Dear Teen Me,
Middle to High School life will not be easy for you. Accept that now. You’re different—a non-conformist, an artistic and bookish introvert, and painfully shy. Still, even though you won’t always fit in and will sometimes feel like an alien without a mother ship, you will find your way. I’ll prove it, by giving you a sneak peek into three of the most painful and embarrassing moments of your teen-hood.
1) It’s going to sting in seventh grade on that sunny spring afternoon when AMG (Anonymous Mean Girl) makes fun of your shoes at recess. You know, the ones your mom bought: closed-toed flats, Velcro strapped, black suede and unseasonal. The ones you hated from the beginning but didn’t say anything because you didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings. It’s going to sting even more when AMG laughs and draws attention as you step into a gopher hole in your haste to escape her taunting. Even so, while you’re sitting there with a bruised butt and ego, crying because no one offers to help you up, you’re going to realize something monumental:
You’re strong enough to get up on your own. You’re strong enough to brush yourself off and live through the remaining two hours of school in spite of an achy ankle and peers whispering behind your back. Not only that, you’re strong enough to never let anyone dictate your fashion style again, whether it’s a mean girl or your well-intentioned and very sweet mom.
You will find a way to let Mom down easy (added bonus—these diplomatic skills will be utilized later in many life situations) and start honing a thrift-store Victorian/funky style that makes you happy no matter what anyone says.
Side note: your style will inspire a fashion fad two years later for some younger classmates, and you will look back on “the day of the world’s ugliest sandals” as the moment your fashionista spirit earned her wings.
2) Getting your first car during your sophomore year will prove a challenge. While some of the really cool kids are driving Trans-Ams and Corvettes, you’ll coast into the parking lot each day in a sun-faded, rusty 1975 Datsun B210 GX Coupé.
Although there is some comfort in the blandness of the model, you can’t help but feel like you’re piloting a space ship. Beware: your mechanically-challenged dad will kick that image up a notch during some “routine maintenance” by accidentally splicing the dome light wires with the turn signal ones. The disco-dome-light effect is born, making it impossible to go anywhere on even the darkest nights without classmates recognizing your car each time you flip the turn signal on. So much for anonymity.
Dad is too embarrassed to take it to a professional, which means you will drive it, as is, for two years—until you earn a new car upon graduation. On the plus side, by using your Disco Datsun as its own character in a school essay, you not only win praise from your teacher and an A+ in the grade book, you also realize you have a unique view on life, an innate ability to describe things vividly, and a knack for telling stories. You’ll revisit these talents many years later when you decide to write professionally, and one day they will earn you a book contract.
3) Eleventh grade is going to be a game changer. You will come out of your shell enough to make tentative acquaintances of the “in” crowd, though your inner-book-nerd wisely chooses not to trust them with your most private thoughts or secrets. You’ll win the attention of one of the hottest guys on the football team and begin one of the most exciting and heartbreaking relationships of your life.
But that relationship isn’t with the football guy. It’s with your best guy “friend” who you met in the summer while working together at Long John Silvers in the mall. The one who makes you laugh with goofy nicknames and outrageously funny handwritten notes and phone calls; the one who comes over after your parents are in bed and holds you inside your garage when the football guy has cheated on you and made you cry; the one who shares his dreams, and guards each of yours in that same special place inside his heart, as if they were his very own.
He will be your first true love . . . a mix of pulse-pounding awkwardness, soul-deep familiarity, and gut-twisting longing.
You have a sappy song that makes you think of him, In My Dreams, by REO SPEEDWAGON.
You have his number on speed dial, and you have his undying devotion. You also have two insurmountable obstacles.
#1: He’s been dating his girlfriend for years, and no matter how physically or mentally abusive she is to him, he can’t bring himself to leave her. You’re not any better, for although you rage to him each time she mistreats him, you don’t have the guts to tell him how YOU really feel. That you love him . . . that you dream of him.
#2: You’ve both been raised in different religions and you know neither of your parents would ever allow you to date. So you keep your secret, and eventually go off to different colleges and grow apart. This will be your most indelible regret and heartache.
But don’t lose hope! There’s another wonderful, gentle, and fun guy about to come your way, who will sweep you off your feet and share the beautiful life you always dreamed of. And as for those unrequited emotions? The fact that you never forget how they feel turns out to be a blessing. It’s those emotions you tap into when you write your angsty romance scenes or when you’re trying to relate to your teen children in ways you otherwise couldn’t.
Everything that happens serves a purpose. Each painful or embarrassing moment shapes who you will be in the future: a successful woman, mother, wife, daughter, friend, and author. So, Teen Me, please don’t change a thing. Make your mistakes . . . live, grow, and love with all of your heart. I promise, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Love and best wishes (and see you sooner than you think),
Your Grown-up Self
A. G. Howard wrote Splintered while working at a school library. She always wondered what would’ve happened had the subtle creepiness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland taken center stage, and she hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child. She lives in Amarillo, Texas.