Old Notebooks

I am home ill with flu. Downstairs, floors are being sanded and as a consequence furniture is all over the house, as well as the contents of bookshelves and cupboards. There are three sideboard drawers in my bedroom and in an effort to restore order, I tidy them out. Sideboards are great places for storing things we need, but also those things we don’t know where to put and don’t want to throw out.

I find a notebook written by J. On the first page is a headline: Who I Really Admire. This is what he wrote.

Someone who I rearly admire is my mum because she loves me up to the north star. She does as much things as she can for me. She bought me a Playstation2 and 7 games. She took me to the adventure park, got me a big Baloo the bear toy and even a tunnel to go over my bed. She is 38 has red hair and is very tidy. She usually wears blue and green clothes. She is a loving person and a very good cook. Sometimes she gets mad at annoying people.

I laugh at this and remember the Playstation, the cause of so much joy for J, but so many rows. But there is another notebook, written by L around the same time. At the front she has her name and profile ‘Karate Expert and Dectetive, Age 9. In the first few pages there are jumbled notes and words. I struggle to make sense of her words, it is obviously about school, and I smile at her spelling “members of cercicty” (society). Some of the phrases seem familiar and suddenly I remember. When J went to an open evening for secondary school, L and K came too. The Headteacher addressed us and L sat in her chair taking notes. I can see her now, her head bent studiously, listening to the Head and writing things down and I can remember how my heart ached with love for her, how other parents smiled over at her, seeing this wonderful, serious little girl who always wanted to do the right thing, to pay attention and listen. She was 9. And at the same age, she became obsessed with food and calories. She believed herself to be fat and not good enough. This amazing, clever girl, whose mere name always made teachers sigh and smile, thought she shouldn’t eat too much. I never saw it. I thought she was perfect. I used to comment what a joy she was to cook for, how she always ate vegetables and asked for seconds. She tried new foods like snails and seafood and all the time a voice was telling her to stop eating. She asked if she could go on a diet and I told her not to be silly, but advised her that the way to health was to eat as much fruit and vegetables as you like and to enjoy food, but see each mouthful as a gift to yourself. She shot up in height and went from little girl squidgy to a long limbed skinny young woman. She seemed happy.

I look again at her messy writing, although I see how she tries to be neat and trace a finger over the words. I would give anything to go back to that school hall, to the little girl writing in her notebook and tell her that she must not listen to the anorexic voice, that it isn’t her friend, that restricting, counting and controlling is neither healthy eating, nor safe. But it is too late. She has gone and L is so far down the anorexic route it will take her a very long time to come back to us. I put the notebook in my bedside drawer and try to stop feeling how much I let her down.

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