As we come to the end of 2016, I keep thinking about what 16 year-old me would think about who I've grown up to be, about how I've changed, what I've done and seen. So, as we end the year, I'm writing a letter to 16 year-old me.
Hey Andy, (you still still spelling it with a y or are you still doing that y(i)(e) thing?)
I know this letter will be something of a shock since you didn't believe I'd ever exist. You could always envision what the future looked like for all your friends, how their lives would go, how happy they'd be as adults, but for you nothing existed but a big black space. I know you haven't thought about college at all (that's okay), and you're just going along with what you're supposed to do at school. (The AP Government class is pretty cool so take that, okay?) Dani's gone and you carry that guilt like a lead noose around your neck. I can't tell you that weight ever goes away, but you learn how to lift your head up again. You remember how to smile and to love, and that it's okay to cry, to yell and to hurt. Pain is not weakness and you don't have to hold it at arm's length.
I know you feel like a psychopath; you worry you're going to turn out like those monsters you watch on The First 48. You constantly worry that there's something wrong with you because you don't feel anything, that you're broken and that if you tell anyone you'll lose everything. That sickness that made you black out during your geometry final? That's your first panic attack.
I know that the psychiatrist you talk to is a douchebag who just gives you more and more drugs that make you feel awful. You worry that by taking them you're killing your soul but that if you stop taking them you'll kill your body. Depression sucks. It sucks so, so much, I know. Stop taking the 7 different pills that lunatic put you on. When you get older, you'll find help with someone who listens to you. You'll find medicine that helps not hurts. You'll wake up in the morning and smile.
Don't worry too much about who you date or don't date because honestly after high school you loose touch with all but the most important people. (I'll let you figure that one out for yourself. The journey is worth it for the friendships you end up with.) You end up at a college where you'll meet some of the most important people in your life. You'll learn more about yourself than you thought was possible. But it will eat at your love for writing. Classrooms and guidelines and demands that you leave genre fiction behind chip away at the joy you once found in your words. But you'll get it back, and you'll be a better writer.
You'll get out of Warner Robins for good. Atlanta's a good city and your roots are just starting to settle in here even now.
I know that the future doesn't scare you because you can't see it. Like in the Neverending Story, the Nothing has consumed it all and now no path lies before you. It's both infinite and empty, filled with promise and despair because you don't know where to turn. I know some days you just want to sit on the ground and let the Nothing swallow you whole.
Andy, I need you to take a deep breath. Then you put one foot in front of the other and you keep going. Take the next test, finish the next project, submit the college applications, and keep writing.
I can't promise you that the next ten years are going to be beautiful and joyous all the time. Things get better and they get worse. It ebbs and flow. You lose a lot of your heroes along the way, some to time and age, and others to realizing the world has a lot more problems than you thought. Nothing is a simple fix but the things you believe in, you'll learn to fight for. You'll find your voice even when it shakes, and you'll build confidence in yourself. You learn how to say no.
Go to every concert you can, savor every second with the people who love you. Don't be afraid to tell them that they matter, that you are grateful for them. Try new things and go on adventures. Wear that amazing Lady Gaga bubble costume for Halloween! Travel abroad every chance you get! And go ahead and sign up for that thing called Facebook when you get to college.
But more than anything else, I want you to know that I am damn proud of you. I'm so proud of you kiddo and the fight you put up every day as you march onwards into a black hole. You fight for what you believe, like LGBT poems belonging in the literary magazine of your high school, despite your own pain. You stand up for others when you can, and even when you get hurt and betrayed, you forgive and forge new stronger friendships. You are what inspires me.
I know you're only 16 and dealing with so much that some days you feel like you're 90, your soul hurts and you don't want to go on. But Andy, you grow up to be a pretty-okay lady. You grow up to try to help the generation behind you.
You grow up to be your own god damn hero.
All of my love,