Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educators: Amy Dupcak Remland, Kasumi Parker
Elegy For My Seventeenth Year
In the backseat of the car, my mother’s voice suddenly becomes more than my mother’s voice – it is the end of my childhood. I am seventeen. I realize that I’ve been checking my email every day, and every night I finger my hipbones as I lie on my back looking at the ceiling. With my eyes closed, I can see the stars: they look like the afterimage of your teeth grinning over me. I measure the passage of time in the prominence of my hipbones.
Twice, I was so sad I stopped eating. Grief in the place of hunger; or, grief as misplaced hunger. My bones were sharp then. My mother said I looked beautiful. I felt that it was important to stay beautiful, but when the hunger came back, I surrendered to it. And it was hunger as the afterimage of an explosion through the middle of your life, an afterimage as almost-dim as the setting sun.
I took photos of you on a disposable camera and never got them developed. I made a list of all the reasons I hated you, then burned it and came to your apartment next time I got caught in the rain. I’m sorry, I said, sixteen year-old girl in your doorway, enveloped in my yellow raincoat as if there was any part of me you hadn’t seen. I’m sorry, I said, and you said I thought you’d always be too proud to say it. Then you let me in and I went straight to your bed. In the aftermath, I would sometimes run through the city trying to find you. I think you moved closer to the river. The last time you touched me, I was sixteen and you were already in love again. I didn’t stop eating for the occasion. You were one of my first loves, and I was one of yours.
I forgot the majority of the list, but I remember HE MAKES YOU ACT IN WAYS YOU DON’T LIKE. Still, I blame you when I find myself shaking with anger in the middle of doing something else. I remember how you never answered my questions. When are you moving? I asked, and you said At some point.
I go to the lake in the Catskills and try to forget about your cabin, sitting somewhere nearby like a land mine. The sky is beautiful up here like an overexposed photograph. I float on my back and talk to myself. What is it about me that makes people okay with hurting me? There are birds overhead. They are not the afterimage of anything except their own motion. And I am older now than I was when I slept in your bed and wondered why I didn’t feel safe. And I am older now than you will ever remember me.
My mother is talking in the shotgun seat and I, in the back, suddenly feel where I am. Which is: far from you. I remember that I had a family before I came into your home. You liked having me there so much. But I like being up here. Breathing in lake water and not choking on it. Becoming a part of something that is not yours and never can be. Not learning to swim, but remembering.