Dear Teen Me,
Your parents have asked you to sit on the couch with your older brother and younger sister, and they look real nervous. While Dad paces the living room, Mum perches opposite you in Dad’s favorite yellow armchair. He speaks, saying how he’s always wanted to fly a chopper overseas, although his words make no sense, not when he has a chopper and flies all the time at home. You’re wondering why he’d want to leave New Zealand and fly elsewhere. He says he’s going to Africa where the children are sick and starving, and more pilots are needed to bring in food and medical supplies to remote villages. You’re listening, but not really taking his words in, then Mum speaks up and says she’s going too, and so is your little sister. Mum begins to cry, and blabbers something about you and your brother staying home. That you can’t come. Then they say they’ll be away for two years, and you feel as if your world just crumbled. You won’t hear much more, not when the emotions storming through you are so debilitating. You’re only thirteen.
You’ll spend a lot of time over the next few weeks wondering what you’ve done wrong, and why they can’t change their minds and take you and your brother with them. How are you supposed to live without your parents and sister for two whole years? Not only that, but you have to live with another family. You don’t even know this other family, have never met them. Mum and Dad tell you they’re lovely people and have four children. That only makes you feel worse. You wonder why your parents love your sister enough to take her, but not you and your brother.
They have no real excuse. They try to explain that you and your brother are at high school and if they take you away, you’ll miss too many years of your schooling. You know that’s not true, because kids who live overseas in a remote location like Africa can be homeschooled. You have no choice though. They are going and you have to make the best of things. Before they leave, your parents send you to the family you and your brother are going to live with, just for a weekend. Don’t be too scared. You are, but they are a really nice family. All too soon, the time comes for your parents and sister to leave, and you’ll feel overwhelmed and incredibly lost, but stay strong. You must, because once they’re gone, it’s just you and your brother. You’re now fourteen.
Weeks, then months pass with only the odd letter from your parents. You don’t expect to hear much, not when they’ll be living in such a remote village. You particularly love those weekends when Nanna comes and picks you up and takes you back to her place. She’s the best grandmother ever. She hasn’t abandoned you and never will. This year, she’ll even turn ninety. See, she’s kept her word and still hasn’t left you.
As time continues to move on you begin to grow into a very strong and independent young woman. Soon you’re fifteen and it’s time to sit your driver’s license. Nanna is with you and so proud of what you’ve achieved. You race home to the family you’ve been living with, and drag Nanna in with you so you can both tell them the good news, but there’s something wrong. They’re all sitting together in the living room, crying, and you’re almost too scared to ask why.
You’re told to sit on the couch with your brother, then you’re told your father has contracted a very bad illness from a mosquito bite, something they call malaria. They’ve received word he may not live, not when there’s no hospital close to the village they live in. You have to wait almost a week before more news comes, and when it arrives, you learn your mother and sister are now sick with the same illness. You feel as if you’ve died yourself. Nothing makes sense anymore. You haven’t seen your parents or sister in over a year, and they shouldn’t have to die because they wanted to help others.
You try to carry on with your life, and each day you get home from school you wonder if it’ll be the day you hear they’re all dead. There is no way for you to get to them, and no way for them to return home. You’ll wait more than two weeks to hear any future news, but this time it’s Nanna on the other end of the line when that call comes, and she tells you your parents and sister have been airlifted out of Africa to Switzerland. You have no idea what this means, until Nanna says they’re now being cared for in a huge hospital, and that your mother and sister are starting to recover. Relief fills you.
Almost three weeks later, you get further news. Their two-year-long mission isn’t quite yet up, but with their terrible illness, they must return home. Within days you’re on your way to the airport and can’t believe your eyes when you see them walk through the arrivals’ gate. Only they’ve all lost so much weight, and they look like stick insects. Your joy turns to despair when your father collapses. He burns with a fever that’s so high, he’s immediately admitted to hospital. He’s kept from you in an infectious diseases ward where testing is done. He’s not infectious, but you’re still not allowed in. Some of the best doctors in the country are working on him, and they discover he’s contracted the deadliest strain of malaria possible, one which has an almost nonexistent survival rate. Thankfully your mother and sister have not contracted this strain.
The doctors begin work on creating a medicine to help him fight this strain of the disease, and during the months he remains in hospital a great deal of research is undertaken. Because of the dedicated support he receives, he finally beats this illness. But not only that, the tireless research done on him goes toward a future medicine which helps save those suffering from this exact same strain. He’s helped those in Africa, in the most amazing way.
In the future, this entire experience will mold and make you into the independent and loving person you are today. You’ll never allow your children to feel abandoned, not as you were. You also understand, too deeply and too painfully, how short life could possibly be. But more than that, you understand a teen’s mind when the toughest, hardest challenges are thrown at them. That’s why today, you love writing stories for young adults. Continue to allow your imagination to roam, to show triumph over tragedy, and to always provide that happily ever after all of us ultimately seek. Never give up the fight. Your father didn’t, and neither will you.
Reading romance books captivated Joanne Wadsworth as a teenager, particularly when she tucked herself into bed at night and continued to dream those stories as she slept. She’d visualize the direction, taking the hero and heroine on an adventure unparalleled to what she’d read. Today she is devoted to writing romance, bringing her imagination to life within the lines of young adult, contemporary, and historical Highlander.
Born in New Zealand, Joanne works both as a writer and a financial controller, | all while keeping up with her four energetic children and dreamy husband.
Visit Joanne Wadsworth at http://www.joannewadsworth.com
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