Dear Teen Me,
I see you: In your attic bedroom, at night, on your mother’s worn-thin down comforter with the flowered coverlet, writing in a black and white composition book until the rest of the house in New Rochelle is deep in sleep. You don’t think anyone understands, or at least, that your father understands your life, your stories. He’s with his girlfriend anyway. You write because you don’t understand why this is happening to you.
Why you have to be ‘in charge.’ Cook dinner every night. Clean the house. Make sure your younger siblings get off to school. You’re only 9, or 13, or 17. You think you’re the only one without a mother at home.
Teen self, you’ll come to learn that there are a lot worse things in life than growing up with a mother, who’s had a stroke, who’s brain-damaged and paralyzed and in the worst, or the best, as your father will always argue, state hospital in New York. You will learn that there are others whose childhoods were also marked by grief, or even worse, by abuse or neglect, or hunger and homelessness, or by abandonment. You will, someday, know that your father did the best he could raising four children alone. He kept you and your three younger siblings together. He gave you a home. He drummed into you a love of books and history and education. Without saying it aloud, he loved you, and still does.
But all that will come so much later, after all the anger — after you write a lot of poems, stories, plays, screenplays, most which will go into your mother’s old wicker picnic basket. You’ll tote that basket around to a dozen apartments over the years — after you leave your father’s house. I know you think you’ll never leave, but at 17, you’ll be out of there, off to college, Syracuse University, on a full academic scholarship.
Before then, you will pray. You will get down on your knees, bury your face in your mother’s down comforter as thin as skin, think you smell her in there, a lavender smell you remember in your deepest memories, and pray every night for your mother to ‘get better,’ and ‘come home. ’ She won’t. I’m sorry. She never will.
Nor, will your other prayer be answered. She will not die. Her suffering will not end. Not for a long, long time.
Then one Saturday morning, when you are almost 46, the day before your birthday, she will die, so quickly you won’t know what to do. But by then you will be a mother yourself. I know, I know, you swore you’d never be a mother, never take the chance that you could be taken from your children in body or spirit. But teen self, my old, never forgotten friend, listen to me, you’ll fall in love, not with the obvious guy, the cool guy, but with the funny, goofy one, and you’ll be happy, truly happy for the first time in your life. After a long time with him — it will take years for you to trust yourself – and fate — but you will, and you’ll give birth to Michael, then Sara. And you’ll keep writing because after a lifetime of writing, you won’t know how to stop. You will have too many stories still left to tell.
Caroline Bock, author of LIE, my debut novel, published by St. Martin’s Press and available everywhere books/ebooks are sold.