When Doctor Mitchell swung open the door to Alaska’s hospital room, her stomach plummeted. The doctor was surrounded by nurses, all of which Alaska had come to know quite well over the past six years. It wasn’t the grim expressions or tight-lipped smiles that gave her a pause; it was the lack thereof. Pitiful glances and shadowed faces were what she had become accustomed to at Walkine Hospital. Now, her doctor and nurses all wore the same countenance—bright sparkling eyes, crinkling at the corners from their outstretched smiles, arms pinned down to their sides as if they were afraid they would burst with excitement if they moved the tiniest bit. It made Alaska’s stomach recoil and she licked her parched lips.
“Good morning, Miss Alaska! How are we feeling today?” Doctor Mitchell chirped. He clasped his hands together and chuckled. “Well, hopefully better than what I'm reading on your face right now. Wipe that sneer off; we bring good news this fine morning!”
Alaska swallowed, sitting up straighter in her bed. It was approximately eight in the morning and she was still blinking away sleep from her eyes. She exchanged glances with Doctor Mitchell, all five nurses who were still flashing their wide grins, then back to Doctor Mitchell. “What’s going on?” she asked, softly. The doctor let out a wistful sigh and strolled over to sit on the edge of her bed, wrinkling the crisp white sheets under his weight.
“It has been six years since you came to us, Miss Alaska. Do you remember how much you weighed when you arrived here?” Of course, she remembered. “Seventy-three pounds. You were a walking bag of bones.” He laughed, the fat on his belly jiggling with the movement. “You would scream and thrash at us, refusing to eat anything more than a single nibble of bread a day. It has been a long journey; one I wasn’t even sure we would reach the end of. However…” he paused, casting an eager glimpse towards his assistants. “Well, here we are. Since May of two years ago, your eating habits and weight have skyrocketed. You are now five pounds past your original weight goal, making you a remarkable one-hundred and five pounds! With the pattern we have seen over the last two years, you have managed to surprise us more than any other patient here at this hospital. We are so happy to announce that one week from today…”
Doctor Mitchell suddenly drifted into a soft hum as Alaska struggled to comprehend his words. Something was wrong. She had seen this conversation plenty of other times with her past roommates and support group members. The going home speech. Alaska was going home in just one week. But she didn’t feel anything. A sharp voice in the back of her mind told her she should be smiling as intensively as the doctor and nurses around her; she should be weeping tears of joy; she should be embracing Doctor Mitchell and thanking him for pushing her past her disorder. But Alaska did not move. Her face did not twitch, and her heart did not thunder with excitement, but rather with dread.
As her doctor gently gripped her hand and said those magical words, you’re going home, Alaska, all she managed to feel was complete, and utter trepidation.
“Mom, please,” Alaska mumbled, hands grasping the seat belt fastened around her. One week had come and passed within the blink of an eye and she was now trapped in the passenger seat of her mother’s SUV.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just can’t believe you’re home! It’s just…it’s been so long, my dear Alaska.” Her mother took one hand off the steering wheel to wipe at her cheeks, sticky with tears. “When I got the call, I just…I couldn’t quite believe…And you're so big now! And...” her voice choked up once more.
Alaska spent her past six birthdays at Walkine Hospital. And her mother had not even bothered to show up, giving the same excuse every year. You're mother truly wanted to be here...Something apparently came up at her office...It would be too much of a hassle to drive so late at night...
She stopped caring after her eighteenth birthday. Alaska was now two weeks shy of turning twenty-years-old.
“It’s okay, mom. I just really want to go home right now.” Liar, Alaska thought. She shook her head, willing away the thought, and peered through the glass window over her right shoulder. The trees blurred together rapidly, making her head spin, but she continued to stare. Their leaves were nearly all gone, suffocated by December’s winter chill. Tiny snowflakes began to fall, plastering themselves along the window.
Alaska pursed her lips as she tried to remember the last time she had experienced a true snowfall. Too long ago, she concluded. Her mother cleared her throat beside her.
“So, anything special you want for dinner?” Her mother’s grin was bright as she spoke, but Alaska still saw her wince at the mention of food. “I figured, you know, we could have a big celebration feast. Like the ones we used to have when your father was still around.”
The words were said with such ease, but it still managed to make Alaska’s mouth go dry. Her father had suffered a long battle with cancer nearly seven years ago. His death was part of the reason Alaska had decided to stop eating. Her father never ate much in his last days, so Alaska figured it was dishonoring him if she enjoyed an enormous chicken or a juicy steak when he couldn’t eat anymore than broth.
“Alaska, honey?” Her mother’s hesitant voice drew Alaska out of her thoughts.
“How about macaroni and beef casserole? With the garlic breadsticks?” She put on the best smile she could muster and turned to her mother. That dish was once her favorite, in another lifetime. Her mouth may have even watered a tiny bit at the mention of it. But she couldn’t help but wonder how she could eat such a normal dish with her mother after six years of eating alone.
The front porch of their petite one-story house looked the same as she remembered it when they pulled in the driveway. A flag depicting the manger scene with Mary and Joseph huddled over baby Jesus was hanging from the front column of the house and a frosted wreath was placed on their brown, wooden door. They never were big on decorations, though they always wanted to be. The near bare porch made the knot curled up in Alaska’s stomach loosen a bit.
“Here we are! Home sweet home,” her mother sang, swinging open her car door. She came around to Alaska’s side, but Alaska quickly opened it before her mother could reach it. “I’ll get your bags, sweetie. Just go wait at the door.”
She didn’t argue, feeling the desperation of her mother’s need to help radiating off her. The front door was unchanged, as she suspected. The frosted wreath, the wooden, mousy brown door, and—
Alaska stopped short when she noticed there was, in fact, one minor change in the door frame to her once home. The doorbell. Where it had once sat, chipped and peeling away from its dull gray exterior, it was now shining in a glossy blue border with not a single scratch on the actual bell. Alaska’s breath quickened at the sight and her heart hammered inside her chest.
“Alright! Ready to step back into your forever home?” Alaska started at her mother’s perky voice, whom she had not realized had sauntered up beside her. Her body was tilted to the right where she clutched Alaska’s two hefty suitcases under her arm.
She shuddered slightly, biting back the words threatening to spill out. No, I’m not ready. I haven’t been ready to step back in this building for six years. She daubed on a smile. “Definitely.”
Her mother clapped her hands together, dropping one of Alaska’s bags in the process. She hurriedly snatched it up, flustered. Grabbing the keys dangling out of her pocket, she unlocked the door.
Alaska gulped and stepped inside. Her breath hitched as she took in the house before her. It wasn’t her home. It was clear that it had not been her home in over six years. The once dusky, green sofas had been replaced with sparkling, crisp white ones; the windows no longer had blinds concealing the outside but rather long, burgundy curtains draping down to the floor; the carpet that been stained from two dogs’ bathroom mishaps, a child’s juice spills, and a father’s pancake syrup was replaced with a sleek hardwood floor. It was as if Alaska was walking into the living room of a family she had yet to meet.
“Do you like it?” her mother asked, mistaking her baffled look for astonishment. “I remodeled the whole house after you…left. I thought it would be a good surprise to come home to, like a welcome home gift. That was, of course, back when I suspected you would come home within a few months. I’ve gotten used to it by now but, I suppose it’s all new for you.” She smiled, unaware by the knife that had just impaled Alaska’s back.
Alaska gawked and shook her head. “It’s…gone. Everything. Gone.” She whipped her head around, shooting her mother with an accusatory glare. “Why? Why did you feel the need to scrub every last memory from my home?”
Her mother blinked, surprised by her sudden outburst. “The house was in shambles,” she stuttered. “The carpet no longer looked recognizable, not to mention the furniture, and—”
“But it was our home! All of our memories, good memories! Everything we had left of Dad and you just…just destroyed it!” Alaska’s voice was nearing hysteria, but she did not care. She jerked an arm around the unfamiliar room, forcing her mother to face her actions.
Tears were now welling in her mother’s eyes. She shook her head belligerently. “I did this so you could come home to something comfortable. So that we could start a new life, Alaska! It has been six years since we have been under the same roof, I think I deserve just a little credit for trying to give you a nice home!” She was yelling now, as well, limbs trembling.
“You didn’t give me a nice home. You threw me into a new reality, expecting me to land on my feet," Alaska sneered. "This house belongs to a stranger."
Alaska did not eat that night, even when her mother tentatively knocked on her bedroom door, offering her a plate of macaroni and beef casserole. Alaska had gotten used to eating every day again, training her stomach to hold down food. But it was not hard to fall back into her old habits. It was not hard to isolate herself in her bedroom which was, ironically, the same as it had ever been apart from a few dust piles. It was not hard to lock the bathroom door within her bedroom and shove her fist into her mouth. She had not gagged herself in years and was surprised at how easily the gesture came back to her.
Alaska retched any stray food from her body and, even when it seemed like nothing more could possibly erupt from her, she heaved some more. Her knuckles were grated with scrapes when she collapsed onto the bathroom floor. She barely heard her mother’s frantic cries as she called an ambulance. The hands on her chest attempting to revive her conscience felt like nothing more than a whisper of a touch.
Alaska shared a content smile within the walls of her mind.
She knew she wasn’t ready to leave Walkine Hospital. Alaska could finally return to the place she undoubtedly belonged. Her sterile, bleak, quiet home.