Wednesday, 20 April 2011

DEAR TEEN ME

***WARNING! ADULT LANGUAGE BELOW!***

Hey you! Yes, you – the fourteen year old with the nail scissors! Put those down and pay attention. I’ve got something to say to you, something you need to hear. Listen up.

You’re in a pretty awful place right now. You’re in a place not many people get low enough to experience in their lives, and even fewer climb out of. This is probably the worst you’ve ever felt about yourself, and you’re thinking: can I go on like this? Do I even want to? Maybe there’s a way out…

No, don’t try and brush me off. I’m not going to be fooled by that big goofy grin or your hyperactive chatter. I know the truth. Those half-healed cuts and scratches on your arms and legs? The ‘accidental’ ones that you lie about so well, no one ever questions you? Yeah. I still have those scars, kiddo. So let’s not play games.

Today, on the way home from school, a group of about ten boys, ranging in age from twelve to sixteen, cornered you. They pushed you up against the wall of a building and spat on you. Spat in your face, in your hair, on your clothes. They laughed and taunted you while they did it. When you managed to get away and get home, you scrubbed yourself until your skin bled, washed your hair until handfuls started coming out. But no matter what you did, you couldn’t get clean. You feel like you’ll never be clean again.

And you and I both know that this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

Every day since you were eleven, you’ve gotten up, eaten breakfast, left your house, and walked into a nightmare. You’ve been kicked, pinched, punched, tripped, pushed down stairs, been stabbed, had ink poured down your back, and on one memorable occasion, had eight separate pieces of chewing gum stuck in your hair. You’ve been shunned. Screamed at. Tortured in every way that a person can be, short of hot pokers and bamboo shoots under the nails. You’ve watched every person you ever called a friend scatter because just being close to you was too dangerous. You’ve seen teachers who pounce on improperly fastened school uniforms or kids holding hands brush off your suffering by telling you to ‘just ignore it’. You’ve lived through punishments on the occasions when you dared to fight back. You’ve even heard your own parents ask each other, when they thought you couldn’t hear: ‘Why does this keep happening to her? What is she doing wrong?’

That’s the question I’m here to answer for you, fourteen-year-old Zolah. Just what the Hell is wrong with you?

Nothing.

Not a single, solitary fucking thing.

Shut up. Don’t start arguing with me. Don’t start crying. You’ve never let them see you cry, and now is not the time to start.

This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. There’s nothing missing inside you, no essential flaw, no reason at all why 50% of the kids at your school take pleasure in tormenting you, or why none of the adults in your life seem to be able to help you. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

There’s some stuff right with you, though. Some stuff you’ve never realised because you’re too lonely and depressed and emo to realise it. Let me spell it out.

You’re brave. You’re incredibly, stunningly, wonderfully brave. You don’t know this. In fact, you think you’re a coward, that if you were just brave enough you could get people to leave you alone. But the truth is that the courage it takes to keep walking into that school, day after day, to keep putting your hand up in class, to keep studying and doing your homework, to keep reading your books and talking exactly how you want to talk? Is possibly the greatest courage in the world. I’m awed by that courage. One day you’re going to be awed by it too.

You’re also compassionate. Don’t ask me why that matters. I know it’s not a virtue anyone gives a crap about in your life right now, but one day your kindness is going to make you real friends. Friends who will do anything for you, friends who’ll stick with you no matter what, who would never abandon you and take cover. Friends who’ll make your life worth living.

And you’re clever – and it’s not anything to be ashamed of. You sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better if you were like everyone else, if you thought books were stupid, if you didn’t want to learn. But you’re dead wrong. Your intelligence is a gift, an amazing gift. Stop cursing it.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to lie. Things aren’t going to look up straight away. In fact, you’ve got some bad stuff to come. Really bad. But you are going to survive it. And in the not-too-distant future, good things are going to start happening, things which will make up for everything you’ve gone through so far. I promise. YOU will make those things happen. The very traits the other kids hate about you, the bravery, compassion and intelligence that they try to beat out of you, will allow you to follow and find your dreams.

So put those scissors down, okay? You don’t have to punish yourself. You don’t have to keep hurting yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re going to put the scissors down, Zolah. And someday soon, you’re going to be all right.

**This is a guest post that was written for the wonderful site Dear Teen Me. Check it out to read hilarious and inspiring letters from authors all over the world to their teen selves**

29 comments:

Megha Z said...

I don't really know what to say.

Your post has left me speechless. Even though this is the second time I'm hearing about it, I still can't believe that you had to go through all that.

You're a role model to us. And the message you portrayed (to your 14-year-old self as well as us) is something we need to be reminded of.

(BTW. YOU WERE PRETTY!!! And you still are, of course.)

Liz Fichera said...

I read your letter on the Dear Teen Me web site. It broke my heart at how cruel people can be.

So nice to meet you here.

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: Thank you. I really wrote the letter because I know that there are hundreds and thousands of young people going through the same thing right now, and feeling (like I did) that'll never end. I'd like them to know that it will.

Liz: Thank you. And yes, they can - and often when you're vulnerable and young, they're at their worst. I wish people took bullying more seriously.

Vivienne said...

Zoe, I am sitting here with tears in my eyes and real sadness in my heart after reading this. I feel really choked up. If I could have walked by your side and protected you from all that crap, I would have. I had my fair share of bullying but I learnt to fight back from a young age, my mouth stills get the better of me, if I feel someone is being mistreated.

When I see you and I hope it is one day soon. I am going to give you the biggest hug I can. It was awful what you suffered, but you won through and I hope all those lousy people can see how well you have done for yourself since and how much stronger you are as a person. xx

Zoë Marriott said...

*Virtual Big Hug* Thanks, Vivienne. A friend like you would have been worth any amount of sparkly purple cupcakes :)

Liz de Jager said...

Oh crud - mascara all over my face.

You are such a hero. Never change.

Zoë Marriott said...

Sorry, hun! *Hands over tissue* Don't worry, I won't - and you'd better not either!

Sarah said...

Awww Zoe, your letter made me cry. I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that but you are a survivor it made you the person you are now. I hated every minute of school thanks to bullies who made my life hell but I'm lucky that I did have a few friends who went through it with me (they were bullied just as much as I was). I went down the self-harm route & was on anti-depressants by the age of 14 but 2 of my friends tried to kill themselves because they felt so bad. It makes me sick that teachers just stood by and watched and did nothing to stop it and it breaks my heart to think of the thousands of children and teens who are still suffering.

I wish I'd been able to read your letter when I was at school as it really would have helped me to know things do get better. Thanks for sharing your story

(((hugs)))

Zoë Marriott said...

*Hugs* Thanks, Sarah. Like you, I'm stunned that so many teachers and education professionals simply take the easy route and turn a blind eye to the torture going on in their schools. Many kids endure attacks that, if they had occurred to an adult, would result in a charge of grievous bodily harm - but these teachers don't seem to think it counts when it's someone under eighteen.

What was worse was that I was scrappy and tough, and I fought back a lot - and that usually resulted in ME being punished while the ones who had attacked me got away scott free because I, as a good girl, 'should know better'. Should know better than to defend myself? Ach!

I hasten to add - not all teachers are like this! But the ones at rough schools where bullying is a problem often DO seem to be, and there's probably a direct relation between the two things...

Megha said...

I *hate* the teachers who say 'you should know better'. THEY should know better; they know we're good pupils, so they should know that we must have had a valid reason to do what we did. The bullies never have a reason to bully, but the 'good' pupils will OBVIOUSLY have a reason. The teachers say that 'since you're a good pupil, you should know better' but if they think they know so much about us, if they think they know how good we are, then how can they think that we would do something horrible without a reason?

Bekah Tuggy said...

Your amazing heart, displayed with so little care for its beautiful nudity here, is going to help other hearts live and broaden and soften. Thank you, Zoe.

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: Exactly. Why do bullies have any incentive to stop with that kind of hypocrisy going on?

Bekah: *Blushes* Thank you.

Raimy-rawr said...

Oh Zoe!
I cant believe you went through all of that! You are so strong and such an amazing role model. I'm glad you never gave up because you are such an awesome person and you deserve all the happiness you can get.
This post left me speechless! I just cant believe it. I want to find you and give you a huge hug! xxx

Zoë Marriott said...

Wow, I'm getting so many higs today - this is awesome! Thanks, Raimy.

Ashley said...

You are amazing. Like, I have no words to tell you how amazing you are. I had no idea. But I love you so much more because of this. This post was incredibly brave to write, and I salute you.

I'm sending you hugs, loves, smiles, laughs, and anything else you might possibly want. (I'm going to steal Misty's unicorns for the afternoon so I can make sparkly rainbow unicorn cupcakes AND cookies! :P) <3

Katie-Lynn said...

This is so real and so raw that I can’t thank you enough for such an inspirational post. Coincidentally there was an anti-bullying assembly at my school today and I have to say that your post is one hundred times more inspiring than anything I heard today. And I can completely relate to the teachers who do nothing, in my case, the administration has almost always blamed me, telling me that if I didn't want to be bullied for getting good grades I shouldn’t smile when I get tests or papers back, that I should not take pride in doing well. Everything I heard today seemed to be based on appearance, but your post seems to be more about personality and I think that matters a heck of a lot more.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Ashley. I can always use more sparkly rainbow unicorn cupcakes - and more hugs. *Hug*

Zoë Marriott said...

Katie-Lynn: I sympathise completely. Basically, instead of tackling the bullies (who are difficult, uncooperative and probably have parents that are the same) and having a zero tolerance policy of punishment that might reflect on the school's stats (exclusions and suspensions don't look good, and as for explusions - no way!) it's so much easier to blame the victim.

The victim's usually just one kid, and often a nice, well-behaved kid with nice parents who don't make a fuss. They probably already unconsciously feel that there's something wrong with them (just as I did). So the teachers know that if they blame you enough, you'll stop COMPLAINING about the bullying and then their problem goes away. They don't care if you're suffering, just if you're bothering them with it.

Stay strong, Katie. It's never, never okay to blame the victim, and if your teachers are doing that they are hypocrits. There is nothing wrong with being smart, or proud of it. One day soon you will leave those losers in the dust.

Lissa said...

This is what I've been going through lately. Of course, I'm not being bullied - nearly not as terribly such example above - but I am experiencing some brutally tough times. You're letter here has hit it's target. My parents have been called because teachers think I'm going through depression, other people are beginning to wonder about "that straight-A student who does everything for everyone." It's hard, but your letter has helped me realize that maybe it won't always be.

Zoë Marriott said...

Lissa, it will get better - I promise. School, in my opinion, is the worst part of any intelligent person's life. Things can only improve in your life, and you have a lot to look forward to.

bfree15 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bfree15 said...

That was a truly inspirational post Zoe thank you so much for sharing this with us and hopefully it will give others the hope and courage they need to pull through like you did. At times I found it extremely hard to read and it left me with tears in my eyes. It never ceases to surprise me that people can be so cruel and get pleasure from it. You’re the one having the last laugh though because you’re beautiful, talented, successful and doing exactly what you love. You are my role model and I’m sure many others besides.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, bfree. *Hugs*

Jadey! said...

Wow, even when you aren't writing a novel, even when you're writing a raw emotional post, you do it beautifully.

You are my favourite author, I have known this since I picked The Swan Kingdom up on offer as a fourteen year old.

But, this is your best piece, because it is so real.

Thank you!

Zoë Marriott said...

Wow, Jadey - that's a real compliment! I'm so happy that you were touched by the post. I wanted it to be hopeful and moving, so other people could benefit from my experience. Thanks for letting me know how it made you feel.

Isabel said...

Zoe, this was a beautiful post. I'm speechless. I don't know what to say except that I don't know anyone who had to go through as much as you went through. You are a hero. You are so strong, so brave. I could have never gone through all that. And I admire you so much for not only that, but also that through all of this you were still kind, and selfless, and didn't want others to see how much you were suffering. That's just incredible. I couldn't ever hope to be like that. You are amazing. Truly. Thanks for persevering and becoming who you are today. You should be proud. And thanks for writing this post -- it was lovely.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Isabel. I'm glad that you liked the post and that it moved you.

Lynsey Newton said...

I didn't realise you had such an awful time growing up. I can relate to some of it but not all. Sorry you had such a hard time, I would have fought on your corner (goes without saying really) and I know this is a cliche but those experiences shaped who you are TODAY. *hugs*

Zoë Marriott said...

Well, I try not to carry it around with me (which is why most people *don't* guess*) but you're right, it has made me who I am. And, like the Christina song says, it's made me fighter (I love that song). Thanks, Lyns. *Hugs back*

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