Hey everyone! This fic deals with Pam's eating disorder. It also includes mentions of past self-harm, though the story includes nothing graphic. Please don't read if either of these topics could be triggering, and please, please, please stay safe!
When Jim and Pam first start dating, it's all about holding hands and kissing in the car. There's something delightful about the secret, the way they can make eye contact across the office and know something that no one else does. It's sexy, sexy, sexy.
But what Jim loves most about the relationship is that he's found he can read Pam even better now that they're together. He used to think that he understood every movement she made, every eye twitch, knuckle crack, lip bite. Now, though, he realizes there's so much he'd never noticed: the way she picks at the skin around her fingernails when she's nervous. How she reapplies Chapstick when she thinks no one else is looking. How she only ever brings half a sandwich for lunch. How she sometimes forgets to eat it. And he can't help but wonder how much more she's been hiding.
He tells her he loves just eight days after they start dating. Pam begins sobbing, and Jim realizes that he's almost never seen her cry, at least not like this. She tells him she loves him too, and they kiss and they hug and his heart pounds in his chest, and he has so many questions for her, though he knows that now isn't the time to ask them. He wonders if there's ever a right time to ask these things.
People in the office catch on quickly. It only takes a few months before everyone knows, and the questions start, and Jim kisses her in public, and it's all so deliciously beautiful.
Everyone's happy, especially Pam. Really, life's never been better. Except she barely stomachs a meal a day, and Jim's starting to realize, and, oh, why do things have to happen like this.
"Pam, we have to talk."
Pam looks up from her untouched sandwich and half-finished crossword puzzle. It's 6:30. She's wearing sweats. Jim's still in his work clothes. This is how it always goes. Except now he doesn't look happy - in fact, he looks livid - and she wonders what he's talking about, but then his eyes drift down to her meal and she knows.
Playing dumb sometimes works for her, at least in the office. But Jim's not dumb, and he sits down across from her and folds his arms across his chest.
"That. The food, Pam."
"I'm just... not hungry."
"You never are."
And that's true, in a sense. Pam would never act like she was hungry. It's taken her years (maybe even decades) to master covering up stomach growls, angry comments made out of hunger, untouched food, declined dinner invitations. But she is. She is hungry.
"I don't know what you want me to say," she whispers, her voice scratchy. She looks down. Jim wants to reach over to her, grab one of her hands in his, tell her that loves her, and that maybe she's destroying herself, but he still hardly understands what's happening and so he stays seated, watching. Calculating.
"I want you to tell me what I need to do."
"What?" His question feels random, and not at all like what she would want him to ask.
"How can I make this better?"
Pam sighs. This has been going on for as long as she can remember. There's no making it better now.
"There's nothing to make better, Jim. Anyway, it's late. Maybe you should start heading home."3
Michael notices that Pam's been losing weight and tells her that she's hot, compliments Jim on how radiant his girlfriend's looking. Jim clenches his jaw. Unclenches. Clenches.
It all starts to go downhill when he notices her excuse herself after eating her lunch and head to the bathroom. At first, maybe, it's nothing. And then it happens again. And again. And he knows it's wrong, but one day he follows her and presses his ear against the door of the women's room, and he hears a terrible retching and a toilet flush, and he sinks to the floor.
Pam comes out a few minutes later. Her eyes widen when she sees Jim, whose head's in his hands.
"What the hell, Pam."
It's a statement. Not a question.
"I was feeling sick after lunch. Must have had some bad meat," she says with a smile. Jim frowns and meets her eyes.
"I'm not an idiot. I know what's happening. Why won't you talk to me?"
Pam opens her mouth, then closes it. She couldn't forklift a response out of her throat even if she tried.
Finally: "I better get back to work. I have a lot to do."
She begins walking away, but Jim stands up and grabs her hand, pulling her back to him. He shakes his head, his hair falling in his face.
"Don't do it again. Please. For me."
She promises she won't. And maybe she means it. But promises are never meant to be kept.
When Pam goes to New York, Jim is sure that he finally understands what it's like inside of Pam's head. Without her, breathing simply slips down his throat and sits in the caverns of his stomach, waiting for release. It never finds it. In this way, Jim knows that recovery is the same as splitting a body between a rock and a hard place. A bird hovers between his ribs. He swallows until she drowns.
He proposes to her outside of a gas station, even though, quite frankly, she looks sick. There's really no other word for it - it's the little things, how her wrists are knobby and angular, the way her neck is too thin and too long for her face, how her pants sag and her shirts don't cling and her hair seems too thin, too frazzled. Jim feels tears prick at his eyes as he watches her cheeks flush as she climbs stairs, stands up too quickly, opens heavy doors.
And so the only thing he can bring himself to do is buy his parent's house, and the two move in together. He decorates it just as he knows she would like it (new sheet sets, leather sofas, a kitchen with white cabinets) and things really seem to be getting better, until she starts crying one night and Jim says: "what's happening, Pam?"
And she says: "everything."
And then she also says: "I don't know how to handle anything in my life. I never have."
Jim hopes that she doesn't mean him, and so he hugs her and buries his face in her neck and hopes that the warmth will comfort her, at least for now.
It's winter, and she buries weight loss inside of baggy sweaters, heavy jackets, long skirts. It's clever, really. Too clever. At work, Jim can almost forget everything else. Because she's still the same Pam she's always been: bright, happy, humorous. She laughs, makes it a point to sometimes buy a snack from the vending machine with Kevin, eats it at her desk so the whole office can see. And no one's worried.
One night, Jim's hands find a patch of skin that maybe he's never touched before, or maybe he's just never noticed, but it's on the side of her thigh, right below her hip, and it's crisscrossed in what's perhaps scar tissue. He pulls away, and Pam tenses up, and she knows exactly what he's going to find, and he runs a finger over a raised white line as he says "are these what I think they are, Pam?" And there are so many of them, and in this early-dusk light they're even harsher than usual, and so she closes her eyes and whispers a muffled yes.
"Pam, I love you so much." And, really, that's all she needs to hear. But she doesn't respond. "Why would you ever feel the need to hurt yourself?"
"I was young," she starts. "And I was so sad, Jim. I don't know. I really don't."
He stops looking at the scars and stares up to her face, placing a kiss on her jawline before moving up to her lips. She kisses back, softly, and his fingers weave themselves between hers.
"I'm sorry for not noticing earlier," he says.
"I've worked my whole adult life to hide them. Don't blame yourself."
"...And for other things."
She knows exactly what he's talking about. The eating.
"You've done nothing but help," she promises, though her voice catches in her throat and she wonders if she's always been this weak.
"I haven't, Pam. But please. Let me in. Let's change this. This can't go on forever."
And she wishes that she could say it could. Because she's at her happiest when her stomach feels light, and when she can see her skin stretched across overexposed bone, and why does Pam break every time she closes her eyes.
It gets to the point in which Jim wonders how she's able to stand on her feet, let alone walk. So one morning he calls both of them in sick, and he sits her down at the table and tells her that this is getting ridiculous, and that it's putting a strain on their relationship, and she needs to either try to help herself or get help from someone else. And of course she starts to cry, buries her face in her hands and tells him that she loves him, so much, more than anything, and he shakes his head and tells her that if she really loved him, she would eat some goddamn breakfast. But she doesn't. She stares at the granola bar he throws down in front of her until eventually he yanks it away and tells her that it's getting harder and harder to give a shit.
Toby calls her over to his desk one day during work.
"Pam, you're getting extremely thin - "
"I know, Toby."
"If there's anything that's happening, or if you want professional help, there are options covered by our insurance. You don't have to struggle through this alone," he advises. Pam forces a smile onto her face.
"I'm an adult. I can recognize when I need help. And right now is not one of those times."
"Pam, the whole office is worried."
It hits her like a truck. She wonders if everyone's been talking about her, filing complaints to HR because they don't have anything better to do with their time.
"Have they been coming to you about this?" She can't keep the edge out of her voice.
"That's really not my place to say."
But it's enough of an answer for her. They've been talking, probably gossiping, running their filthy little mouths about her body and she wishes that she could tell them that she hates it too, so please leave her alone and give her some peace and quiet. And when she stands up and leaves the office, she wonders if she'll ever gain the courage to come back.
Jim gives her two minutes, watches her run out to the car and sit in the driver's seat. He knows she won't drive away. So he lets her cool off before running down to meet her, opens the passenger seat and slides in before she can protest.
It's something about his voice that makes Pam break down into tears.
"Talk to me," he says quietly, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"I...just... it's always been this way, Jim. It feels too late to change anything. I don't even know if I want to. It's...hard. Everything. Everything feels like... a weight, and I can't shake it. God."
And then Jim's crying too, fat, salty tears that slip down his cheeks and he wishes that he could stop them, that he could be strong for her, but he can't and so he apologizes.
"I was hard on you with the food a few weeks ago. I'm sorry."
Pam wipes her eyes and shakes her head.
"It's fine, Jim. What I'm upset about is... people in the office have been complaining to Toby. About me. About my weight."
"They're just worried about you, Pam. They love you so much. Just like I do."
And her heart starts to hurt, maybe at the idea of the whole office caring about her so much they want her to get help, to realize that she's destroying herself, and she tries to stop it but it wells up in her throat and sits on her tongue, and God -
"Take me home," she eventually says, and so he does.
It starts slow. He finds ways to keep her away from the bathroom after meals. Sometimes he puts on a movie, pulls out a board game, takes her out for a drive. And then he gets her to start cooking with him: everything healthy. He sits at the table for hours, lets her take bites so tiny he wonders if she's actually getting anything in. But it's better than nothing at all. Afterwards, they always celebrate with a glass of rich red wine. Every night, he can taste the sourness still clinging to her lips.
Things are getting better. But her knuckles are still so thin he worries they'll break any second, and her skin is so taut he wonders how it still pulls itself over her bones every morning, and maybe she's not improving like he thinks she is. After all, he's always been one to view the world through rose-colored glasses.
"Jim, it isn't working."
Pam's standing next to Jim in the kitchen as he boils eggs. She doesn't lift her eyes, not even when Jim sets the pan down next to the stove and stares down at her, worry dripping from his features.
"Tell me how to make it better," he whispers. She shakes her head.
"I don't think I can. I...I don't think that this is enough."
And he knows what she means: she needs more. So he tells her that he loves her, and if going to rehab is what she really needs then so be it, goddamnit, he just wants her to be happy and healthy and if she wants to go tomorrow they absolutely can, and he'll support her and love her no matter what, and she nods and kisses his cheek and, yes, please, I would like to go tomorrow, and I love you too.
After he drops her off, he can't help but feel as if he's done something terrible. Deep in the wells of his lungs, the bird opens her mouth and begins to sing.
It's almost a month before she comes home again. He's prepared a spaghetti dinner accompanied with expensive wine and rented a movie to go along with it - Donnie Darko - and a dessert of dark chocolate, her favorite.
When he picks her up, he's surprised to see that while she hasn't gained much weight, her skin's a little pinker and her eyes a little brighter and her smile a little more genuine. And when she kisses him, she tastes a little more full, a little more alive.
"I've missed you so much," he says.
"I've missed you more," she replies, throwing her arms around his neck. "And I love you."
It's not easy, especially not at first. She yells at him a lot, asks him why he has to cook such calorific foods, begs to count sugars, proteins, carbs. And he resists. Every time. And, eventually, she learns to not ask at all, and, eventually, she eats without being asked, cooks without agonizing over labels. And maybe she's finally learning to be happy.
Pam's been dragged off to the hospital after straining her ankle at the company barbecue when they get the news: they're having a child. And this time they're crying happy tears, and Pam has never known more deeply that she needs to recover for her baby - their baby - and Jim knows this, and Jim kisses her, and for once, everything seems to really, truly be falling into place.