If somebody had told me that someday I’d be a member of a cult, I’d have laughed in their face. I’m not the type, I would have said. I’m too skeptical, I’m too faithless.
Of course, the magazine adverts and newspaper inserts didn’t call it a cult—they called it a weight management program.
My sister, Elizabeth, went missing a decade ago. In 1996 cell phones weren’t the norm yet. The only person I knew who carried a phone around with them was my supervisor at the call center, Chuck, who thought he was about eighty-five percent more important than he actually was. Chuck reeked of CK One and had a habit of rubbing up against female employees while reaching to check overhead cubbies for contraband; granola bars that might attract mice or stolen office supplies stuffed into purses or coat pockets—boxes of ballpoint pens and tins of coffee pilfered from the break room.
I knew where Elizabeth had gone—the problem was she hadn’t come back. Elizabeth’s roommate, Renee, had called me and said, “Is Elizabeth with you?” and I’d said, “What do you mean?”
She said, “I’m really worried, Stacy. The program was only supposed to be for two weeks and she left on the fifteenth. I mean, it can last longer but then it costs more. Elizabeth paid for the silver package, which was for fourteen days. The levels start at bronze and each tier adds an extra week. She was super excited—she got up at four-thirty that morning so she could get on the road before rush hour. Her Horoscope on the fifteenth said, This week will see your goals finally realized. But maybe she got there and then decided to upgrade except I have no idea where she would’ve gotten the money for that because she drained her savings account just to be able to afford the—”
“And you’re positive it was the You, Thin! one?”
“Yes, because she showed me the brochure and also I overheard her on the phone, making the reservation and we even joked about it—the night before she left she said, ‘The next time you see me, there’ll be less of me,’ and I said maybe she’d be so skinny I wouldn’t even recognize her and she’d have to introduce herself and then I’d say, ‘It’s you—thin!’ Also, we looked at the map together because you know how she is with directions and it was definitely the one up North, in Pine River.”
I did know how Elizabeth was with directions. Maybe she’d gotten in her car to come home on the twenty-eighth and had been driving around Minnesota and possibly the surrounding states for the past two days, trying in vain to make sense of the instructions laconic gas station clerks and harried waitresses gave her to get back onto Interstate 35. It’s like the words east and west and left and right went into Elizabeth’s head and immediately got all jumbled up in a big knotted mess.
I called the number in the phone book listed under: You, Thin! but some snotty lady told me they didn’t have any record of an Elizabeth Swenson. I started to describe her—short, blonde and chunky and the rude lady interrupted me, “Everyone here is overweight.”
“Yes, well, maybe you remember seeing her there. Elizabeth has rosacea on her cheeks and a nervous giggle and a tattoo of a Taurus bull on her left wrist and she—”
“I said she isn’t here.”
I adopted her lofty tone. “Well, then I guess you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” I slammed down the phone. I didn’t have a lawyer, because Chuck didn’t pay me enough to keep one on retainer. But I’d liked how the words felt coming out of my mouth.