There are multiple ways to run away. When I was nineteen, my attempt to run bought a three-day stay in intensive care. On the third day, one of my high school teachers happened to walk past the large, rectangular window of my room. I hid my face under the sheet. I hid my real face under all kinds of sheets for a long time. Lisa, who is highlighted in the Aberration Nation Teen Event (that starts today), ran away, too. We both survived. While the lives we enjoy today are certainly not perfect, they are much more than we ever imagined remotely possible once upon a teenage time.
A lot of the people in my young, lonely life wondered what in the Sam Hill I had to be so upset about. “She’s a smart, tall blond. Her mom is such a strong Christian. Her dad is a high school guidance counselor. Her smile lights up a room; she’s always has a date. She made straight A’s last semester. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Some of those same people may now ask themselves, “Why in the Sam Hill would she share something like that on the Internet?”
You know who you are. Go ahead!
Many teenagers have wonderful, functional families that help them successfully navigate their way through the ups and downs of those years. Others, despite great environments, struggle. Then there are those who don’t seem to stand a chance in hell, and yet, they sail through. Some don’t make it. Many do but then think about the desperate actions they took for many years, trying to understand what happened and why. Others separate out the early parts of their lives as if they’re merely photographs of someone they used to be. The album snaps shut and that is that. As teens and as adults, we’re all different.
During my mid-to-late twenties, I wrote a novel called Boundaries based the culminating struggle I went through to finally emerge on the other side of all the painful, lonely experiences I had as a child and teenager. It was a painstaking project that took many years. When I finally finished, I wasn’t sure if I’d said all I could, or if I’d properly explained the complex situation, and how I felt about it. At thirty years old, I still wasn’t sure if I fully understood it all, or if I ever would. Part of me wished I could be the type of person who closes the album, stuffs it in a box, and skips away.
I began trying to express myself through writing at a very young age. In recent years, I spent hours reading my old journals and stacks of poetry. What struck me is the phenomenal growth, and expanded contemplation and insight that evolved over the years between 12 and 21.
Some people live to make others die inside. They laugh at you and your feelings. Never think this is because they’re older than you. It’s not. It‘s because they’re cruel, and anyone can be that way. (1980, 14 years old)
And here’s a poem from the same year:
Who blew out the candle?
I still want to see beauty,
When the flame is gone,
It’s lonely in the dark,
I can’t see,
Light a candle,
Running out …
(1980, 14 years old)
At 14, my voice was young although my emotions ran deep. Life was confusing and I attempted to make sense of it with a beginner’s toolkit. In reading the teen stories submitted for this event, I realized again why writers are so often drawn to their youth. Even the brightest or most talented teens can’t always understand, describe, and fully express their experiences and emotions. The ability to do so can significantly increase as each year passes on that reckless highway between childhood and adulthood–and then continue … The aberrations stories shared with you in the coming days were written by teens just completing the 8th grade. They’re on the sharp edge of high school, where, in many ways, it all begins.
As you read their stories, I ask that you not only consider the words provided, but also imagine the words that may be missing. The voices you’ll hear were our voices years ago. I wonder what these young people will say about their aberrations next year, or at 19, 30, or 43? They’ll have seen adventure, accomplishment, and perhaps tragedy they can’t imagine today. Yet at the core, at least in part, they will still be the selective mute, the amputee, the Muslim, and the stubborn boy who visited Aberration Nation in 2009.
Interspersed in their stories, you’ll hear from Lisa, an adult who was once a teen runaway. Consider how she might have described her life at 14. What would she have shared and how would she have said it? Would she have understood her situation, emotions, and actions so well? What type of lens did she peer through all those years ago?
So what’s the point of all this?
Well, I’m not a teacher, psychologist, physician, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, but I have a feeling we can all do a better job of listening to the teens in our lives. We could try just a little harder to remember what it was like once upon a teenage time. It’s so easy to look into a bright, young smile, shrug off any doubts, and say, “She’s fine. She’s a beautiful, smart cheerleader,” or drive the kid who wants purple hair and five piercings crazy although he’s actually got a great head on his shoulders.
Through out this event, I’ll also post brief excerpts from my journals, as well as some of the poetry I wrote between the ages of 14 and 21. Don’t expect award winning writing, but you will find honesty. My aim is to use my early content to further support the idea that our understanding, and the ability to express ourselves matures dramatically during those years. I believe this is important because the depth of my emotions never changed. They were as strong and real at 14 as they are today.
The recognition of this disconnect seems important. I hope you’ll agree.
Come back Tuesday for our first teen aberration story: Selective Mutism.