Dear Younger Connie,
I’m sorry I tried to starve you.
I tried to starve you by “going on” diets. (“Going on” sounds like there’s actually an itinerary and a destination, but with diets, the finish line kept sliding out of reach.) I took you to weigh-ins, I made you write down every piece of food you ate, I made you go to bed hungry. I spoke angrily of you because you tried to keep me healthy when I gave you seven hundred calories of food a day for a big and active woman. I didn’t see that, by refusing to shed stored resources in times of famine, you, my body, were trying to save me.
I starved you of love by refusing to see your physical beauty and picking on your flaws. If you had been a child and I had treated you so cruelly, I hope someone would have stepped in and stopped me. I starved you of love by avoiding sex with my husband who adored me, because I didn’t like the way you looked.
I starved you of fun by avoiding activities I loved, like riding a bike or going to the beach, because what if people made fun of me? (When they did, I secretly agreed with them that I was fat-and-ugly, and that was what hurt most of all.)
Bad as all this was, it goes deeper.
I starved you of poetry, writing and reading it, because I chose the path of business and financial prosperity over the things you loved most. I stopped playing piano because, I said, I didn’t have time. Really, I couldn’t write poetry or start playing because I was afraid I wouldn’t stop and I’d have to abandon that business-prosperity thing that gave me so much outside approval. I forced you to deprive yourself of the things you loved most for years at a time.
I hope you can forgive me for the lean years, the days of deprivation, the nights of self-judgment when I should have been sleeping.
It’s not going to be like that any more.
Uh-huh, I imagine you saying.Sure.
But we have already turned a corner, you and I.
I will feed you well and deliciously. In fact – maybe you’ve noticed? – I’ve been doing this for awhile.
I will feed you good food and enough food. I will not expose you to diet culture’s horrors. I won’t torment myself with thoughts of all I’ve done wrong in the past, but I won’t forget, either.
I will give you the activity and fun and physical love you crave. (There are limits. We are still married and monogamous because we want to be, remember? We’ve been over this!)
I will make time and space for poetry and music and beautiful places and looking at art and reading novels and seeing plays. I will embark on that long-delayed project of learning all the Preludes and Fugues in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavichord. (Yes, yes, I remember: You’ve already learned ten of them!)
I will still be working to earn a living, but the work is different now. It’s about teaching and learning, loving and guiding others, entering into the tender places in people’s lives, speaking in public about the things that mean the most to you. It’s about leading, and you’ve always enjoyed that. There’s even plenty of room for poetry and music in this career!
But there will also be room for you, all of you, and all of me, the person you’ve grown into. We’re not that different, but present-me is so much stronger than in the starvation days. She can and will tell the demons of the past to go back to hell where they belong. They dare not refuse.
We don’t have so very many years ahead now. I can’t fool myself into thinking the horizon is limitless. It used to seem that way, and that might not have helped you: If we had all the time in the world, I probably thought I could delay the work and pain of making room for my full self in the life I’ve been given.
We do not have all the time in the world.
But we do have each other.
You remember that experience in childhood of seeing “Gone with the Wind” at the drive-in theater? (Don’t think about how scary the war scenes were!) Remember when Scarlett O’Hara falls on the ground and she’s eating grass or dirt or something because she’s so hungry, and it makes her throw up? And she shakes her fist at heaven and says, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!”
Yes. That. You will never go hungry again.
Connie Clark is a writer and Episcopal priest living in Earlysville, Virginia, where she is pastor of a small church. Her earliest passions, writing and music, now have room to be part of her daily life. She has been married to the same wonderful person for literally decades. Recently, she completed the first draft of a memoir about the years she served as a chaplain in state psychiatric hospitals.