Dear Teen Katherine,
Katherine (age 14) and her little sister at summer camp in Texas.
Here’s my gift to you for the coming years: A list of five boys NOT to kiss.
1. Do not kiss that boy from your geometry class during Truth or Dare.
He will stiffen his tongue and wield it around like something he caught deep-sea fishing. You will never forget the feel of it, and its exact ratio of rough-to-slimy. Even thirty years later, just thinking about it, you’ll kinda wish you could spit the thing back out. Side note: When you have a choice, always pick “truth.”
2. Do not kiss the boy you meet at that ski lodge whose best joke is to call “condiments” “condom-mints.”
Enough said on that, really. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Katherine Center (HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS, THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DISASTER)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Jennifer with “that nice boy.”
“Slow down, you’re moving too fast,” as Simon and Garfunkel once said.
What is the rush?
Life is good. Great school. Lots of friends. Your first Grateful Dead show (don’t worry, you’ll see twelve more before Jerry dies). But the teen years are also hard. Maybe it’s the fluctuating hormones. Or the pressure to perform. Or the feeling that you’re already a grown up on the inside but your parents can’t yet see it.
Your picker is off. Stop dating musicians. They’re not nice.
But that one boy is nice. The one who writes you poetry. The one that introduces you to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. He doesn’t want to hear you cry about other boys, but he listens anyways.
You’re not going to be a veterinarian. You’re not good at math. And not in the we-need-to-get-girls-to-be-more-confident-in-their-math-skills kind of way. Nope. You’re just not good at it. It’s okay. You can still love animals. Just don’t keep so many as pets. No one needs a pet iguana. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jennifer Caloyeras (STRAYS, URBAN FALCON)
Dear sixteen-year-old me,
Julie at 16!
I’m trying to figure out how to say this in a way that won’t sound superior or condescending, and then I think—can you sound superior or condescending when talking to yourself? This may be one of those philosophical questions that plagues us all of our lives. I’ve decided not to worry about it. I mean, you never listen to anyone but yourself lately anyway. And since I’m you (only older) I figure it’s all in the family. In a ‘which came first—the chicken or the egg’ sort of way.
So, I know you’re confused right now, but soon, you’ll discover that you’ve based an understanding of who you are, who God is, and how the world works on some pretty big lies. It’s true you have valid reasons to believe what you’ve been told.
For instance, who could forget your second grade teacher? She repeatedly humiliated you in front of the entire class whenever you got an answer wrong—which was pretty often. She’d yank your arms, pull your hair, and call you stupid. Then, naturally, the other kids followed her lead, cornering you on the playground, pushing, shunning, and name calling. A couple of years of that seemed proof enough you weren’t worth much, right?
You don’t give up right away though, kind of like that boxer that should probably quit. It’s round nine, you’ve just been knocked to the mat again, and everyone yells, “Stay down! Don’t get up!” Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Julie Reece (THE ARTISANS)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Donna at Sacred Falls!
You’re eighteen and you just failed out of college (again) and walked out of the Navy recruiter’s office where you signed up on a whim to make your parents proud. I know you are running away (again) because you feel like you’ll never belong, you’re a failure, and that you’re a bad person not deserving of love and happiness. You are none of this. You have to fall down before you can find out who you are – and that’s okay.
You hate yourself because you’re not taking the road all of your friends are on. You keep chasing them, but they aren’t your roads to take. You know, the “normal road”: graduate high school, graduate college four years later, start a career, get married, buy a house, have a baby…and then another.
It’s okay to chase them for now. Later it won’t even matter. Plus you’ll never catch up. Believe me; you don’t want to catch up.
And be glad you won’t. There’s a reason why you love the Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” because your roads will indeed make all the difference. It’s no wonder THE OUTSIDERS is your favorite book. I know that’s what you feel you are right now, but you won’t forever. Embrace your creative, wild, try-everything, wanna-break-free shot of crazy. It will serve you well later in life.
And guess what? Every failure and every awful thing you go through this year will be fodder for the books you write later (especially that near-death experience in Honolulu with a supposed-friend who demands love with a knife at your throat leading you to leap out of his car going 30mph down Kapiolani Boulevard). Your first book will even feature Hawaii (in all its beauty and badness) plus adoption, alcoholism, abuse – pretty much the dark places from your past. You’ve always wanted to be a writer, but what you’ll come to realize is that you already were always a writer. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Donna Galanti (JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Amy at graduation in 1988.
You are in such a rush.
To get started with this whole real life thing.
To get there.
You are so anxious to start law school, but first you have to suffer through these last few weeks of high school and then college.
Let’s go, already.
I can almost see you mouthing the words in every single picture from this particular year.
You said “yes” without hesitation to the tall, handsome boy who asked you to the Senior Prom, who is one of the most interesting boys you have ever met at the worldly age of 17, and who seems to be in a little bit of a rush to get started with this whole real life thing, himself. You understand that about him on some level.
You understand so little else.
And yet, you have no idea how little you understand. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from Amy Impellizzeri (LEMONGRASS HOPE)
Dear Teen Me,
Heather at seventeen, cross-country runner.
You’ve seen Mom’s Volkswagen Bus approaching on the deserted length of road.
Move those numb feet down the grand staircase of this abandoned, water-damaged mansion she has rented. Move past your two little brothers and sister who are watching TV in the sparsely furnished living room. Don’t see the gap between their lumped bodies, the one you usually fill. It’s time to care for yourself.
Move through the dining room with the round white table that Mom’s boyfriend trimmed down but is still the size of a private swimming pool. Don’t remember the drugged, drunk, naked bodies lounging there during their last Pig Roast or Oyster Bash. Move through the jazz music seeping from the basement where the writer Mom has hired as nanny works on his biography of Duke Ellington. Don’t picture his bald, liver-spotted head and hands and his one yellow front tooth. Don’t look at his nervous-breakdown wife as she stands at the sink washing vegetables. Don’t notice her frail calves or the way her head tilts to the side as if listening. Don’t speak to her; she’ll flinch and whimper.
That nightgown she always wears reminds you of the dark, when Mom woke you and told you to follow her. Blink back remembering how Mom was much taller to your seven-year-old eyes. Don’t remember how her bedside lamp revealed her swollen face. Don’t remember how she blew her nose and said, “Your father isn’t coming home,” and how she tucked the quilt around her big pregnant belly and then punched and kicked the bed. Today is your birthday. You’re thirteen now. A teenager. You’ve been waiting for this court-appointed day when you can choose. Dad’s spoken of nothing else for the last year. Dad with his sparkling young wife and clean condo. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Heather Sappenfield (THE VIEW FROM WHO I WAS)
Dear Teen Me,
I wanted to sit down and write you a long letter. I imagined us giggling together over your big glasses and hopelessly out-of-fashion haircut. We were going to bond over stories about you and your boarding school friends having midnight parties up in the dormitory attic and ordering pizzas to be delivered to the cemetery next door.
But over the last few days, as I’ve struggled to write this letter and become increasingly obsessive and distraught, I’ve had to face once again a very sad fact about you, Teen Me.
I can’t write to you.
Because you’re dead.
You will die during the weekend before your fourteenth birthday. You and your best friend will sneak out to attend a party with two boys you naively call your boyfriends. There will be no other girls at that party. There will be plenty of alcohol. And sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning, in an upstairs bathroom, you will end up getting brutally raped.
Teen Me, I will know as soon as I stand up and look in that bathroom mirror: the girl I was the day before is gone. What gets left behind is a stranger—a bitter, furious, hollow-eyed stranger. Nothing about who she is will seem familiar. I will dislike and distrust that stranger so much that I won’t want to look her in the eyes again for years. And I will develop an eating disorder so severe that I will almost end up killing her off, too. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Elena Dunkle (ELENA VANISHING)
Dear Teen Me,
Elizabeth gets bad advice on hair straightening.
I’ve been looking at old photos of you and find it amazing to see how you saw yourself in high school. There are obvious things I wish you knew then but didn’t and other things you knew about yourself on a deep level even in high school.
I wish you had realized that you were pretty. You worried so much about your perceived flaws like your curly hair the occasional zit and whether or not you were saying and doing the “right” things that you often forgot to enjoy the moment. And there were so many wonderful moments – flying through the auditorium as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz, getting a standing ovation for that bit part that you brought to life in a high school play, the cast parties you threw, paste up parties for the school newspaper, receiving all those compliments for your column in the local paper, Teen Talk.
It’s not that you didn’t have fun but you let the fun be marred with worry and insecurity. I want to hug you. The worry is about things that won’t matter in the long run and the insecurity is about not knowing your true self and counting on others to dictate what you should do and be. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Elizabeth Fixmer (DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN, SAINT TRAINING)
Michael, Age 15 – though he could easily pass for age 10)
Dear Teen Michael,
23-year-old Michael has been creeping your Facebook, and it does look like you’re having a pretty good time. You love hanging out with your friends when you should have be in class, playing Capture the Flag and smoking pot in cornfields, and drinking in backyards all night while listening to cheesy house music (except all night means until 11:00 pm ’cause you still have a curfew).
You didn’t like high school, which is ironic because once you leave it, you’ll look back fondly and wish you could return. As your future self, I wish I could obtain Hermione’s time-turner, ambush you in the hallway at Mayfield Secondary School, shake you, and tell you to just enjoy your high school years. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from Michael Cristiano (THE BLACK ORACLE)
Dear Teen Me,
I wish I knew what to tell you. You’re going through some of the roughest stuff of your life. It may not seem like it, but it will get better one day. I promise you that. I don’t know if you’ll listen to any advice because you’re kind of hard headed. I know you’re going to do it your own way, but if you’re inclined to listen, here’s a few bits of advice from an older, hopefully wiser you~
1. Don’t ever stop writing. I know you aren’t very good with criticism of any kind. You’re going let that stop you from learning your craft for far too long. You’re going to stop writing (or trying to write) for years, and it’s a damn shame. I’m here to tell you: Don’t stop for nothing. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Lisa Cresswell (VESSEL, HUSH PUPPY, THE STORYTELLER SERIES)