Christine Hurley Deriso at age 16 on a school bus, thinking she’s got it all figured out.
Dear Teen Me,
You are so much stronger than you think you are.
When a rapist—a craven, damaged, opportunistic stranger—crawls through your bedroom window in the middle of the night just a few short years from now, you will not only survive, you will thrive. In the moment that you awaken to see his face looming over yours, you will summon every ounce of strength in your bones to live to tell the tale. You will see not only your past flash before your eyes (trite but true), but you will see your future as well, knowing you are so not done yet living your life and so unwilling to have it snuffed out prematurely. You will dig into reserves you never knew existed and know with more clarity than you’ve ever known anything before that being his prisoner in body does not make you his prisoner in soul.
You will manage the next few moments calmly, adeptly and cleverly, and you will never again doubt your ability to do so under any circumstances that life may throw at you. You will discover spiritual depths you never dreamed of and realize in a way that has nothing to do with religion that you are not alone in this world, that a wellspring of love surrounds you every moment of every day. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Christine Deriso (THIRTY SUNSETS)
Dear Teen Me:
First of all, one simple bit of advice: look around. Slow it all down. Savor each moment. That stuff that seems like it will last forever? It won’t, not any of it. While the bad things will look increasingly small in the rear view mirror, the good things will, too—and then one day you’ll find yourself flipping through old photographs, from glossy Polaroids to faded Kodak prints, wondering where all the time went. Here’s one thing that it’s easy to overlook: Life, at its barest essence, is distilled into a series of precious small moments. Conversation among friends, the beauty of a glowing sunrise over the surging Atlantic, and the simple joys of reading something splendidly written are some of those moments.
So I am warning you, right now: be ready.
Life, from here on out, is going to be a whirlwind. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Mark Murphy (THE SHADOW MAN, THE CURSE OF THE THRAX)
Teen Neal. Stop wearing tank tops, lose the necklace, and get a freaking haircut.
Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Neal,
You inch forward as you approach your target. The Alabama sun beats down relentlessly, reminding you once again how much you would rather be swimming, riding your dirt bike, or doing just about anything besides what you are doing right now.
She is in pain. Her labored breathing makes her torso expand and deflate rapidly. She lies on her side and pretends she doesn’t see you. Maybe she knows how much she needs you right now. Still you move slowly. At over three hundred pounds, she is not only the largest sow on your hog farm, she is also the meanest, not a people person at all. You even named her “Meanie.” Her sharp teeth could do some serious damage to your short little frame, no matter how much of a macho you think you are.
You move up beside her and she lets you. You have watched enough sows give birth to know something is wrong. You rub her belly. No matter how mean a pig or hog is, rubbing their belly makes you their instant friend.
Raising hogs became an on-the-job learning experience two years ago when your dad decided the little thirty-acre farm was going to waste as he was away from home most of the time driving a semi-truck across the country. Building fences, ringing noses, castrating the new born males, and every other aspect of this endeavor fell on you. But you are the oldest son, and such is expected. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Neal Wooten (RETERNITY, THE BALANCE)
Dear Teen Me,
Kami at graduation with her friends Joan and Joanna.
I’m going to keep this fairly short because I know how hard it is for you to pay attention to things that bore you, like Algebra. And I know you’ve always considered yourself pretty boring too, even though you’re not. Trust me.
You might wonder how I know this. Well, I did something you always feared someone would do. I confess. I read your diaries.
Stop hyperventilating, they weren’t that bad!
Yes, I saw the warnings. The instructions to burn the pages rather than read them. The privacy notices. I read them all. (Along with all the rest of the words you wrote with multi-colored pens. Sorry!) But I figured that since I am you, kinda, I get a pass. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kami Kinard (THE BOY PROJECT, THE BOY PROBLEM)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Katia, backstage with the band.
You hate surprises, I know; but this one cannot wait. Sit or lean on something sturdy for support. Are you ready? Good. Read these lines carefully: You will not die at the age of twenty-three. You will make it. The year is 2014, and you are still alive. I am living proof of that. That’s the surprise. You see, I am you—your new and improved self—the future tense YOU, the Now-you. We made it. Intact. And that’s not half of it.
Sitting in trigonometry class, you frown because the exam is too easy. The teacher senses that you’re bored. He gives you a second worksheet. You finish it too soon. The teacher is impressed with your advanced math skills, and credits your hunger for learning to your foreignness. He nods approvingly, but your mind is busy trying to solve a greater problem: You have 8 years to live, and you want to make each one memorable.
As your twenty-third birthday approaches, you will struggle to recall how or why you formulated the ‘dead at 23’ theory, but you will not receive an answer. For 8 years, life will become a frenzied race against time. Dreams and aspirations will drop like casualties of war. You will lose years. Precious years. If only Now-me could reach through the years and talk with Then-me about this impending doom thing! We would save time.
In spite of all the worrying, you will celebrate your twenty-third birthday with flair. Thirty-three will find you in New York City, where you will live for many years. You will sing lead with a band. You will act in plays, musicals. You will stop counting the years, knowing that if you lived through twenty-three, you just might see one hundred and three. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Katia D. Ulysse (DRIFTING, HAITI NOIR)
Young “tom boy” Beth.
I know why you are sobbing into your pillow. How could that social worker have called your mom? Kay told you to confide in her each week and then she betrayed you. You told her how much you enjoyed talking to Fran, your camp counselor, every Thursday night on the phone. She must have decided there was something wrong with your friendship. So, she called your mother just now and told her it wasn’t right for you to be friends with a woman who was 20. You are 13 and Fran means the world to you. But your mother has just come in to tell you Kay called and told her you should stop calling Fran.
You scream, “That’s not fair.” Your mother says, “Kay is right. So, you cannot call Fran any more.”
Your pain is deep and overwhelming. I can tell you that you will find a way to survive your sadness. And guess what? When you are 20, you bump into Fran at the Memorial Concert for Woody Guthrie. She is 27 and when she sees you she screams out your name and you race toward each other. It is now over forty years later and you have remained close friends ever since you reunited at the concert.
Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Beth Rosen
Dear Teen Me,
Jen at 13 with her little sisters. She really needs better glasses.
Hey. I know it gets rough sometimes, but let me tell you something. All that stuff you put up with silently? It does go away. I know it’s hard when you get spit on in homeroom and the teacher just watches. I know you’re too embarrassed to tell your parents. Just file those experiences away, because when you get to be my age, you are going to be an AMAZING teacher who will not tolerate any of that and stands up for her students every single time. And all those stories you write? Don’t worry about that teacher telling you you’re not good enough. You are. Even if it’s just for yourself that you write, you ARE good enough to do anything you want. And you will. You’re going to accomplish everything you want to. I know the anxiety is tough. Believe me. It’s something we haven’t outgrown yet, even at twenty-nine. But it’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Because even though it doesn’t feel like it will ever go away and you’ll never be able to do anything socially, you will. You are going to grow up to have the strength to push through those anxiety attacks and stick them out until they fade. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jennifer Lavoie (TRISTANT & ELIJAH, MEETING CHANCE)
Dear Teen Me,
Hawaiian Alecia, 1990.
I don’t know where it came from or how it grew so strong, but you have always been a confident woman. Confident, not naive. You were aware that many of your friends were prettier than you–more popular, too–but you didn’t care. You walked into every situation with an irrationally high self-esteem and for some reason, Alecia, you have never been afraid of rejection, which is good because these days you are an author and an actress and you hear “no” more than “yes.” I love our unenlightened courage.
For example, it surprises me that this picture was taken in the fifth grade when you were being bullied daily by the girl who sat in front of you. What I remember about that year is feeling utterly alone, but all I see in this picture is a happy girl with a healthy body image. Alecia, you cried often that year, bewildered by that girl’s cruelty, but you believed your parents when they stroked your hair at night and told you how beautiful you were, how smart and funny, how likeable. So chin up every day, you went back to school and treated the mean girl with kindness (when you couldn’t avoid her completely). You stacked your bangs into an enviable tower and worked your retainer like a total boss. Looking back on it, I’m sure she hated you even more for that unshakeable composure. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Alecia Whitaker (WILDFLOWER, THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY)
Teen Erin at 15!
If you’re actually reading this letter, it probably arrived opened because Mother snoops. You need to figure this out before you start writing notes and letters to Bryn. Yes, that Bryn. I’ll tell you right now that the two of you are not going to work out, but you’ll be friends for life, so when he breaks your heart, which he will, forgive him. He—and you—are young.
I still think I’m young. I feel young. Working out helps. You might want to start doing that now to save us the trouble of pants that don’t fit in a couple years. That moment of not being able to get the things on is not my happiest memory, nor is it, I know, your biggest hope for the future. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Erin McCahan (LOVE AND OTHER FOREIGN WORDS)
Dear Teen A.J.,
1987 A.J., second from right, with her beautiful friends.
[I originally hand-wrote this letter in a journal you started scribbling in at the end of 1986. Maybe if you look in the back of that journal, you’ll see my letter has traveled back in time to you. Probably not, but I hope so.]
It’s 2014, and you survived. Survived high school, and a round of bullying so bad you dropped out in your senior year and got your G.E.D. instead of graduating. For the record, you do pass the G.E.D. exam the same week your class graduates, and you already have one college course under your belt at this time. You go, smart girl. You will work a long time to convince people that G.E.D. does not equal “too stupid to finish school.” You always hold this accomplishment as a source of pride and I admire you for that.
You’ve also successfully navigated (but not without some damage) a slew of adulthood ups and downs. I won’t get into the details of these experiences, but do offer some advice that might help you understand someone who comes into your life in your late twenties: instead of silently accepting the jokes from the “cool kids” about the students who come to school on the “short bus” and take “SpEd” classes, speak up. Speak out against the hate directed at, and ignorance about, people with special needs. Volunteer to help out in the classrooms or even just befriend one of the students. This will not only make you a better person in your teens, but will assist you on a journey that shapes a significant portion of your life. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author A.J. Matthews (GOODBYE TO YOU)