Tuesday, 28 May 2019

ARCHIVE TREASURE: DEAR TEEN ME

(Originally posted on this blog in April 2011, now retrieved from the archive, gently dusted off and reposted for your reading pleasure)

***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 for another day? Do I even want to try? Maybe there’s only one 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 that 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. They ripped your clothes, groped you, laughed in your face, and spat on you. That was the worst part, somehow. That they spat in your face, on your hair, everywhere. They taunted you while they did it. When you finally, finally, finally 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.

You won't even bother telling anyone about this. Not your parents, sister, teachers. Because you've tried before - you've tried so many times - and it never makes anything better. None of them are surprised anymore, horrified anymore, interested anymore. They'll just ask 'What did you do? Why were you there? Didn't you have any friends to protect you?' and by the time they've finished asking questions you, too, will have started to wonder if it was all your own fault. 

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, stabbed in the back of your hand, 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 in the corridor brush off your suffering by telling you to ‘Stop making a fuss' or 'just ignore it’. You’ve lived through punishments on the occasions when you dared to fight back.

You’ve heard your own parents ask each other, when they thought you couldn’t hear: ‘Why does this keep happening? What is she doing wrong? What is wrong with her?’

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 miserably depressed, lonely and self-loathing 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 - not any day soon, but someday - 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**

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