The new album was recorded in just under three weeks, which made Steve even happier. He locked himself in his house and exercised day and night. He began eating the half-sausage every other day, hoping that would break the glass floor on his weight. It did. The first week after the album was cut, Steve weighed 95 pounds.
His bandmates began calling him everyday afterwards, a habit which infuriated him. When he was on tour he felt he was the most compliant person in the world (never mind they had to pull teeth to get him to do anything that interrupted his workout), but when he was off the road he needed his privacy. Further enraging was the fact that they didn't even try to disguise their jealousy at his ability to stay on his diet. They told him his arms were too thin where they poked out of his increasingly baggy sweatshirts and they were concerned. They begged him to come around, let them see him, let their wives or girlfriends or whatever feed him. He began not answering the phone, then turning the ringer off when he was in the house, then finally having the line turned off. He didn't interfere with their lives and he wasn't going to let them interfere in his.
A month into his vacation, his weight plummeted to 89 pounds. His collarbone pushed out angrily in stark relief against his neck. The dips in his shoulders behind the collarbone were so deep he could pour a cup of water in each side. He had almost no fat left on his ribcage, and each rib stood out, a deep shadow cast between every one. One could count his vertebrae from a distance of five feet with out difficulty. His pelvis jutted out underneath him, hips sharp and dangerous looking. He appeared bowlegged and knock-kneed, so wide was the space between his thighs at his groin. The bones in his arms and legs appeared separated from the stringy muscles that barely held him together and seemed too large for his wasted frame. His cheeks were sunken, the flesh under his jaw pulled up tight. He had circles under his big violet-blue eyes, and the bony parts of his nose stood out away from the sunken cartilage.
Still he dieted. Everyday he lifted his shirt and looked at his stomach. The muscles that stretched across his abdomen no longer dipped in and out in six separate humps, but formed two long, hard cylinders on either side of his navel. To him, they looked like a couple of giant pythons trying to rupture his skin, ruining his chances for a smooth, concave, perfectly bellyless body. He was convinced that the rock hard muscles were solidified fat, stretching his navel open into a gaping hole. He performed at least 600 sit-ups at former mealtimes in a desperate effort to flatten his stomach, but the harsher the exercise, the harder his gut. Its appearance made him sick to his stomach.
He encouraged such sickness.
Every morning he weighed himself, checking his progress, trying to catch any weight gain before it had a chance to settle on his thoroughly starved frame. If the digital reading was anything higher than 87.5 (which, being up to pound and a half heavier, it always was) he'd punish himself with a brutal ritual he called gutfucking.
First, he'd take his red toothbrush and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. If he didn't sterilize everything he put in his mouth, he might ingest some bacteria, which, being living organisms, might have calories, and he could take no chances. Next, he'd set an alarm clock to go off in five minutes. Then he'd kneel on the floor in front of the bathtub and lean over it. He'd take his sterilized toothbrush and put it in his mouth like a thermometer, then clench the toothbrush with his teeth (so as not to loose it) and push it in until it touched the back of his throat. When the saliva poured copiously from between his gritted teeth, he would rear back and slam his fragile body down on the edge of the tub, trying to smash his disfigured belly to bits. He'd do this over and over, harder and faster each time, until the alarm sounded, even though his abdomen was blue and black before he finally finished. If he was lucky, he could eject as much as a child's handful of bile and mucus. Most mornings, however, the contents of his stomach were so minuscule most times he couldn't actually vomit anything, just spit the saliva still pooling in his mouth. To complete the barbaric punishment, he'd stretch himself out, gut still on the edge of the bathtub, and put all his weight on his fragile midriff, trying to flatten the two bulging bars that pushed disgustingly through his purple skin, waiting for his pounding heart to recover from the frustratingly dry purge.
He began fainting during exercise, so he thought it prudent to get some machines that he could use at home. That way he wouldn't have to deal with prying strangers trying to 'help' him if he collapsed during his routine. He bought a better treadmill, a stationary bike, a bench press machine, a chinning bar and a stair stepper. He put the dusty, unused, eight seater dining table his parents passed down to him in the garage and converted the dining room into a home gym. He arranged all his new equipment in a semicircle so he could see the same general area from each machine. He then bought himself one treat, a widescreen television, and put it in the focal point of the room.
He soon came across a TV movie about a woman with bulimia, and made an effort to take notes on it. He was frustrated that he couldn't remember most of what he saw, and for two days after the movie aired he refused himself even the one-eighth of sausage he'd been eating each day. He started to eat it again when he received an unmarked package in the mail, a taped copy of the movie. He watched the tape over and over again, trying to learn the woman's weight loss tricks.
The first one he tried was laxatives. He didn't want to explain anything to the folks at his local drug store, so he waited until half past midnight and drove an hour and a half to an unfamiliar all-night pharmacy. He darted through the aisles, searching for the over-the-counter digestive remedies. When he found the aisle, he froze up, shocked by all the choices. He had no idea what half the stuff was or what would happen if he tried them.
After about ten alarming minutes, a young woman brushed past him, breaking his reverie. He watched her stride purposefully to an area about a foot away, reach high above her head, and grab what looked like a tiny bottle of vanilla extract. While she was stretched out, her oversized shirt lifted a bit, revealing a thoroughly meatless ribcage, covered only by the thinnest skin. He could see her hipbones poking out in both directions, and her waist was so small it couldn't have been more than fifteen inches around.
He waited for her to look up before approaching her. He told her he was on a diet and looking for something to help him slim down. She looked at him as if she were going to say something rude, but kept silent when he lifted his shirt to expose his bruised middle. He explained that he couldn't get rid of it, and he thought he might try something to get the food out faster. She looked startled, then asked him if he still ate. He felt his face get hot and he rubbed his purple belly, ashamed about his unintentional confession. She patted his arm comfortingly and commented on how small it was, much smaller than her own. He looked up as she rolled up her sleeves to reveal a skeletal limb. She complained that she ate only twice a week and they still wouldn't shrink. He couldn't see anything wrong with her arms, but he nodded sympathetically, still rubbing his stomach.
She looked at the laxatives and found something that said extra-strength. She pulled out three boxes, dropped two in her basket, and gave him the other. She always took the strongest formula available, to make it worthwhile. She hid the little bottle in her basket, unwilling to share all her secrets. He didn't mind. He saw where it came from, and could grab a bottle himself later if he felt like it. Thanking her profusely, he headed for the checkstand.
The size-6 clerk stared openly at Steve when he approached, and grimaced when he handed her the box of chewy chocolate-flavored laxatives. She told him he needed to put the box back and find some real chocolate, stat. He told her she was a fat fuckface that needed to mind her own goddamned business or get out of retail. Stat.
She completed the sale without another word.
He stalked out of the store and threw the box in the car. He plopped down in the driver's seat and tried unsuccessfully not to cry. After a few miserable moments he got back out of the car and wandered through the parking lot, still sobbing. He wound up behind the store, by the dumpsters. The dumpsters were overflowing with boxes of damaged goods, some of which were open packages of snack cakes. Some of them had fallen to the ground, rolling away from the overstuffed trash bins. He looked at them with longing, suddenly aware of his famished state.
In the blink of an eye he was flat on his belly, scrounging up the little packages of filled cupcakes and ladyfingers from underneath the dumpsters, ripping the cellophane open and shoving them in his mouth before he could get the cakes out. He grabbed the cakes so hard he smashed every last one in his vice-grip, sucking the gooey white stuff from his fingers and palms, smearing the junk all over his face. He'd devoured at least ten of the packages before he came to his senses. He stopped and looked at the empty cake packages scattered about.
Disgusted with himself, he punished himself the only way he knew how - he stuck his bare finger down his throat. He tickled the back of his tongue with the tip of his finger, wagging it from side to side, trying to find the magic spot. It made him gag a little, but nothing forceful enough to empty his system of the vile cakes. He thought about what the horrific loss of control might do to his body, but he still couldn't get a decent reaction. Finally, head hung in defeat, and more miserable than ever, he wondered back to his car, convinced of his own worthlessness.
When he got home, he went to the kitchen and pulled out the box of laxatives. He felt bloated and genuinely sick from all the cakes, and had decided there was no time like the present to try out his new weight-loss aid. His brow furrowed as he read and re-read the instructions carefully, noting that they suggested starting with one chew, increasing to two if constipation was severe. They also explicitly stated not to ingest more than four in a 24 hour period.
He gulped ten of them. After waiting ten minutes, he frowned and downed ten more. When another ten minutes passed and nothing happened he shoved the box irritably in the pantry with his cans of sausage and returned to his gym. What good could they possibly be if half a box did nothing?
The pain he endured after the panic attack under the dumpster was nothing compared to the anguish he was in forty minutes later. His whole body quaked as his gut tied itself into a cramp so tight he couldn't straighten himself out if somebody put him on the rack. Doubled over in agony, he somehow managed disentangle himself from his stationary bike and run to the bathroom before he completely lost control. Curled up on the toilet, he screamed bloody murder as his trembling, straining body gushed putrid, curdled fluid in a series of frenzied, explosive, torturous blasts. Paralyzed by pain and fear, he hollered and cried and begged anybody listening for mercy. It took him an hour to get off the toilet.
He literally crawled into the shower and reached up to turn the water on, letting the warm spray soothe his still cramped bowels. He sat on the tile floor, sobbing and hiccupping from his ordeal. When he felt like he could stand without collapsing again, he slowly forced himself to his feet and wobbled out of the shower. He reached over and flushed the toilet without looking at it, afraid to see what he could possibly have passed in such a horrific manner. He hobbled over to the scale, checking to see if anything good could have possibly come out of this god awful night.
He smiled and put his tape back in the VCR, ready to find another successful tip.