Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I saw her at the store, and then two days later, at the coffee shop. I had taught her daughter several years ago, and always admired her for her perfectly coiffed hair, ready smile and unending reserves. She had been the volunteer for my classroom, and always had the time and creativity to set up my bulletin boards or whip up costumes  for the annual middle-school Shakespeare festival.

Over the years, I would see her daughter around town. She morphed from a seventh grader wearing purposefully mismatched socks to a young woman whose outfits displayed a deliberate, art-house chic. I love seeing middle schoolers find their own beauty, but increasingly, when I saw her, I felt a catch in my throat.

I was alarmed by the jut of her clavicle, her tiny legs, skeletal arms. I had seen this look many, many times before. The literal shrinking, the attempt, through omission, to make oneself invisible.

The first time I saw her, I thought, “Is she?” I mean, a lot of teenagers are just plain skinny. But, it wasn’t my place. I was no longer her teacher, and it wasn’t my place. I filed it away, and did nothing.

I saw her again, and could see the ping of her shoulder blades, stripped bare and painfully stark. She was at Old Navy with her mother and we talked about college applications and her future. She made eye contact, laughed, seemed normal, pleasant, not ill, not desperately trying to be invisible.

I didn't know what to do. If there was even anything I could do. I didn't see her eat or not eat, because I didn't live with her. Should I call somebody? Who?

Time moved on, and a few months later, (and surely not by accident),  I saw her mother at the coffee shop. The talk again turned to college, and I said my standard line, “She’ll end up exactly where she’s supposed to be.”

The mother’s eyes welled up in tears, and she said, “It’s been so hard recently.” I didn't ask for specifics, because sharing the specifics was her right.

I just patted her back a bit weakly and said, "It can be so hard."

I don't know if the mother was talking about an eating disorder or another difficulty or simply the excruciating process of sending a daughter go off to college.

I really didn't know anything. So, I did the only thing that felt right at that moment. I  acknowledged her tears, and let her know that I noticed.

She was not invisible.

When see her daughter again, I will, maybe through words, maybe through action, convey the same thought to her.


adrienzgirl said...


That is heart-breaking!

Muliebrity said...

You have a way of saying things without saying too much. I know you will have the right words next time you are placed with her and her mother. I hope she gets the help she needs soon.

I'm know I'm not qualified to judge, but your writing in this piece is my fav so far of all you've done on this blog. Thank you for your words.

erika said...

This made my heart ache. It's hard enough to watch them grow up and then let them go. But to watch them being devoured by the dark powers of society and the world ... is a different level of tough.

I love your writing. So subtle yet so powerful.

Corrie Howe said...

This obviously is weighing heavy on your mind and heart for you to post this late in the day.

I woke up at 4:20 a.m. this morning with a pain in my shoulder. I wondered if this wasn't the Lord's attempt to get my praying for others. A young teenager is having surgery in the same shoulder in a few weeks. I prayed for him and a couple others. Now I'm reading blogs and commenting trying to ignore the pain. :-)

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of being a teacher, was watching my students change and grow. There were days that I could actually sense that they were becoming different people before my eyes. It was a beautiful thing. Sometimes I saw them changing in ways that were heart breaking.

I don't miss the paper work, the ridiculous meetings, the grading lame papers, the attitude and the violence, but I do miss seeing the good grow and praying for the hurting. I'm glad you got to be there to give a comforting touch. I hope you get the opportunity to be there again.

Laughing Stars said...

That is heart-wrenching. :-( You are an incredible writer.

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Unknown Mami said...

What a tough situation. I wouldn't know what to do.

Kristin said...

This just tears me up. I've been there and it's such a desolate place to be. I hope that if she is suffering from an eating disorder she reaches out!

blueviolet said...

Having been there myself, I recognize it instantly in other people. Until they see it themselves, there is nothing you can do. That's the killer.

Bekah said...

I know this is a sad-ish, touching story, but I just wanted to say that I love how your writing can go from hysterically funny to poignant from post to post. Keeps me coming back.
Good luck when you see the girl.

won said...

Acknowledgement is such a key thing I live by.

I acknowledge you for acknowledging her.

michelle said...

I hate feeling helpless in situations like this one.

Don't be surprised if that mom picks up the phone and gives you a buzz...

SamiJoe said...

I have no other words.

Melani said...

I just read what your comments make you do....interesting! but what I wanted to say was...simply pray for her and her mother.

kys said...

I don't think I would have known what to say.

Ms. Moon said...

I think that in the days when our communities were small villages, we could and would have spoken up at such troubling signs. Sadly, we are not allowed to do this any more and we are poorer for that because surely, everyone can use help now and then and yet, do not know how to ask for it in a socially acceptable way.