Dear 17-year-old Clara Bee
Illustration: Clara Bee Lavery
Dear 17-year-old Clara Bee,
It’s hard for me to write this, because I’m afraid I’ll upset you.
Literally everyone in your life right now is afraid of upsetting you.
It must be hard for you to imagine that at this time – this horrible, terrifying moment where you feel so powerless; this moment where you’re trying so desperately to gain some measure of control – that you have a tremendous amount of power over the ones you love. Everyone is walkin’ on eggshells and choosing their words oh-so-cautiously around you. ‘Cause buddy, you’re kind of acting like an asshole.
I still love you, though, and so do they: your family, your friends, your teachers. They’re worried about you. You think they’re not saying anything because they don’t care, but they really, really do. They’re just terrified of you. When you plead with mom not to buy grapes because they have too high a sugar content, when you yell at Mark Hlady in the student parking lot ‘cause he can’t drive you to the gym that day, the reason why they don’t immediately say “Something is wrong here” is because you – yes, you, pint-sized and barely tipping the scale past 100 lbs – are scary as fuck to them. When you’re not pushing food around your plate or sullenly chewing on the straw of your diet coke; when you’re not fainting in the library or on the treadmill, you are raging. Raging!
And oh, girl, your rage is such a force of nature. It is the agonized rage of someone trying at once to be noticed and to disappear entirely. It is the confused rage of being too much and not enough simultaneously.
Mom will tell you, years from now, that when she staged an intervention for you at the fake ’50s diner (don’t get any ideas: you can’t avoid the Broadway forever), she kept her hands in her lap so you wouldn’t see them shake. That she was afraid that you’d gotten so good at being angry and evasive that you’d somehow be able to talk her out of frog-marching you to the clinic. But when the intervention happens, you will have no idea. You will feel tricked. You will feel trapped. You will feel like you can’t breathe. They won’t help you at the clinic, I’m sad to report. Your ability to placate authority is pretty solid and you’ll talk them out of sending you to inpatient. You’ll get a follow-up call or two, all of which you’ll handle expertly and effusively. Mom and Dad will not push the issue, and you gotta forgive them for this. This illness is baffling to them. It might baffle anyone who grew up going hungry by default and not by choice; I’m not sure about the statistics on this. It won’t be until two years later, alone and heartbroken in a big, new city, that you’ll do the hard work of finding help all by yourself. Her name is Lesley. She has an inquisitive, fox-like face and can tell when you’re lying as if it’s written in tall clear letters across your body. I can’t wait for you to meet her. You get better. You get so much better.
Some things to look forward to:
1) You wear your first ever bikini on May 11, 2014, and you’ve got probably thirty pounds more on you. Guess what? Nobody screams or pukes or, like, makes the sign of the cross when they see you. You look awesome. Seriously.
2) You’re able to be present in your body during sex. Oh, yeah – people totally wanna have sex with you. Be discerning, though, ‘cause it turns out that being desired is not the same thing as being valued. Better you learn this now.
3) You are not plagued by dreams of food anymore. You don’t spend every waking moment fantasizing about all the things you’re not eating, ‘cause you can actually, you know, eat them.
4) You no longer cry when you see little girls enjoying ice cream cones. You even get an ice cream cone tattooed to your right thigh, which is frequently exposed ‘cause you’re super into short-shorts these days.
5) In four years, between moves, you will borrow a friend’s hammer and take your bathroom scale out to a gravel road. Few things you experience will ever match the euphoria you feel the first time you bring the hammer crashing down on this instrument which has enabled so much personal anguish. Savour every second of it.
Okay, so, back to the rage thing. Try to let that shit go. Nobody is out to get you. They are trying desperately to figure out how to help you. There is no top-secret conspiracy to Make You Fat. Also, oh my gosh, stop assigning moral value to fatness/thinness! You’ll be thin, you’ll be fat, you’ll eventually be pretty “average,” and it doesn’t change your character or integrity. Don’t be a jerk, little me!
Above all, be kind to yourself. Learn to delight in all that your body does for you. I mean, you almost drove our kidneys to failure and are still alive! Our body is a gee-dee superstar! Also, nobody’s told you this yet, but our butt is magnificent.
xoxo Clara Bee-from-the-future
P.S. Remember how you used to draw all the time? You should start again! Maybe someone will eventually pay you to draw pictures. Plus, it’s so incredibly important and helpful when it comes to processing all of this body stuff. I dunno; just a thought.