20 Years Later

20 Years Later:
A Letter to a Lost Teenager

There is so much I wish that I could have told you, so much that I wish I could have done for you. If only I could travel through time to 2002 and be a part of your life, maybe somehow things could have been different for you. Instead I am forced to write a letter to a ghost, a person that no longer exists as anything more than a memory, a whisper in the silence, an echo in the places you used to wander.

I thought about making this letter witty and fun, the type that would make a person laugh and feel warm and fuzzy. But let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have been able to relate to warm and fuzzy. The only thing you knew was a withering vitality, like a neglected plant yearning for water. The language in your head was one of coldness, of a jagged sort, brittle and painful. A kind of smothering darkness, a foggy disillusionment for the dawning years of young adulthood that were still just a subtle glow on the far horizon of your life.

I look in your eyes and I see the pain you were feeling. I’d like to believe that if I had been there with you as someone you knew walking through the halls of your high school, or maybe someone sitting next to you in your classrooms, that I would see it, that I would see the hurt in your eyes, the confusion, the breaking from reality, the birthing of madness. That I would have seen your fear of being noticed and yet quite contradictorily your deep yearning to be known.

I have to hand it to you, your attempts to hide it were worthy of commendation. How anyone could continue to function in your blooming delirium while the walls were caving in, as if everything was fine, was quite frankly astonishing. The amount of pressure, not just the external social pressure, but the internal pressure, all threatening to make you implode and explode simultaneously, the burden was tremendous. Your ability to juggle all of these aspects of your life was remarkable, but that whisp of desperation you felt, that smoldering sensation, that sinking feeling, I’m sorry to say eventually surpassed even your ability to control and hide, and in time it over took you.

Every so often I pull out your poetry and I read through the words that you left behind for me so long ago, some kind of vain attempt to bring you back among the living. Whether or not you knew it in your 16-year-old mind, you were recording and sending me messages from across time and space, and while I cannot honestly say that I understand the meaning in all of them, in most of them the hidden truth reveals itself in a way that you were always too afraid to do with your voice. Like blood that drips from an open wound, the off-white pages were the receptacle of the fears, the secrets, and the yearning, all bleeding out from within you, from all your broken places, saturating and staining the paper.

Many of your poems and prose were about feeling trapped, imprisoned by both yourself and forces outside of you, such as in this piece:

Mirrored Windows

In this fortress of sorrow
there are no windows to the world.

When I look into them
all that I see is me.

Sometimes I cry for I cannot see
the skies of ever-changing time.

The darkness tells me secrets
of the happiness beyond these four
blood-stained walls.

I yearn to escape my prison,
but I am held here by bars of
shame and hate.

Reading through the words you left behind it becomes pretty clear that this is how you survived. It would have been impossible for you to hold all of it in, all of the anxiety, the stress, the shame, guilt, regret, hate, confusion, distrust, fear, anger, desire, hurt, and all the other emotions you were experiencing. You refrained from telling others, you avoided most social interactions, and instead you turned to that pen and notepad, and as if through some type of magical spell you opened a portal into yourself and out poured the painful thoughts and feelings that were swelling up inside of you.

You had already convinced yourself years earlier that people wouldn’t understand you if you had even been able to speak the words to describe what was happening inside you. This ink-stained artwork was all that you had, the only way you could get the pain out of your head, a short-lived moment of relief, like the sun breaking between the storm clouds relentlessly thundering inside your mind, just before plunging you back into the abyss that left you panicked and withdrawn.

All these years later your courage still inspires me. You thought yourself broken and incapable of being repaired, you felt as though pieces of you had been stolen away and scattered beyond your reach, but even in the dizzying array of troubles within your mind there remained this little flickering light of hope. As small and futile as it may have seemed to you at the time, that little glimmer of hope empowered you to carry on, even on the darkest nights that you or I have ever known.

It was in this myriad of emotional and mental states that you came to question everything that you had been told, everything that you had ever believed to be true about yourself and about life. It wasn’t enough that your perception of self was shattered, so too did your perception of everything outside of you. No one would have blamed you if you had laid there and given in to the overwhelming loss of identity and purpose, but you didn’t do that. You got up and you went searching for answers, searching for what it meant to be you, what it meant to be alive in the world and why so much of it resulted in suffering.

What came after was a sundering and a surrendering, a letting go of what you had always clung to for safety, and a desperate wading into troubled waters that grew ever deeper the further you traveled towards the other shore far into the distance. Cast adrift into the unknown, you felt more alone than you had ever been in your young life, afraid and distraught you paddled feverishly, trying to keep your head above the surface, afraid of the dark below you that harbored everything you wanted to pretend didn’t exist. Beneath those depths was a loss of innocence and a reckoning that was unavoidable.

You swam for as long as you could, you tried so very hard to reach the refuge of the other shore, but the waters took you and you slipped beneath the surface and into the cold, from which you would never return. By the time the sun breached across the horizon, what emerged from the depths was not you, it was something else entirely. You, my youthful innocence, died down there and I arose into being, forever changed by the experience.

Sometimes I think I can hear your murmurs or whispers, your dreams echoing inside of me, remnants of hope for what once was but that can never be again. I am so very sorry for the tragedy that befell you, but without your unwanted sacrifice I would have never stood upon the other shore. Though still besieged by the same darkness that haunted you, your passing has allowed me to walk through the golden door and onto the middle path beyond. A path towards the truth behind the veil of illusionary permanence, towards the compassion at the end of the cycle of suffering, and towards the wisdom of untethering from the notion of self.

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