When I was twelve, you were everything.
Once a month, I checked the mailbox and struck gold: a glossy rag with some exquisite female on the cover clad in the latest trends. A plaid skirt, maybe, schoolgirl couture a la Cher Horowitz; a head of shiny, permed curls; and the text on the cover promising me fashion advice. When I opened it, an invisible cloud wafted perfume I could never afford. CK1 or Obsession, Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I’d rub perfume samples on my wrists, gazing down at the emaciated grace of half-naked Kate Moss. Oh to be a woman, not a 90-pound nobody with tortoiseshell glasses, a Supercuts Rachel hairstyle, triple-A tits. I smelled my wrists, kicked up the volume to my boombox, and cracked the new issue. I read the table of contents all the way to the Barbizon School of Modeling ads at the end.
Seventeen, you had everything. You told me what bodysuits were in and where to get the best scrunchies. You gave me interviews with screen-lit goddesses like Claire Danes and Brandy. You served up quizzes to take with my friends, makeout advice, and non-fiction that, at the time, educated. Rape, eating disorders, runaways—cutting-edge glimpses into the darkness of adolescence, served between facial advice and back-to-school guides. I was a loyal subscriber. I built towers with your back issues.
At twenty, I was beyond your demo (and title), but I never forgot you. I started writing my first short fiction stories and you were my number-one dream publication. I bought a Writer’s Market book. Found your fiction editor’s name. Wrote a funny story about a teen whose parents decide to become performance artists, printed it, sealed it in a manila envelope. And, as it was in the olden days of 2003, I sent and waited for my self-addressed stamped envelope to reveal my fate.
One day, I got a message on my landline’s voicemail.
It was the fiction editor of Seventeen! Exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point!
I made it! Officially! Exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point!
This kind human left me a message I will never forget, one I listened to multiple times. She adored my story so much she wanted to tell me personally. (Here the tears pricked my eyes.) She wanted to publish it, she really did—but in a terrible twist of fate, Seventeen was no longer accepting fiction submissions. (Here the tears began to leak.)
Caps lock DAMN. The disappointment was real.
There’s a special kind of hurt you experience a hair away from getting what you want.
But along with the disappointment and disbelief came something else. What I heard then was, keep going. You got this. And coming from the fiction editor of a magazine I had worshipped, I had pored over like a pre-teen Bible, I had rubbed on my wrists and circled every product I could never afford in purple pen—that meant everything.
So thank you, Seventeen. Thanks for being the handy monthly guide for the tween I was, from the bodysuits I wore to the Columbia House compact discs I bought for $.01 apiece. And as a young adult, for leaving such a sweet message of encouragement. I held onto that almost for years. Sometimes the smallest gesture can be enough to propel someone forward, can be the difference between giving up and giving your everything.