He ran a hand over his face, taking a moment before answering. "The doctors feel," he said, "that she needs to go immediately to a treatment facility. Your mother and I…" He trailed off, looking past me, out at the pool. "We just want what's best for Whitney."
"So she's not coming back?"
"Not right away," he told me. "It's a process. We just have to see how it goes."
I looked down at my hands, which I had spread out in front of me on the table, the wood cool on my palms. "Last night," I said, "when I first saw her, I just…"
"I know." He pushed his chair out, standing up. "But she's going to get help now. Okay?"
I nodded. Clearly, my dad was not up for discussing the emotional impact of what had happened. He'd given me the facts, what prognosis there was, and that was all I'd get.
After a couple of days in the hospital, Whitney was transferred to a treatment center, which she hated so much she initially refused to speak to my parents when they visited. Still, it was helping her, as she began gaining weight, bit by bit, day by day. As for Kirsten, she arrived on Christmas Eve to find my parents exhausted and stressed out, me just trying to stay out of the way, and any hope of holiday cheer completely out of the question. Which did not prevent her from dropping a bomb of her own.
"I've made a decision," she announced as we sat at dinner that night. "I'm giving up modeling."
My mother, at the end of the table, put down her fork. "What?"
"I'm just not into it anymore," Kirsten said, taking a sip of her wine. "Truth be told, I haven't been for a while. And it's not like I've been working that much anyway. But I just decided to make it official."
I glanced at my mom. She was already so tired and sad, and this clearly was not helping. My dad was watching her, too. He said, "Don't do anything rash, Kirsten."
"I'm not. I've thought about it a lot." Of all of us, she was the only one still eating, scooping up a forkful of potatoes as she said this. "I mean, let's face it, I'm never going to be a hundred and five pounds. Or five-ten, for that matter."
"You've gotten plenty of work just as you are," my mom said.
"Some work," Kirsten corrected her. "It's by no means a living. I've been doing this since I was eight. I'm twenty-two now. I want to do something else."
"Such as?" my dad said.
Kirsten shrugged. "I don't know yet. I've got the hostess thing at the restaurant, and I have a friend who owns a salon who offered me a receptionist job. So the bills will be covered, for the most part. I'm thinking I might sign up for some classes or something."
My dad raised his eyebrows. "School," he said.
"Don't sound so surprised," Kirsten replied, although I had to admit, this was shocking to me, as well. Even before she'd stopped taking classes in New York, she'd never been much for academics. In high school the classes she hadn't missed because of modeling she skipped, usually preferring to spend her time with whatever scruffy, free-spirited boyfriend she had at the time. "Most girls my age have already graduated and have real careers. I feel like I've missed out on a lot, you know? I want to get my degree."
"You could take classes and still model," my mother said. "It doesn't have to be an either/or situation."
"Yes, it does," Kirsten replied. "For me, it does."
Under different circumstances, maybe my parents would have pushed to discuss this further. But they were tired, and while Kirsten might have been known best for her directness, her stubbornness ran a close second. It shouldn't have been all that surprising anyway, as she'd hardly been committed to modeling for years now. Coming so close to Whitney's collapse, however, it meant more. Especially to me, although I didn't realize it at the time.
Whitney stayed at the treatment center for thirty days, during which time she gained ten pounds. She wanted to return to
New York once she was released, but my parents insisted she move back home instead, as the doctors felt strongly a return to modeling would risk any progress she'd made, or would make. That was in January, and since then she'd been going to an outpatient program, seeing an additional therapist twice a week, and sulking around the house. Meanwhile, Kirsten had kept to her word, enrolling in some classes at a New York college while juggling her other two jobs. Surprisingly, given her high-school experience, she loved school, calling each weekend happy and bubbling over with details about her classes and what she was studying. Again, my sisters were at extremes and yet similar at the same time: Each was starting over, but only one by choice.
There were some weeks when it seemed like Whitney was really getting better, gaining weight, clearly on her way. And then there were others when she'd refuse to eat breakfast, or get caught doing forbidden crunches in her room late at night, and only the threat of having to go back into the hospital and be force-fed was enough to make her get back in line. Through it all, one thing remained constant: She would not talk to Kirsten.
Not when she called. Not even when she came home for a weekend in the spring. At first Kirsten was hurt, then angry, before finally retaliating with her own silence. The rest of us were stuck in the middle, filling the awkward pauses with chatter that always fell short. Since then, while my mom and dad had both traveled up to see her at various times, she'd made a point of not coming back home.
It was weird. As a kid, I'd always hated it when my sisters fought, but them not talking at all was worse. Their complete and total lack of communication, now going on nine months, was scary in how permanent it felt.
The changes in my sisters over the last year were both evident and sensory. One you could spot on sight, while the other you heard about the moment you were in earshot, whether you wanted to or not. As for me, I found myself where I'd always been, stuck somewhere in the middle.
But I had changed, too, even if only I could tell. I was different. As different as my family was that night it all began from what we appeared to be—the five of us, a happy family, sharing a meal in our glass house—to anyone in a car passing by on the road outside, looking in.
For the first week of school, Sophie ignored me completely. Which was hard. But when she did begin to speak to me, I quickly realized I much preferred the silence.
It was always just one word. One word, said clearly and with enough spite to sting. Sometimes it came from behind me, floating over my shoulder when I wasn't expecting it. Other times, I could see her coming, and took it right in the face. The one thing that was always the same was that her timing was impeccable. The moment I started to feel a little better or have a half-decent moment in an okay day, she was right there to make sure it didn't last.