Mini Memoir Monday

Mini Memoir Monday: Matilda

Reading didn’t make sense to me. I stared at the words on the page struggling to sound out each letter and guessing what the combinations of sounds could possible mean. My eight year old peers flipped through the pages of their books while I tried to remember what sound H made when it followed the letter T. The word that gave me the most trouble was “of.” No one could explain to me why the F sounded like a V – it all seemed to arbitrary. I could remember that the F was supposed to sound like a different letter but I couldn’t remember which one. Sometimes I’d think it was a T or a P so I’d pronounce “of” like Aught or Up. I remember sounding out the title Anne up Green Gables to my class only to be met by ferocious giggles.

Since it took me a few minutes to make sense of a sentence, I often gave up and refused to read. However, that didn’t stop me from taking out books at our weekly class trip to the library. In third grade it was considered cool to like books, so I made sure to always have a book in my hand even if its contents were like a foreign language to me.

MatildaOne day I noticed a pretty shade of yellow on the library’s shelf. I pulled out the book and was immediately enamored with the drawing on the cover. The girl was sitting with a book in her lap, seeming to have difficulty reading.

I checked out the library’s copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and immediately took it outside to sit on the park bench and pretend to read it. The illustrations drew me in. I quickly learned from the drawings that the girl actually loved reading. There were strange scenes with a hefty woman who always seemed angry, objects floating in the air, and a sweet looking woman who drank tea with Matilda. The drawings intrigued me so much, that I forced myself to decipher the words.

After an hour on the bench I was five pages into the book and captivated. On the school bus home I read another page. I was noticing that some of the words were used a lot and it was getting easier to recognize them. By that evening, as I read through the next chapter, I could skip the whole sounding out process for words like “the”, “on”, and “and.”

During class the next day I kept my copy of Matilda open on my lap under the desk. I stole glimpses of the words while my teacher taught the multiplication table. I needed to know what happened after Matilda put super glue in her father’s hat and I needed to know how Matilda caused the television to explode. I worked my way through another chapter during lunch. When I placed my bookmark to save my page I stared in disbelief. I was half an inch into a book. Half an inch of pages filled with words that I had successfully decoded. And I didn’t even have a headache!

That night, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate because that’s what Matilda did when she read. I read about the mean Miss Trunchbull, throwing kids like baseballs. I read about the FBI agents investigating Matilda’s father for his shady used car business. I read about Miss Honey’s sad past. What intrigued me the most was that Matilda had telekinetic powers. Her brain was so developed that she could move things just by thinking hard enough!

By page one hundred I was convinced that if I could become an avid reader like Matilda, I, too, could have magical powers.

As soon as I finished Matilda I went to the library and took out every book by Roald Dahl. I poured over James and The Giant Peach (to this day I think of this book whenever I take a bath), The WitchesCharlie and The Chocolate Factory and The BFG. I couldn’t believe that I was able to see the scenes in these books with greater detail and vividness than any movie or t.v. show. I thought about the characters for days after I finished the book, wondering what they were doing now that their stories were done. Each book became easier to read. In the span of a month I went from not being able to read to winning an award from my teacher for being a “super reader.”

Matilda changed me forever. It taught me that hard work paid off. It taught me that I could take as much time as I needed – the words would still be there for me when I was ready to make sense of them. It taught that I wasn’t stupid, I just needed to get over a hurdle before I could run.

Since that day in the library when I picked out Matilda for its pretty yellow cover, I’ve never been without a book in hand. I’ve come a long way from not being able to read the word “of.” In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks that my telekinetic powers will form some day if I keep reading, but the truth is reading is already magical. I don’t need to be able to move spoons with my mind when I can create worlds instead.

Mini Memoir Monday: The Worst Massage

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Whole Foods, Kathmandu style. The red thing is a pig being sold by the cross-section.

Kathmandu is one of the most overwhelming cities in the world. When my mom and I traveled there two years ago, we needed to take a nap every time we returned to our hotel. The dark alleyways are barely wide enough for the intense foot traffic, let alone the constant rush of beeping mopeds and the occasional car that would push through, making the pedestrians squeeze up against the sides of buildings to avoid losing a toe under the wheel.

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Would you walk next to this with 100 monkeys swinging from it???

A thousand sticks of incense burned all around us, blurring our vision and stinging our noses. Monkeys swung from the electrical cables over our heads. Store owners yelled at us to see their merchandise, grabbed at our arms, and whistled. I can’t tell you how many times random men would open their coats in front of my and I would wince, thinking they were flashing me, but really they were just showing off their wide array of stolen watches and tiger balm. Yes, tiger balm. I was getting offered tiger balm so often I began to think it must be code for something.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Nepal is one of the most beautiful, interesting countries in the world. I even wrote about it in my top most amazing countries series. Just make sure you pack a ton of Tylenol if you go there.

On our last day in Kathmandu I decided that I was too tense and wound up for the 20 hour plan ride home. I left my mom in the hotel and searched the streets for a place to get a massage.  I wanted to use up my last few rupees (about $30 worth). Ignoring all the tiger balm hawkers, I went into all the fancy hotel spas, but they quoted me prices that were way out of my budget. I walked deeper and deeper into Kathmandu, through alleyways where the buildings were so close together the sun never touched the ground even at high noon. Finally, I saw a sign that said, “Cheep Masaje.” Considering the typos, I figured it would be affordable.

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The river where most of the funerals take place.

I walked up two flights of stairs until I saw the sign again. I pushed the door open only to find a family eating dinner in their kitchen. I apologized profusely, and began to step out, but the mom grabbed my arm and pulled me in.

“Pretty lady, I give you massage,” she said, plopping me down into a plastic lawn chair. I could feel its legs buckle under my weight. “But first I give you paint.” She pulled a  ziplock bag of nail polish out of her pocket. She searched the bag and decided on an electric blue color. Before I could protest, she was already lacquering my nails. Her four daughters surrounded me, playing with my hair and touching my cheeks like I was something magical.

“Oh so pretty,” she said, blowing my nails dry. “How much you want for massage?”

I pulled out my remaining wad of rupees.

The woman looked at the money and nodded. “Take off clothes.” She yelled something to her daughters and they scurried out of the room. She pointed to a dirty cot in the corner of the kitchen. I cringed thinking about the possible source of all those stains, but at that point, the lady was already pulling my shirt over my head.

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Traffic on the main highway.

“OK, Ok, I can do this,” I said to her, grabbing my shirt back.

She raised an eyebrow and got up to turn off the light. She turned on the boombox that was on the kitchen counter, and new age music filled the room.  She step out and closed the door behind her.

I moved to the cot where their was a folded sheet and towel. I laid out the sheet, and then rested on top of it, covering myself with the towel. I closed my eyes, and tried to relax. The smell of cooking oil overwhelmed my senses.

A minute later I heard the woman enter the kitchen again. I took a deep breath, praying the massage would be better than the ambiance. She put her hands on my shoulders, and I was surprised by how small and delicate they were. Then she folded the towel down to my belly button. I thought this was strange but I had never had a Nepalese massage before so I figured it was normal. It took me a second to register the bizarre fact that she was pinching my nipples. I shot up.

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The impressive Buddhist monuments.

“Whoa, hold up,” I yelled. Opening my eyes for the first time, I saw that it was not the older lady, but one of her young daughters. She couldn’t have been older than 10. I held the towel to my mouth to keep from throwing up.

I scrambled to the floor, and got dressed as quickly as possible. The little girl just stood there whimpering. Her mom came in, turned on the harsh halogen lights and began yelling at her daughter. I grabbed my purse just as the mother came in barreling towards her daughter. I ran out of there as fast as I could.

Moral of the story: don’t be cheap when you’re getting a massage in another country.

 

Mini Memoir Monday: Call for Thanksgiving Submissions

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year! The air is crisp, pumpkin has made its way into every type of food and beverage, and the grocery stores are filling up with giant frozen turkeys. Thanksgiving is coming and I can’t wait. All that time with family, all those complicated dishes, all that potential to go wrong – it makes for some great stories, and I want to read about it!

Please send me your submissions for a Thanksgiving-themed mini memoir. Fill out this form and paste your story in the comment field (don’t worry only I can read what you post). I’ll let you know if I’ll be publishing it after a few days. Remember, a mini memoir should be short, 500-1500 words, it doesn’t need to recount your entire life – just an interesting/funny/ bizarre/ or profound moment in your life.

 

Mini Memoir Monday: The World’s Most Silent Prom Date

This week’s mini memoir was written by Deanne M. Shultz. I love reading her quirky take on life on her blog, DMSWriter. Click here for the original post.

***

Picture it: South High’s Senior Prom, 1983.

I never gave much thought to prom, seeing it as just a reason for the Hobnobbers to Hob Nob Even More. Then Mike asked me to the senior prom and I felt this strange compulsion to go.

Me and my big hair. Not really…

The hair issue was already decided – back then, Big Hair reigned, and to be otherwise coiffed spelled doom. But what would I wear? What about shoes? Did I need a purse?

My poor parents.

I just hadta, hadta, hadta have this $100 dress, which was a lot for them 30 years ago, but Mom bought it without complaint. It had a jacket with filmy sleeves, a gazillion buttons up the back and a cami-sorta-slip-thingy underneath.

As if there wasn’t enough lace on the dress, I wobbled around on lacy sandals, too. Throw in some big hair and a bunch of Aqua Net and I looked like stiffened baby’s breath with a wig on.

To top it off, Mike was a super nice guy, but we were oh, so wrong. He was on the honor roll, straight-A, destined for law school, and I had a hard time getting through Chemistry 1 without frustrating my poor teacher to the point of drinking over my inability to grasp redox equations. Poor Mr. Ahlf, but that’s another story…

A classic

Mike picked me up for the prom in his dad’s orange AMC Matador and the whole way to the restaurant, we didn’t say a peep. Nothing. For the whole meal, we didn’t talk. Nothing. The whole way to the dance, you guessed it –

Nothing.

The World’s Most Silent Prom Date had just been enacted. We got to prom, and my friend and her date were there, whooping it up and laughing. Clearly, they had agreed upon a Talking Prom Date.

Mini Memoir Monday: Stealing the Essence of Roses

This week’s memoir was written by my mom, Dale Joan Young:

 ***

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Rose (Photo credit: LeahLikesLemon)

I was given free reign as very young child to explore my neighborhood.   I remembered passing a florist which I decided to visit on one of my walks.  The men who owned it were very kind and very patient.   I told them that I  wanted to buy a flower for my mother and I asked what a chrysanthemum would cost, since that’s what my mother told everyone was her favorite flower.  I had less than 50¢ in my pocket.  Instead of answering me, I was asked how much money I had.  After I told them, they went about making me a gorgeous bouquet, while I stood at the counter smelling their roses.

These men were so kind, that many weeks after I got my allowance, I found myself back in their store buying flowers for my mother.  The men loved me because they couldn’t get over a little kid spending her allowance on flowers for her mom for no occasion.  They fussed over me and told all their customers about me, and had more fun making the bouquets for me than my mother ever did when she received them.  Looking back, I now realize that I went to their store more for the acknowledgement I got from those men and the pleasure I had from smelling their roses, than my desire to please my mother.  Nothing ever seemed to satisfy her.

Although I bought her mums, I, however, preferred roses, and always looked forward to smelling them while the florists put together my mother’s bouquet.  However, I noticed that when I stayed at the counter long enough, after a few minutes, the roses seemed to lose their scent, and I was convinced that I had stolen it.  I couldn’t understand why the kind men who owned the shop, would let me stand there, in plain sight and steal the fragrance from their roses, week after week.

My mother is no longer with us.  She died May 13, 2003.  I wish I could say I miss her, but I don’t.  I get jealous reading tear filled reminiscences on Facebook of how much people miss their mothers, and I long to have had the same feelings, but I don’t.  I’m not angry about her neglect any more, and we did come to peace towards the end of her life.  I learned that it’s much sadder to have someone die and not feel devastated than it is to be completely crestfallen when someone is gone.  The grief is a testimony to the depth of a relationship that has irreparably altered.

Quite a few years have passed since I want to my friends’ florist, and now I tend to my own roses, still enjoying them and longing for their fragrances to overwhelm my senses for however long they will before their smells fade.   I know I can come back time and again, and for a few minutes each time, be completely absorbed in their ephemeral grace.

 

Mini Memoir Monday: The Truth about Driving Alone

This week’s mini memoir was written by Sandra B. This is the shortened version of her original post, so click here to read the whole story.

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When I realized I would be driving alone from Vancouver BC to Niagara Falls, Ontario earlier this year I was convinced it would be a good time for me to relax and get some real thinking done. I had been living in a cramped one bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver with a roommate who was an extrovert in every sense of the word. Having my own personal space and quiet was next to impossible to achieve, and so I looked forward to having several days of complete solitude.

I have always been fairly introspective. I figured that having this time alone would allow me to dig deeper into my brain to sort through a myriad of thoughts and feelings that had accumulated and built up there. I thought I could pick away at them one by one, boxing up and storing the ones that I liked, and throwing the rest out the window to scatter behind me on the Trans Canada Highway. I thought that within five or six days I would be a new, clean person who wasn’t bogged down by all the unnecessary junk I had hoarded in my mind.

The truth is I don’t remember anything I thought about on that drive. I had put so much music, so many podcasts on my iPhone to fill my time. Instead of thinking, it ended up that I was just in awe of everything that I was seeing. Despite having made the drive through the Rockies more times than I can count, I still get blown away by it every time. I do recall the level of exhaustion I felt when I finally reached my sister’s house in Calgary. I can’t tell you how many rocks I had to dodge and how hyper vigilant I had to be with my driving because of avalanches that had occurred. The last thing I needed was to hit a rock and blow a tire in the middle of the mountains.

On my drive home to Ontario from BC

The next stretch of my drive took me from Calgary to Winnipeg. Anyone who is familiar with Canada does not need to be told that the area between these two cities is a vast nothingness. Despite the roads being straight and clear and the weather being favorable, this was by far the most exhausting portion of my trip. I don’t recall thinking or feeling anything except the fact that I so desperately wanted it to be over. I didn’t even turn on my own media but instead opted to listen to local AM Radio stations. I enjoyed feeling connected to the people who lived in the area; It was just nice to hear voices of other human beings that were near by, even if I couldn’t see them and even if civilization seemed to completely elude the place.

What I remember most was the realization that even if I wanted to drive off the road and commit suicide out of complete boredom there was not even a deep enough ditch, a pole or anything for me to drive into… I’d just continue across a flat expanse of fields and probably wouldn’t even see a cow or another animal on my way.

Welcome to the Prairies

When people think of Canada, they tend to have this idea that it’s all the same: Snow Everywhere. Let me tell you something about Canada: Every single province has it’s own distinct look and feel. You may not realize it, but once you have driven through the bulk of the provinces you spot the differences. I used to tell everyone that Ontario was all concrete and hard, whereas BC was soft and beautiful. Despite my exhaustion and the snow the trip through my home province was my favorite.

There are so many tiny towns I passed through which was a pure delight for me being that the bulk of my trip had felt like I was in the wilderness and totally isolated. I loved looking at all the people, the little buildings and seeing what they had to offer. I loved driving south and seeing the advertisements for all the camp sites that were still closed for the season and imagining myself going there one day just to see what these places would look like when winter had passed and the trees opened up bloom. I loved the little rest stops which, despite being in the middle of nowhere, always seemed to have people in them and everyone seemed familiar with each other. Where did they all live? I always wondered but it seemed that even in these places there was a sense of community.

I also loved going into the bathrooms (they’re not THAT bad) and seeing little gems of graffiti which made me wonder who the author was and what they were thinking and feeling when they wrote their phrases. Maybe they were just like me and on a trip home, or a trip to somewhere, and just had to get that little piece of advice out of themselves.

Taken in a bathroom stall at a gas station

Funnily enough, I was driving home to Ontario to pursue my own dreams. I can’t say for sure, but I believe when I saw that scribbling on the wall I had tears in my eyes. If past behavior is an indicator of the future, then it’s very likely that I cried.

I thought that when I left Vancouver I would feel sad to leave it behind. I thought that by uprooting myself from a job that I had stayed at for so long and work so hard at that I’d feel out of my element and lost. The truth was that I didn’t think about Vancouver at all. When I woke up in the morning to make my drive, I shed some tears as I bid farewell to my roommate and my cats. His friend walked me down to my car with the remainder of my things and we hugged. I sat in my car and I sobbed. After collecting myself, I set my GPS, turned on my car and said goodbye. As it turns out I was too excited about the life I was driving home to feel overly upset about leaving.

The fact was that I had tried very hard to make Vancouver work and despite building up my career I had not set down roots there. I had not invested in my own life there in any capacity. I couldn’t. I think I was the only person in my office who hadn’t settled into my own desk complete with pictures of my cats, my family and a plant that I would have killed through negligence anyway. My apartment was devoid of any possession I had bought for myself outside of my mattress and computer. On the whole, I felt disconnected from the city as beautiful as it was.

The truth was that on this car ride, for the first time, I didn’t feel lost. I felt like I had purpose and direction. I felt that I’d have something and someone to come home to. I felt that I was making the first right choice for myself in my entire life and it felt good. As therapeutic as “thinking” would have been on my drive home, I felt emptied out of all of my bad choices and could feel myself emerging from all of the rubble that had piled up on top of me. Exhausted as I was by the time I arrived, I could not have been happier to be home. I realized that when I acted in my own best interest everything flowed smoothly and I didn’t have to worry.

Life lesson learned.

Mini Memoir Monday: I Was a Man for a Month

John Stossel

John Stossel (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Growing up, 20/20 was one of my favorite shows. I had a ridiculous crush on John Stossel, even with his creepy mustache, and I stayed up late whenever he had a special.

One night he covered the story of two girls who grew up thinking something was different about them. When all their friends were developing and getting their periods, these girls did not. Eventually, their parents revealed that when they were born the doctor botched their circumcisions, and so the doctors and parents decided to just chop the whole thing off and raise the boys as girls. Little did the parents know, woman are not just men without penises; sexuality is a lot more complicated than pure anatomy.

The show explained that until the 1990s it was common practice to raise boys as girls if the penis was damaged during the circumcision…and I was born in the 80s.

After watching this show, I wondered if I could really be a boy. I was the tallest girl in my class.  My hands seemed absurdly large. I started noticing my voice was way too low to be a girl’s voice. Could it be true?

At dinner, I studied my parents’ faces, watching them laugh at political jokes that were over our heads. Were these the kind of people who would let a doctor take my penis?

A month later I got my period, and I was able to put the idea to rest, but I’ll always think of John Stossel as the man who made me feel like a man.

***If you would like to submit your own mini memoir, please fill out the form on this page, and read the post carefully.***

Mini Memoir Monday: The New Girl

This week’s mini-memoir was written by my friend, Tricia!

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When I was 12 years old, I moved from my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mom packed up everything in our tiny pink stucco house, and we moved in with my grandparents in Albuquerque while my mom got her masters in education.

I’d been to Albuquerque many times to visit my grandparents, aunts, and cousins. To me, Albuquerque was a vacation—a place where we went to the balloon fiesta, ate sopapillas (delicious deep-fried pillows of dough) with honey for lunch, and visited my favorite Native American jewelry store. It was not a place where I lived, where I went to school.

I knew no one.

I remember my first day at school like a movie. I wore my favorite sneakers and my favorite long grey skirt that tied in the front. I also had to wear a collared shirt because Hoover had a dress code. I walked up to the large, concrete front of the building where all the students congregated. Huge backpacks hung off of tiny shoulders, weighed down by large keychain collections—the kind that said things like, “I’m awesome and you’re a bitch” with a shiny yellow smiley face.

A girl walking by with a friend stopped and walked toward me.

“Hey,” the girl said.

“Hi!” I said back. I was so happy that someone had talked to me.

“Are you new here?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I just moved here.”

“So you don’t know anyone?” she asked. “You don’t have any friends?”

“No,” I said, kind of embarrassed but still trying to smile.

I was sure that this was the moment that she’d invite me to hang out with her and her friend. My mind flashed with a picture of the three of us strolling down the hallway of the school, linking arms. Other students would look at us with jealousy. I couldn’t believe my good luck.  

“Oh,” she said. “That sucks.”

She turned around and walked away, rejoining with the girl she’d left behind and walking to the entrance at the other side of the school.

I watched as my first chance at a friend walked away, and students began swirling around me, pushing through the crowd to get to their lockers.

I couldn’t believe someone could be so mean, even if it was middle school.

My first few months were hard, but eventually things got a lot easier. It took a while, but I made two of my best friends to this day at Hoover Middle School.

When I left Albuquerque at 22 and moved to New York City, I thought back to how hard it was to adjust to somewhere completely new. I thought that the reason moving had been so hard in 7th grade was because, hello, it’s seventh grade, and I was a shy, nervous, extremely self-conscious 12-year-old. But moving to New York sometimes made me feel like I was right back at Hoover, standing outside the school while everyone else pushed past me, surrounded by their hoards of long-standing friends. Now, two years later, I have many friends that I adore, a great apartment, and an awesome job. I wouldn’t have achieved any of it without the initial struggle.

Moving is never easy. If you’ve just moved somewhere, don’t stress and understand that friends will come. If you know someone who just moved, invite them out for coffee or a drink! You will brighten their day, and in turn yours as well.

Mini Memoir Monday: 20 More Pounds

At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I decided to join Weight Watchers with my mom and sister. We were a family of vegetarians who hated vegetables, so we had all gotten considerably chunky on a diet of pizza and french fries. On my first day at WW, I tipped the scales at a whopping 178 pounds. Based on my height and bone structure, they suggested my goal weight should be 145 pounds, a number which seemed so unreasonable and so unattainable I nearly coughed up the ice cream I had just consumed.

After three months of consistently counting my points, eating a carefully measured cup of Wheaties with skim milk for breakfast, a vegetable stir fry for lunch and a WW frozen meal for dinner, I was down to 145 pounds.

At my new weight, I was finally excited to go shopping with my friends. I remember standing in the dressing room, amazed as I zipped up a size six pair of jeans. Just as I was about to draw back the curtain to appreciate the skinny version of myself, I heard one of my friends cry out, “oh my god, the size two barely fits! I’m going to kill myself it I have to get a size four.” I looked in the mirror, and what had seemed skinny only moments ago was now gargantuan. I rushed to get out of the jeans, crumpled them into a ball, threw them in the corner of the dressing room and swore that I would lose more weight.

My friends were all skinny, and blessed with metabolisms that somehow could turn 2,000 calories of chicken wings into lean muscles. They talked about how fat Brittney Spears was, and how certain girls in our grade didn’t deserve to have boyfriends because they had muffin-top. They would pinch the extra skin around their rock hard abs and complain about how much weight they had to lose. They said all this while eating Doritos and brownies.

I went against the advice of my weight watchers couch and continued to lower my point goal. I cut out breakfast, and switched my lunch to two pretzel sticks and a some red pepper slices. I saved all my points for when I was around my friends so that I could eat what they were having. The only thing that made me feel like less of a fat freak around them was being able to pretend that I could eat just like them and lose weight.

I was hungry and exhausted. I could barely concentrate during class because my stomach growled so loudly. But no matter how little I ate, the scale would not go below 140. I didn’t know what else I could do to lose more weight except never eat again. I was thinner than I had ever been, but I hated my body more than ever.

That’s when my mom’s friend casually said to me, “You could be a model if you lost another 20 pounds. No really, I know some agents, but first you’d have to lose the rest of that baby fat.”

We were at lunch and I had spent the last thirty minutes staring at the bread basket. As soon as I heard her comment I reached for the basket and took the biggest piece of bread I could find. As I chewed that sweet, starchy goodness, I thanked my mom’s friend. I wasn’t thanking her for thinking I could be a model, but thanking her for showing me how ridiculous I had become.

Her comment made me stop and think about who I was losing weight for. For my friends who hated their own size two bodies? For a modeling industry that thought women should resemble hangers? Or for a girl who would always think she was chubby no matter how skinny she got? I realized that I would never be the right weight for anyone else, so it was my job to determine the right weight for my health.

I gained back fifteen pounds by the end of the school year, and I’ve managed to stay around that weight for the last fifteen years. I don’t want to be a model, I don’t want to be a size two, and I don’t want to starve myself. Sure I’d like to lose a couple of pounds every now and then, but I have more important things to care about, and one of them is being careful about the things I say to young, impressionable kids.