Dear Teen Me:
Senior Year picture. The hair. In a couple of years she will learn to just wash it and let it dry curly.
You are sixteen, in the front seat of a big white Lincoln Town Car, being driven home by a large man in a cream-colored suit. He smells of bad, stale, men’s cologne. For the last eight hours (6pm till 2am) you have endured the worst babysitting job of your long babysitting career. The two kids were monstrous. The house was a mess. The husband and wife spoke harshly to each other before they left to attend some big event in New York City. New to this region, town, school, climate, this accent and this fast-talking crowd of kids who call each other “douche bag” (a term you only know as a strange item hanging in the shower in your parents’ bathroom), you have no friends yet, nothing better to do on a weekend night than babysit for $1/hour, which, though double what they were paying you in New Orleans, is nowhere near enough.
The man driving you—the father of the horrible kids who would do not one single thing the mother had suggested you make them do—turns on the radio. He asks you what your favorite station is and you shrug. You say you are new here. In you he smells something timid and tender, like veal, something he could conquer, sink teeth into.
You don’t tell the man how difficult his son and daughter were, or how you normally will do the few dishes at a house where you’re babysitting, once the kids are in bed, but at this house, you would not have known where to begin. You stare out the windshield at the fall night—really cold now that it’s 2am; you wish you had heeded your mother’s suggestion to bring a jacket. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Melanie Bishop (MY SO-CALLED RUINED LIFE)
Dear Teen Me,
Melissa with one of her very bad perms.
Greetings from your future self! I thought I’d share a few things you really should know.
Stop perming your hair one year, then having it straightened the next year, then perming it again. You’re really damaging it. Seriously.
1. Don’t worry so much about what other people think about you. Something that took me years to accept is that other people’s opinions don’t matter. Everybody has them. Some may like the things you do, some may not. Learn to stay away from people who put you down. They’re toxic and don’t deserve to be a part of your life.
2. Don’t be afraid to let your nerdy side shine. You’ve loved most anything sci-fi or fantasy related since you were little. Remember how you begged to go to the theater to see Return of the Jedi when you were in first grade? Remember the HUGE crush you had on Wil Wheaton when he was in Star Trek: TNG? Your friends don’t know that. You’re too afraid they will pick on you. Don’t worry about that. When you let people know about things you like, you actually have the chance to make friends with people who have things in common with you, and that is like finding gold. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Melissa E. Hurst (THE EDGE OF FOREVER)
Dear Teen Me,
Michelle Brafman’s senior portrait.
The good news is that you’re not as dumb as you think. The bad news is that you’re not as smart as you think. Let’s start with the dumb.
If something bores you, you ignore it. Therefore, you bomb standardized tests and stink at algebra. Who gives a hoot that rate multiplied by time equals distance? The word problems grab your attention, though. Why are Jane and John going to the skating rink together anyway? Are they a thing? And for God’s sake, why is Sally leaving twenty minutes later? You care about their back stories and craft scenes about their showdown in the skating lodge, which smells like fire and feet, resulting in Sally hurling a cup of piping hot cocoa at John just barely missing the distinctive facial feature he shares with a boy who teased you at a skating rink only a few years back. You will let go of many bad feelings through your writing, but stop spacing out in algebra, will ya?
You ace Hebrew with Mrs. Eisenberg. She is funny and passionate about language, and you “snap to” in her class because she expects the best from you, and you will give it to her, to the subject matter, and to yourself. She’s so good that she could have made you love algebra, but in studying Hebrew with her, you are learning how to both learn and teach. Impossible to believe, but one day you will become a graduate school professor. You will steal Mrs. Eisenberg’s best tricks, namely believing in your students’ potential (and using lots of odd props). But back in high school, she is teaching you the grammar you are not learning in your English class, and not because you don’t have a perfectly good English teacher. You do. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Michelle Brafman (WASHING THE DEAD)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Kristi demonstrating The curse of growing up in the 70s with non-Farrah-Fawcett-compliant-hair.
First, let’s talk about that one girl.
The one who, at the time, you swore had ruined your life.
Let’s talk about that really pretty popular girl who not only ripped your best friend away from you, but who bullied you in the halls afterward.
The girl who, surrounded by her bevy of popular, pretty friends, would go out of her way in the hall to say, “I hate you!” and shove you with both her palms pressed flat against your shoulder, pushing you into the lockers.
I know you wanted to fight back, but you were surrounded. Her Popular Girl Posse always outnumbered you.
And even though you acted angry with her and the way she treated you, deep inside you were hurt and baffled why someone who got the prize – your best friend – could hate you so much. The only thing you had done wrong was be best friends with the girl she wanted to be best friends with. And she won that battle, anyway. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kristi Belcamino (The Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries)
Dear Teen Kate,
Here’s a piece of good news. You know those two girls who always sit there smoking in the courtyard every morning, with their backs propped against the wall of the school building and their perfectly tanned legs stretched out to catch the sun? And you know how they’re always gossiping about people from the ‘in’ clique, and how this is gossip that you can never know or share, thus rendering you permanently part of the great loserly masses of students who are ‘out’ instead of ‘in’? And then how you lock up your bike at the bike rack which just happens to stand exactly opposite to where they’re sitting, so they know that you are a completely uncool person, who OMG rides a bike to school? At least, that is what they would be thinking about you, if they even spared one of their precious brain cells to think about you, which they don’t? And how, if you say ‘hi,’ they don’t answer, but just look right through you as if you are too lowly to even exist?
Yeah, those girls. Well I can tell you that 25 years later they’ve got faces full of wrinkles and skin that looks like shoe-leather, from too much smoking and tanning. Turns out popularity doesn’t protect you from the natural laws of the universe. Too bad, so sad. They deserved it for being so snotty. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kate Jaimet (ENDANGERED)
Dear Teen Me,
It is not your job to fix him.
I know you love him. I know all the good things about him. How he has a knack for making the rest of the world disappear. I know you feel connected to him in a way you can’t explain. I know that in so many ways he is a good guy.
But he is an addict. And it is not your job to fix him.
Stepping away is not selfish. I know you feel like you’re giving up on him. I know you feel like you are the person who is supposed to help him, that if your love is strong enough you can help him through this. He’s only a teenager, and he deserves another chance.
But you’re a teenager too. And it is not your job to fix him. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Rachel Schieffelbein (DON’T FALL, RUN FOR THE ROSES)
Dear Tom at eighteen, but before high school ends,
I need to give you a really specific bit of advice about a really specific moment. So take off your headphones and pay attention.
On the very last day of high school—the last day of your senior year—a classmate of yours—I think his name is Jason, but not Jason Edwards the cool black guy who ends up joining the military and getting a little right wing for your future taste. The other Jason—the tall one whose dad bought him a new car when he turned sixteen. The one you got into arguments with about Queen versus Led Zeppelin. The one who didn’t believe you when you told him Freddy Mercury was gay. That Jason. He’ll bring a friend onto campus—some big football D-line prick who outweighs you by about seventy-five pounds. I have no idea what his name is. You never see him again. That jagwad is going to make fun of you. He’s not going to pour pig’s blood over your head or call you out in front of the whole school or even say anything very profound. He’s just going to make a comment about your top hat. Because if nothing changes about you, you’re going to be the kind of kid who likes to wear top hats on the last day of high school. Decades later, you still won’t be able to pass a hat store without trying a few on.
On that day—that very last day of your senior year—you’ll be walking south through the hallway toward the doors on the back of the school—the side where the gym sits. Jason and his thug friend will be standing there, right where the lockers come to an end, They’ll be leaning against the wall, talking smack about just about everyone who walks past—so it’s not even just about you. They’re going to whisper and laugh when Wendy Jobe walks by, pointing at her butt. They’re going to laugh and high-five each other when Anna Witte crosses in front of them, making some fat joke you won’t remember. But when you walk by, that big kid is going to say, “Hey homo, what’s up with the faggy hat?” Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Tom Llewellyn (THE SHADOW OF SETH, THE TILTING HOUSE)
Dear Teen Me,
The author at 18, apparently having conquered a small pile of dirt.
ADD is a real thing. You have it, it’s going to go undiagnosed and untreated, and nobody will ever cut you any slack for it. Let’s get all that on the table right up front. It’s why things that seem pretty easy for lots of other people are impossibly confusing to you. It’s why deadlines are terrifying. It’s why your room is a mess. And, it’s why your life for the next few years is going to be defined largely by other people’s disappointment in you.
Heads up: you don’t suck at everything. It just feels that way a lot of the time. You’re going to turn out all right, and do some pretty fantastic stuff. You write at least five novels. No lie. And I’m not talking shitty one-draft vanity projects you keep in a box of notebooks in your closet. All five novels get published. Rave reviews. There’s a movie deal. An audiobook. For three days you are an honest-to-God bestseller on Amazon. Keep all of that in your head, because we need to talk about how you’re going to get there.
First of all, you’re going to hear many variations of the phrase “not meeting potential.” Pretty much every adult in your life is going to have this view of you. Teachers, parents, relatives, employers, and so on. By now you’ve already figured out you are smarter than the average bear. So have they. And that carries with it a whole assortment of expectations that seem completely reasonable to your elders, and utterly nonsensical to you. They are never going to get tired of telling you how much better you should be doing, and none of what they are asking you to do will make any sense to you. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Edward Aubry (UNHAPPENINGS)
Kate performing in a musical at camp, 1995 (age 13).
Okay, so you just came back from that cast party, the last cast party for your last play of your last year of high school. You sat on a too-soft couch in someone’s parents’ rec room (so cliché), drinking Coke while other kids guzzled cheap beer, and your crush—you know the one—ran his hand down your cheek.
That was—I know—the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you.
Let’s just put it out there: You’re seventeen, and you’ve never had a boyfriend. You’ve never kissed anyone. Strictly speaking, you’ve never been on a date. You have lied outright about these things to other people, but I know the truth, so let’s cut the crap. You skipped the kissing games in middle school. You went to every high school dance with a friend, and none of those friendships morphed into “something more.”
You had high hopes for this crush, but by next week, he’ll have a new girlfriend. It won’t be you. That’s going to sting.
I’ll be blunt: It’s going to be a while. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kate McGovern (RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Stacie 18 years old and ready to take on the world.
Honestly, Teen Stacie, I wish I could go back in time and tell you not to do so many things. The first would be to not go to Leigh Ann’s house that night. It’s where everything started. The next would be everything happens for a reason. The third would be that none of what happened next was your fault.
Also, you need to know this next really important thing: We are never alone. No matter what happens, no matter what we think, no matter the stories we tell ourselves. It’s true for that night at the party and it’s true for the next few months.
If I could, I’d tell you not to answer those phone calls that happen next. You know the ones I mean. I’d tell you not to feel ashamed every time he threatened you. He’s the one who should have been ashamed. I’d tell you to ask someone for help. To find someone you trust and reach out. I know why you won’t do that. You want to be strong. You want to protect the ones who would have stood up for you in a way that made you terrified for their safety, but looking at you now from where I am, there were so many adults who would have helped you. I wish I could make you ask them. They could have stopped the stalking so easily and no one would have blamed you.
Also I’d tell you to try to sleep. You need sleep to think. Don’t take the pills that help you stay awake in class when you’ve been up all night. The ones that make you feel strong. I’d tell you that he doesn’t have the power he says he has. He only has the power you give him. I’d tell you that even though you try to be strong, it’s not weak to ask for help. I’d tell you to take that leap of faith you eventually take the night you went to your friend’s house instead of staying home alone and scared shitless. Instead of doing something crazy and trying to take him on by yourself, something you never would have considered if you had been sleeping and not taking those pills. If you’d not been too terrified to tell someone else. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Stacie Ramey (THE SISTER PACT)