This is not an easy piece for me to write. Not because I’m telling tales out of school- hell, I’ve rarely met salacious gossip I didn’t like. Not because because my experience with this situation is lacking- it’s not. In fact, I’ve seen this happen to many, many people before. Actually, this is hard for me to write, because I almost feel like the act of writing about it will make it more real. And I just really, really hope I’m wrong.

Melanie* works in my office, but in a different department. We’re similar in that both of us are a good 20 years under the average age of everyone else working here- but the likeness pretty much ends there. She’s younger than me, and has always been a bit troubled. She doesn’t have much of a family, and her relationships with both boys and friends are typically fraught with drama. She’s one of those people that are so painfully naive, indecisive, and needy that you wonder how it is that they accomplish simple things like paying rent on time and regularly feeding themselves. Well, actually, I do know how she manages to feed herself, and if her gastronomical choices are any indication of the preferences of her age group, we should all go out and buy stock in Wendy’s. Which probably does an excellent job explaining why Mel is always. fucking. sick. When I first started working here, she was afflicted with an aggressive staph infection that never really healed, just went about occupying and infecting different areas of her body until finally relenting after 2 or so months. And yet, in spite of the rounds of antibiotics, the fruitless root canals (we have really good insurance here), and the sick leave that rivals that of Bristol Palin, Melanie always managed to keep chipper.

She would relate the tale of her latest sprain as if it were a stand-up routine, enthusiastically making herself the butt of her own joke, snarfing on sips of her Arby’s milkshake at lunchtime. If being sickly and accident-prone was going to be her lot in life, she was determined to extract all the joy out of it she possibly could. This is the girl who managed to get a papercut on her eyelid. This is the girl who once broke her ankle by getting out of bed the wrong way. We marveled at not only her endless capacity for calamity, but also her ability to eat her weight in jalapeno poppers while still fitting into bias-cut Hollister duds. Some say laughing burns a lot of calories, we chalked it up to being young and reckless. It wasn’t until her latest relationship dissolved back in January that we stopped paying attention to what Mel was eating, but rather, what was eating her.

Mel’s live-in boyfriend of 9 months broke up with her in typical guy fashion- read: for no real reason. Mel, being the impossibly helpless urchin we know and love, was without the necessary means to find a new apartment. So, the two on-the-outs lovers remained living together. In a one-bedroom apartment. Sleeping in the same bed. Awkward! And the situation obviously stressed her out bigtime, as she spent nearly every break huddled in a different cubicle in the administrative section, telling and re-telling the latest of her relationship saga. Her moods became increasingly erratic, her hair color was never the same from one month to the next, she took up smoking cigarettes, and, despite the presence of Colonel Sanders on her daily lunch bag, she began shedding pounds. Lots of them.

This is a girl who has never known a weight problem, and yet by April she had the figure of a Chinese gymnast. Such is the attitude of our times, we all chalked it up to an eating disorder, and many an office matriarch pulled her aside to have “the talk”. Melanie claimed stress was ravaging her health, and that she had every intention of putting on lbs. Unconvinced, we let her slide and watched her progress for a few months. It wasn’t until a co-worker’s wedding this summer that I became truly alarmed. Melanie showed up looking positively gaunt in a criminally tacky size 00 frock that looked like it came from the $5 bin at Rainbow Fashions. Fugly dress aside, her hair was matted and she just looked kind of scummy. Like, the way that Amy Winehouse looks sort of scummy even when she’s all done up. Her face was ashen, despite her perky animated veneer and obvious affinity for tanning beds. On closer inspection, I noticed that her skin was ravaged with acne, not-so-carefully cloaked in Cover Girl. “She’d always had bad skin” I thought, “no biggie, she’s probably getting her rag or something.” But when she dragged me out into the hot June sun to take pictures, the truth of Mel’s mysterious dwindling reflected back at me from the inky blackness of her saucer-sized pupils- Melanie is a tweaker. And probably has been for a long time. You know those signs in the subway that say, “If you see something, say something”? Well, say something I did. When the subject of Mel came up between me and the captain of the office sewing circle (if you know what I mean), I said, “I’ve got two words for that girl: Crystal. Meth.” We compared & contrasted symptoms and I 1/2 expected Mel’s name to end up on the random drug test list at work, but months have gone by and.. nothing.

Each day is a struggle to keep my tongue bitten, as the signs are so clear to me now. She sometimes talks a mile a minute, changing her mind about certain things midstream. (Incessant talking). There are days when she seems like her old, giddy self -(Euphoric “high” state, excessively happy), and other days where she hints around at her profound unhappiness (depression), thinly hiding it behind a desire to assess her diminished good looks (Weight loss, deep shadows under the eyes). The day when, in the cool of the morning in our 60-degree office, Mel came by to ask me for cosmetic advice concerning her abnormal underarm wetness (Increased body temperature, sweating not related to physical activity) was especially hard for me. And then this week she asked me to help her pick a new hairstyle, shaking loose her ponytail to reveal a mass of dry ends and sweaty, greasy roots (Disregard for personal hygiene). Upon getting a closer look at her hair, I noticed that her skin had gone from grey, pockmarked and ashy to flushed, pimpled, spotted from the base of the neck to the entire surface of the face, and with an eerie see-through quality (users say the skin becomes really translucent and bruises easily, like with anorexia nervosa). Now, I know a lot of these symptoms can be chalked up to a variety of sources, and when I tried to talk to my mom about it, she kept saying “ED, malnutrition, a botched root canal, etc.” Nobody wants to believe that anyone around here is in the kind of trouble so deep that they can’t get out of it, and that someone with an ED should “just eat something already.” But, I have it on good authority that this is no mere ED. Sugar-free Red Bull may make you jazzed, but it will not dilate your eyes like a trip to the ophthalmologist. Malnourishment doesn’t make you pick at your face. Bulimics and anorexics have an oddly puffed appearance to their faces, not the hollow, Keith Richards-esque skull-like look Mel is sporting. As the anti-drug posters say, “Meth eats you.” And that’s what she looks like, someone who’s being devoured from the inside out. This is a transformation I’ve seen friends and acquaintances go through a number of times in my hometown, and I’m kicking myself for not seeing it sooner. In the interest of brevity, I’m not going to explain how I know what I know about meth, but let’s just say you can’t grow up in a small-ish town right outside a major party city that just happens to be located on the stretch of highway that connects Miami to Los Angeles and not know anything about drugs. What I don’t know, however, is where to go from here. I’ve never been one to whistle-blow, I’m holding back for fear of being wrong, though I just know I’m right. Thoughts?

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