I’m fourteen. I feel fat. The skin lumps over my hips and I can’t stand to feel heavy anymore. The scale says 110 and I can’t bare to have such a high number attached to my body. 100. Maybe less than. 90. Less than average. Yes, that’s good. Jeans hurt and every bra is a reminder that my boobs are full and obvious to everybody around me – they’re looking, they’re judging. The nakedness in the shower doesn’t feel any better. I can see my white, fat self in the mirror before going into the shower. I don’t have to look, but I must, the same way people feel drawn to stare at grotesque, wild things at circuses and at Halloween. The water feels good, though. And I can sing, my crackly, empty voice carrying over the loud rush of the shower head. I pretend it’s rain. I pretend I am free in some dark street somewhere with rain pouring on me. And me alone. I am alone. And I’m singing My Chemical Romance’s “Disenchanted” because I am full of worries and teenage angst. Why am I like this? What point is there in me being here if I am so far from being perfect? I don’t know the answers. I sit on the bath floor as the shower continues to hit me and I hit myself. I can’t stand it. I’m crying, but it’s camouflaged. And my voice screams loud as I imagine the guitar and the drums in my head.
I’m fifteen. My faith wavers a bit because I’ve hated myself for too long and I’ve resented God for the pain he’s put me through. Maybe He’s not here, I think. Maybe He’s not real. I am invited to an Anglo-Catholic conference and it is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I never thought I’d have a taste of what Heaven feels like on Earth. I never thought I could feel so loved and so welcome. I never thought I’d belong somewhere so closely. I barely eat at the conference – I lose eight pounds in seven days – but even still my spirits are high. We don’t want to say goodbye to each other; we come from across the globe and don’t want to have to be without each other in a world that’s so limiting and so accepting. We sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as our last hymn. I don’t believe them when they tell me I’ll cry. But I do. I bawl my eyes out as everyone else sings around me, in unison, to a song about carrying on. I’m home, I tell myself. And I don’t want to leave.
I’m sixteen. The love of my life and I are no longer together. We don’t know who we are anymore and we are split apart physically, emotionally, and geographically. I convince myself this is freedom. I have a girls night with my best friends. We eat chocolate – one of my girls came back from England and gifted us the best Cadbury treats. Only I work at this point. We don’t have the money to celebrate or mourn the way we want to. We watch a movie – something we tuned out with our chit chat and laughter – in the basement of my best friend’s parents house, my second childhood home. Taylor Swift’s new album has come out and we scream “22”, just then realizing its significance, it’s a completely honest interpretation of convincing oneself that one is free from worries at a young age. It is a cute idea. It’s a falsity, but it’s something I need. So we declare this song to be our song.
I’m seventeen, sitting in my room in a corner. He isn’t mine anymore. It’s been too long to pretend I have a chance. Demi Lovato has become so dear to me and “In Case” is my anthem. I don’t want it to be; I don’t want to feel this way anymore. Will I ever stop loving him? Will I ever love again? I can’t bear this youthful perplexity anymore. I feel trapped in these blue emotions, heavy as the fears I have about the start of university and the distance of some travelling friends. Everything seems far away from me, less intimate. I crave belonging. My memories of him are vivid, but maybe skewed. I don’t know it at the time, but I remember him in a light he never framed himself in. I remember him being my home, and now I feel homeless. Still. Such agony. When will it end?
I’m eighteen. I have three essays due within the week. I have notes written on my hand in pen ink. I cut my hair again last night to feel like a new person – it’s a little bit of an escape. It’s choppy, of course. God knows what the back of my head looks like. But I have bangs now. They’re cute. I don’t realize it now but the two or three cups of coffee I’ve been having daily – sometimes a fourth at 10 p.m. – takes a serious toll on my mental wellness. I began having anxiety attacks last year, and now they are almost daily. I can’t stand anything less than an 80 on my Renaissance Literature essay. I want to prove to the prof I can do this. I want to prove it to myself. My heart races so fast all the time that I can’t think straight. My arguments are incoherent. My thesis isn’t clear. Why can’t I get my point across? I don’t like working in Leddy. I don’t like being on campus. I feel like everybody is watching me and I don’t feel safe in my own skin if people are looking. I sit at my dining room table at home instead. I still live with my mother. She ignores me when I work, which is what I want. When I am not writing essays I am writing poetry. I started poetry this year. It’s bad, but it helps my mind move in currents rather than rough, white-capped waves. I’ve discovered Passenger. True, I discovered them a few years back when their hit song “Let Her Go” was popular, but that’s not why I fell in love with them. I replay “Whisper” because I can attest to wanting quiet. I want silence in my head that screams so often, for no reason I can think of. The music is calm, his voice is sweet but coarse, like honey with crushed chili peppers. I’m dating a guy I don’t like. But I don’t care because I don’t even know if I have the energy to love right now. But this song gives me feeling and heart when I believe I don’t have much at all.
I’m nineteen. I’m driving back to that conference a completely different person. I drink now, like a university person should. I’ve dated a lot. I’ve had sex. I have my hair bleached by a professional – I no longer cut my own hair in some attempt at personal salvation. I haven’t prayed in a while – not an earnest prayer, that is. “Please Lord don’t let me fail this exam” is not an earnest prayer. But I still talk to God, and that’s okay. I’ve fallen in love again, and this has become one of the most amazing blessings I could ask for. Everything was random but so organic and honest that I couldn’t be happier with the man I’m with. We had a fight before I left, though. I couldn’t sleep because I was so sad and upset. I stayed up all night. I discovered Tom Rosenthal’s “For You To Be Here” at around 5 a.m. It is summer and so the sun was just rising. It was gorgeous and cathartic. I realized I loved him way more than I previously thought I did. I sent him the song. I can’t get it out of my head now. I’m worried about going back to the conference because it’s been a few years. I’ve changed so much. Will they remember me? Will the people I love and admire so much even pay attention to me anymore? I play the song in my head to calm myself. I know that, even if I am nervous and afraid, I can be happy that I have found happiness and relief in my mind. Lots has changed but I am happy for it. I am no longer in anguish. I know who I am. I can be confident and tell people about myself without hating what I say. I work hard towards what I love and I have grown more mature. I’m here now. The song is flushed out of my brain as my thoughts take over. The familiar parking lot with the basketball hoop at one end sends memories sprinkling down my spine. Here we go. I take a step out of my car and three girls from Kentucky spot me. They scream “Emma!” and come running for a good, genuine, hearty Southern hug. So many inconsistencies in my life but at least I can rely on a few things – God, Southern affection, the endlessness of love, and good music.