As I quietly opened the theater door at the end of the last screening of Someday Melissa at the California Independent Film Festival, I could see the last image of Melissa scrolling on the screen as the final credits ran. It’s a black and white video clip of Melissa, laughing at the camera as she sat on a staircase. I don’t remember exactly when the video was made. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was a time when she was happy. A time before she was crushed by the bulimia and depression that ultimately took her life.
That’s how I like to remember her.
There was total silence for half a minute before the lights were turned on. I was grateful for those 30 seconds that would allow the audience time to catch their breath. As the lights came on, I walked to the front of the theater. I knew from past screenings that there would be a lot of questions, but they wouldn’t come for a few minutes. So I began to speak. I told them that I understood the impact that Melissa’s story, my family’s story, is having on audiences. Jeff Cobelli, the remarkable young man who directed the film was standing beside me and I told them how the idea for making the film was born and how we met.
I told them about the impact that Someday Melissa is having on the world of eating disorders. About the emails I get from around the world: from Germany, England, Australia, Chile and more. From across the country. From people who had been struggling in silence but Melissa’s story finally gave them the courage to tell someone. From others who finally admitted they had a problem and reached out for help. And from others who were inspired by Melissa’s dreams of “Someday…” and how her story had given them encouragement and the determination to keep fighting. Given them hope. I told them about the messages of recovery. From people who continue to write to tell me of their recovery and the healthy lives they’re living that they never dreamed possible.
The first hand tentatively went up and then others followed, one after another. What advice would I give other parents at the start of the journey? How can we get the message into schools? Why are eating disorders so difficult to treat? I was asked what the process of making the film was like for me and Jeff was asked what it was like to film such emotional interviews. The questions continued. I told them to download the Parent, Educator, Coach & Athletic Trainer Toolkits that have been developed by the National Eating Disorders Association and give copies to their children’s teachers, guidance counselors and coaches.
There were several therapists in the audience who treat eating disorders. I deferred to their expertise in responding to some of the questions since I make it clear that I’m a mom, not a professional. One of the most powerful moments, echoed by others, was when one therapist expressed her gratitude that Someday Melissa is a documentary about bulimia, because most films are about anorexia and people don’t understand how deadly bulimia is.
It had to be about bulimia.
That was Melissa’s story.