It’s 2am and I’m up scrolling Facebook. I come across a post by a friend in East Bridgewater, MA, whose 15-year-old nephew is missing. My friend writes: ” We typically call it running away. We can also call it, ‘Shit, I feel overwhelmed’. Or, ‘I need some fucking space.’ Or, ‘Why are all adults such douchebags.’ Or, ‘Hey, I need a soft place to land to figure my shit out’. So eloquently put, my friend. I find myself crying as I search for the right words to pass on to my friend’s nephew via his Facebook timeline. I find myself remembering the time I ran away for two weeks at exactly the same age, and I wonder what I would want to say to myself during that time. So here it is, a letter to my 15-year-old self.
Dear Jacqueline-or Jax as your friends have started calling you,
You are not ugly. Remember the boy who said you looked like a clown because you were wearing so much make up? Or the boys at school who nicknamed you the ‘riddler’ because of all the blue eyeshadow and lip liner? They’re the assholes. Most of them will end up bald, paunchy and exactly as unremarkable as a clown is remarkable. You’re going through an awkward period, and you’re trying your best to cover up this awkwardness with foundation and primer and fake eyelashes and lipstick, but you will not always feel so hideous and repulsive and even now, you are not as hideous and repulsive as teenage dating and teenage boys might make you feel.
And you know those older girls who threaten to physically hurt you, or who made you and your friend kiss their shoes behind the Wendy’s, or who put up posters of you around your high school promoting a ‘Dress like Jacqueline Day”, those girls are bullies. And every friend who doesn’t stand up for you in the face of bullies, they aren’t bad, they’re just scared. They’re scared of being beat up too, or socially ostracized, or rejected. It’s not your fault and it’s not their fault. And bullies bully for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is that they are jealous. And even if you feel so repulsive and tiny that you could never even imagine being the object of anyone’s attention, let alone envy, it’s quite possible that some of these girls are in fact, jealous. And when the henchman of the most popular girl in the school comes up to you and tells you that the most popular girl in school wants to ‘beat the shit out of you’, you look her straight in the eye and say ‘tell her to tell me herself’. It’s okay not to stand up to your bullies, sometimes it really is too hard or too dangerous, but I’m so impressed that you did that time. How did you know to do that? Nobody ever taught you that. And that girl never did come back and tell you herself.
You don’t know this right now, but you are going to turn into a very cool person. You are actually already a very cool person, even if you feel like you hate yourself. You are already that cool person, but it’s just that right now there’s a lot going on. There are other kids who have lots going on, but then again there are also lots of other kids who have a lot less going on. You’re really tough. And these tough things you are going through are all lessons that are going to make you an awesome human being, a good writer, and a caring and devoted therapist. That might not mean much to you right now, but the end result of those things is that you are going to end up having a good life, surrounded by good people, and you’re going to be pretty damn happy a lot of the time.
You’re just finding out now how flawed your parents are. You’re just finding out that they are the kind of parents that need parenting, as opposed to the kind of parents who parent. And this is going to really have an effect on you. But at least you know there is a good reason you feel so confused, and without direction, and lost, and that it’s not your fault, and you will find your way.
And the teachers who eject you from their classrooms and their classes for bad behaviour, and the parents who say no you can’t play with my child, they’re the ones who are behaving badly, not you. You’re just a child. And now at 35, you have forgiven the child bullies, but you haven’t really forgiven the adult bullies. They should have known better. It’s not you, it’s them.
Sure, you ran away, but guess what, your Dad ran away first. And when your Dad ran away the house at night was so quiet-no more Hockey Night in Canada or Cheers or Bob Newhart singing through the hallways like a lullaby-and you could hear all the sounds outside. You could hear the gravel outside your window crunching, like someone was walking around on it, and once in a while the wind whipped sticks agains the windows that definitely sounded like a person tapping. You tried sleeping with Z95 playing all night to drown out the scary sounds and the monsters and the feeling of being completely alone in the world, but some of the scary sounds were coming from inside of you. And your mom was upstairs curled in the fetal position crying and it felt like there was nobody there to protect you or take care of you and so you asked your mom if your boyfriend could sleep over and she said no. But she didn’t understand that you just wanted to feel safe. And when you ran away, you ran away to friend’s houses and ate dinner with other people’s families and found boys who would sleep next to you and hold you. You would do anything to be spooned by that boy. And wanting to be spooned was not about sexual desire or attraction, it was about safety. So you ran away because you didn’t feel safe, and that feels so totally reasonable to me, even now. And you didn’t want to wake up to silence in the middle of the night and you were tired of using your stereo as a parent. And it didn’t work anyways.
15-year-old me, I’m not going to lie . Things aren’t going to get immediately better. Things never get totally better or totally easy. Life keeps throwing large jagged objects your way and it finds trickier ways of hitting you when you least expect it, but somehow it does become easier. Not EASY, just EASIER. You know its really bad now-so bad you mostly feel like lying on your side and staring at a blunt corner for days on end-but the truth is that you really won’t know how bad it is until it gets better. Once you are older, and things are easiER, you will look back and wonder how you ever survived, and you will be so grateful that somehow you did survive. There is so much to survive for and you don’t even know it yet.