Dear 15-year-old Me,
Caroline with her date Paolo at the prom.
Right now, you’re a sophomore in high school. You have a mouth full of braces, a big pile of homework, and a deep love for all things Abercrombie & Fitch. Actually, I bet you’re wearing your favorite A&F sweatpants right now while you’re sitting on the blue carpet in your bedroom, trying to draft a paper for English Lit—but let’s face it. You’re not thinking about Death of a Salesman and how it relates to the American dream.
You’re thinking about boys instead.
You’re thinking about boyfriends in particular.
You think a lot about kissing.
You’ve never been kissed before—which is why you think about it so much—and you’re secretly hoping that you’ll get your first kiss this year. You spend hours wondering what it will feel like, pressing your lips against a boy’s mouth. You blush when you think about your tongues touching. Wouldn’t that be, um, squishy? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Caroline Tung Richmond (THE ONLY THING TO FEAR)
Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Sarah,
Sarah playing guitar, age fifteen.
The hole in your father’s chest is big enough to fit both your fists inside. It’s okay, Sarah, you tell yourself as you clean and pack the wound from his heart surgery. Even now, when I’m writing this to you at age thirty-four, the smell of betadine makes you violently ill. You can see Dad’s sternum held together with wire.
Your friends are freaked out and stay away. Yours is the house where your friends land when shit gets bad. If they get kicked out, they know to come to you. But where can you go? None of them has had a dying man in their house, but you do. You’re used it. He’s been dying for three years already.
You’re a junior in high school and mad. Your sister Ericka’s off in college in Chicago while Mom’s already told you that you’ll attend the junior college in town. Never mind that you’ll be offered full scholarships to both of your dream colleges elsewhere. You must take care of Dad. There’s no arguing, which is how it always is with Mom.
Your godfather and his roommate move into the basement. They are alcoholics. You don’t feel safe with them in the house. Not with the things they say about you when they wander upstairs, hammered, while Mom’s away at one of her three jobs and Dad’s sick in the bedroom. They leer at you, talk about whether you’re a virgin since you have big breasts, offer you a drink. You never tell anyone. Because you’re embarrassed. Because your godfather is Mom’s friend. Because you were raised to believe you helped people who couldn’t be on their own feet. But they feel very, very wrong to you. So you make dinner for you and Dad, and you keep a sharp knife at hand, and when you go to the basement to take care of laundry, that knife is hidden in the clothesbasket. Just in case. It’s okay, Sarah. They get themselves kicked out of your home. Good riddance, even if they pop up like Whack-a-Moles for the next few years. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Bromley (A MURDER OF MAGPIES)
Krystal Wade during her high school drill team days in 1996.
I know you’re in pain. I know the world around you seems cruel and heartless. In many ways, it is, but you have to be stronger than the world, you have to be bigger than the world. Many horrific things happened to you, and you have reacted horribly.
You’ve pushed away your friends and family. You’ve allowed your schoolwork to suffer. You view yourself as unworthy of friends, unworthy of love, unworthy of any relationship remotely healthy.
But you’re wrong. Go figure.
You are so much more than you give yourself credit for. Fear rules you now, but it won’t later. Soon, you’re going to come to terms with what that man did to you. Soon, you’re going to come to terms with how your parents reacted, with their fear, with their hurt. Soon, you’re going to realize the past doesn’t matter, that the present and future are the only things you should concern yourself with. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Krystal Wade (CHARMING, WILDE’S FIRE)
Dear Teen Me:
Teen Bridget, holding her brother.
What would I tell you now? Well, just like A.S. King, I’ve rewritten this letter twice, so let’s cut to the chase: everything will turn out okay. Really. You have to trust me on this. You are not dumb and you aren’t to blame for your brother’s death! Not the one in this picture, because as far as you know there are no pictures of Michael anymore. That’s Mom’s secret.
Eventually, you’ll retire the burdensome role as the perfect oldest child, chief caretaker, de-facto parent, family hero, though it will take a while, but your love of books and basketball will help. In fact, you’ll discover a huge world out there beyond the soulless suburbs that you hate.
“You could never do anything. You always had to babysit!” Your sort-of high school friends will say years later. But the truth was bigger than they knew—way bigger—your job was light years beyond babysitting, your job was to keep your siblings alive, because safe wasn’t always an option.
And dead was what Michael was.
Yes, it sucked that you spent such a huge-ass chunk of your life blaming yourself for Michael’s death, but years later, a friend, a cop, will dig up the Accident Reports—and you will know—what you always knew.
There was no credible evidence to prove that Mr. P’s car hit Michael. He died of head and internal injuries. No mention of your mother. None.
So many secrets. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Bridget Birdsall (DOUBLE EXPOSURE, ORDINARY ANGELS)
Dear Teen Me,
Andrea looking thrilled to be at prom with this guy, who still married her five years later.
Right now, you’re wishing that you were one of those other girls. You know, the one with the honey-colored hair that you tried (and failed) to emulate with washed-out highlights. You wish that your mom was cool enough to let you take bottles from her liquor cabinet, like that one girl’s mom, and you’re lusting after that other girl’s Abercrombietastic wardrobe. You want the easy popularity of the girl with the deep dimples, and the boldness of the girl with the freckles scattered across her nose, and the belly button piercing of pretty much every other girl in your grade.
You’re wishing and wanting and praying for all of the things that you aren’t, and if I’m being totally honest, you’ll never be.
You don’t know this yet, but one day you’ll be glad you never got those things, that you never were those things. That you’re more of who you really are at this point in your life than you ever thought possible because of what you didn’t end up getting than because of what you have. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Andrea Hannah (OF SCARS AND STARDUST)
Dear Jennifer at 16,
Teen Jennifer, 10th grade!
You are weird.
I know. I know. You don’t want to hear this. You want desperately to be normal. Average. To fit in.
But here is the truth, my dear. It’s 1993, you’re 16 years old, and one of your favorite movies in the world is the 1956 black and white film The Bad Seed about an eight-year-old sociopath named Rhoda. I know you find the movie to be the perfect mix of camp and creepy, but when you screen it for your friends at slumber parties, they don’t quite get it.
With the exception of a heavy duty love affair with NKOTB in junior high, you have very little interest in popular music and spend your afternoons doing homework while listening to the “oldies” station, hoping someone calls in to request “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells because it’s your favorite. You make shoebox dioramas and write personal essays about what River Phoenix’s death means to you and then you read these essays out loud to your reflection in the mirror on the back of your bedroom door.
You do these things for fun.
You don’t understand popular fashion or makeup or hair even though you try – you really, really try. But you get so frustrated trying to look “right” (read “normal”), that your mother eventually asks your sweet and effortlessly normal best friend to take you shopping at Hit or Miss because every time you go shopping for clothes with your mom you end up having a breakdown. Nothing looks right or seems right on you. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jennifer Mathieu (THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, DEVOTED)
Dear Teen Me,
Sarah’s 8th grade school portrait.
Welcome to high school. It’s going to suck. And not in the “my hair won’t do what I want” kind of way, though you will have plenty of those days!
When you walk into Algebra class freshman year, take a look in the back corner at the twins with hair teased up at least seven inches. They will torment you, threaten you, invade the places of your world you thought we safe. They will also move away before the end of the year. So make the truce so you can go on the field trip without being afraid of getting beat up, but don’t smile at them in an effort to size of the chance for a permanent peace. They don’t like you. They never will. But they will make you stronger.
Sophomore year won’t be too bad. New school, new traditions and no reason to look over your shoulder. A word of advice though: You know that permanent sub in Spanish? The one who taught you how to order beer and showed The Karate Kid in Spanish? Yeah… don’t have high expectations for Spanish II. And don’t pick Mecedes as your Spanish name. The teacher will veto it and dub you Susanna, which you will hate. Study any Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah J. Schmitt (IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH)
Teenage Donna in Crete!
Dear Teen Me,
The only things you will regret are the things you never did. Get those twelve words tattooed somewhere. Actually, on second thoughts, don’t! This is your forty-something-year-old self talking, and a tattoo written in 12 font at sixteen would be infinitely larger now!
But I do want you to remember those words. Deal? Because right now, you have no idea what you want to be when you grow up. Some of your friends do. They’re going to college to study law or banking or medicine. You’re going to college to study childcare, even though you don’t like kids! The “careers advisor”—namely the poor biology teacher who got roped in to do this—put you down for it. In 1987, it’s the default career for girls who haven’t got a clue what they really want to do. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Donna Hosie (THE DEVIL’S INTERN)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Cara at her junior prom!
First things first: you will misunderstand your hair until you are into your thirties. Let’s correct this earlier on, shall we, and save us both years of hassle?
Seriously though, there are so many other things I’d like to tell you, but I won’t. Because they’re mistakes you need to make. They’re things you need to enjoy or experience or discover without my ruining the surprise. It’s not a perfect or easy road to get from you to me, but you need to travel it. I promise it will be worth it.
One thing I will tell you is this: moving away to a new town and state for your last two years of high school will not ruin your life. It will change it—in a good way.
You will miss your family, but family loves you no matter how near or far you are.
You will miss your dog, but she will have a happy and long, long life you’ll still be part of.
You will miss your friends, but the best ones you will keep forever or find your way to again.
You will never stop missing your childhood home, but eventually you’ll take joy in owning one a lot like it.
The things you thought would be tragedies are only challenges from which you will grow stronger. The things you thought you would lose are not lost at all, and your life is filled up with the things you gain. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Cara Bertrand (LOST IN THOUGHT, SECOND THOUGHTS)
High school Eliza looking ghetto fabulous.
Dear Teen Me,
This isn’t going to be easy to say, and knowing you, you’ll probably brush this off and ignore it. Turn down the Wu-Tang, don’t roll your eyes, and listen up because I got a story to tell.
In eleventh grade you’ll start a new high school, towns away from your friends, and walk into that building terrified—so terrified you keep a razor blade in your pocket every day for the first six months. But it’s only high school. No one’s going to jump you, and you’ll actually make a ton of friends, especially at your first real job: Genovese. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Eliza Tilton (BROKEN FOREST, WICKED PATH)