As a young child, I could barely go a day without brushing your weathered fingers against my cheeks or wrapping your perfumed scarves across my dainty shoulders. You made the overwhelming scent of Elizabeth Arden Red Door seem elegant and refined. You go, mom.
It's hard to imagine that I've spent the last 12 years —half of my life— without you. There are still some nights when I mistake the swift turn of a doorknob for your arrival. I can still picture you, with your tired eyes and impossibly heavy handbag, walking through the front door like nothing ever changed.
There were nights when I sat in your childhood room at nana's house trying to forge some otherworldly connection through bent Polaroids and your frayed-edge poetry books. I always felt defeated when my best efforts were met with silence, but my 13-year-old self could have never known that a glow-in-the-dark Ouija board is unnecessary when you have the right memories.
Nana told me that there was a time when you were very thin. You drank herbal tea and ate one meal a day, she said. It must have been hard to trade your tiny, feminine sequined dresses for the roller-coaster of changes that transformed your body from "sexy" to scorned. For two C-sections. For a colostomy bag. I heard you crying alone in the bathroom one day as you ran your fingers over your scars. I never told you this, but I thought they were beautiful. You were so beautiful, mom.
You were never your scars or your weight or sickness. When you come up in conversation, I tell people about the unbeatable bargain-hunting skills that could put extreme couponers to shame. The way you threw back your head and sang in public even though you were rejected from the school choir —twice. The way your eyes lit up when you cracked the spine of a new book. The way you had purse-packing down to an art. Forget Mary Poppins; you were like a walking drugstore.
You wore vibrant, patterned blouses to your law firm every day when your colleagues donned gray business suits. You decorated your office with our "art." You were unapologetic and exactly zero of your very best qualities had to do with an arbitrary number on a scale. You can't measure greatness on a slab of cold metal.
I saw you the day you died. Your wild hair was gone, your never-fashionable-yet-always-amazing clothes were replaced by a flimsy white hospital gown, and your enveloping eyes were shut tight. All I saw was impossible strength. I could have sworn I heard you singing.
Because of you, I know that the people who love me won't remember me for a thigh gap (or lack thereof). You weren't the size 4 mom parading across America's television screens, and yet every time I think of who I want to be like, it's you.
Thank you for teaching me that all people have intrinsic value. Thank you for valuing honesty and kindness over fickle definitions of beauty. Thank you for tying my hair in pigtails for a year straight (my Sailor Moon phase wasn't easy on you, was it?) when my classmates' mothers were teaching them how to apply eyeliner.
I've come to accept that no matter how many plastic Ouija boards I invest in, I will never actually speak to you again. Thank you for leaving me with the memories and values that really matter.
Diana Denza is a 24-year-old New Yorker and proud Endangered Bodies NYC member. When she’s not at her full-time social media gig, you can find her hanging out with her fiancée and wonderful cat children. She loves a good cup of coffee, swingy skirts and dresses, and exploring new places.