full of food and a table her mother would never sit at because the silverware isn’t aligned and matching. Cecily eats breakfast, lunch and dinner there, and her bones cease to bother anyone.
But I do not know. Her number changed, her Facebook sits unused, and I can’t seem to find the exact username a healthier Cecily Eugenen would use for any other social media. Going back to her house would only bring me to her mother, and nothing would kill me more than to find Cecily there with her.
I don’t know. How hard would it have been to wrangle her into counseling? Possibly impossible. How hard would it have been to address the elephant in the room? We only talked about butterflies. How hard would it have been for me to take her two boney hands in mine and tell her that I knew, tell her that as her friend I would love her and stay with her until she could pull herself off my shoulder and stand on her own? I saw her shoulders rotating forward sometimes- her toothpick fingers scratched against what my family had like a withering tree branch blowing against a windowpane. She wanted siblings tumbling down the stairs, sweaty gym bags slung into the backseat, and lopsided ponytails on Sunday evenings. She wanted chaos oozing out love and stuffed full of adventure, and she was reaching for it whenever the chokehold on her chicken neck loosened.
That’s the problem. When her hands were there, I looked at them in terror and silently refused to touch them. The knots of her spine were a full-time job. The jutting kneecaps were a baby screaming to be fed and rocked and cared for. And the hipbones, her poor, poor hipbones were a battle to be fought in a full suit of armor and a gleaming sword. I could’ve taken Cecily and all she carried with her, but I did not want the responsibility to be mine. I ran as hard and fast as I could from those bleachers and hoped just as hard that someone else would stumble upon Cecily Eugenen and see the disease that had taken her over. She could’ve been found. Someone could’ve realized her pain for what it was and dedicated themselves to caring for her. If I looked just a little harder, I know I could find my friend to find out, but what if no one found her first? What if the responsibility I was so quick to pass on was meant only for me? If it was, I’m writing this to formally apologize for Cecily Eugenen and her hipbones. I hope both have found their peace.
Abby Rose Beck is a teenage writer from the Seattle area with goals involving a career in writing and editing. She enjoys psychology, singing, running, and hiking. She plans to apply to local colleges, earn her degree in English, and publish her first novel within the next five years so she can finally have something impressive to write about in writer bios.