What are you now, fourteen? Fifteen?
What an odd, angry, shy, but spirited creature you are, really. If I met you now—in one of my classes, for example—I would be charmed but seriously concerned.
High school. I’m sorry you have to go there, honey, even though it’s a good school, and your dad is paying extra child support so your mom can afford a cockroach-infested apartment in the very last building on the edge of that particular school district. That doesn’t make it any easier. I know, for example, that you’ve eagerly signed up for eight classes a day so that you’ll never, ever have to enter a cafeteria—and, oh God, have to find somewhere to sit—again. In your three years in high school, before you drop out at sixteen, you will never once go to lunch with everyone. You’re true to your vows that way, even if they seem extreme.
You’re not completely friendless, but you’re close. Too weird for even the weird kids to talk to you. The boys in Latin class—and you’re generally the only girl—call you “the witch.” Even Guy, the smart uber-geek with the rich artist parents and the permanent crust of dandruff levitating in his black hair, calls you that.
As an adult, having been “the witch” will seem kind of cool, actually. Hey, I was like Willow! But I know it hurts you now, and Willow doesn’t exist yet anyway.
Most of the overt viciousness other kids displayed in junior high has faded by now, but there are still sporadic outbreaks, and you’re still very raw at heart. To avoid school you have a relentless hodgepodge of illnesses: real, psychosomatic, and faked. You can barely speak to anyone your own age, though you can get by with teachers as long as the conversation is one-on-one. But when they call on you in class, quite often your voice fails you and you can only croak.
Someday, honey, you’ll put that in a book. Does that make it any better for you now?
You sleep in the afternoons and get up at midnight. Your mom is still devastated from the divorce, and you can’t handle her endless grief. You stay up all night with the cockroaches, doing homework in your slackerish way, making collages in bed, and especially reading. You’ll read any novel as long as it’s supposed to be famous or important, often over and over again.
But you don’t plan—yet—on being a writer. You want to run away to New York and be a great avant-garde artist. A romantic bohemian living in a warehouse with some amazing, brilliant boyfriend. Because there’s one thing you know for sure: real life is elsewhere. And New York seems like it must be the repository of the real, the vital, the transcendent…
I’m writing to you from New York. I’m married to someone I adore. You’ll love him, too. And you’ll eventually finish both college and graduate school, and you’ll travel a lot, and you’ll learn to talk to other human beings and have close friendships. You’ll even make some crazy art—though by your early twenties you’ll find that writing is your primary vocation.
I know you feel now like you can’t break through the silence—like you’re a word with no translation—but the words will come for you, and speak you, and speak through you.
Vital-and-transcendent might not happen every day of the week, but you’ll experience them. It’ll work out.