We are going to call you Matt because I currently do not have a ninth grade student named Matt; therefore, I can protect the innocent. These words in your end of year reflective essay have stayed with me for days, even weeks now. I wrote them here for this photo, and you should know how powerful they are. Your heart may feel broken, but your brain is not insane, although heartbreak sometimes makes it feel that way. I shared your words anonymously with some other teachers; hope that was okay. But we need to be reminded every now and again about how tough it is to be a teenager. So thank you, Matt, for your reflective essay– for reminding us even when there is self doubt, or laziness, or even a bad attitude here and there– there is still a young man or woman who desperately wants someone, anyone, to understand where they are coming from. I hear you. We hear you, and now the world out there will hear you too.
There is no doubt being a teenager is complex. This has not changed from the beginning of time; only now in a more “connected” world, kids find more ways to hurt one another. When you are a writer in a small town, you sometimes have to change little details here and there to maintain the anonymity for the person you wish to protect. I wish to protect you because you allowed yourself to be vulnerable; you let the written word help you to make sense of your feelings; you wrote about the confusion of love and the devastation we feel as humans when the one we love no longer loves us back. But not only do they not love you back, they have expressed to the entire world via social media that they have broken your heart. That sucks.
The other part of your essay which has remained with me is that you were talking with your dad about this who had some advice for you. What your dad has told you about the heart and head needing to talk to one another makes complete sense. But just because it makes complete sense, doesn’t mean we can put that rational thinking into action. So many moms and dads wonder why when their kid hits 8th or 9th or 10th grade, sometimes communication drops off. You tend to turn more to your friends for advice. Keep in mind, your friends are dealing with the same challenges of adolescences you are going through right now and don’t always have the distance needed from a situation to actually be helpful.
Believe it or not, your parents have survived adolescence– or hopefully they have by the time you are old enough to have that first love. It’s not your fault that the world revolves around your ego; this is normal child development. But, as impossible as it seems that your mom or dad might have some wisdom to share with you about a similar situation when they were young, you might just ask them about it.
Yesterday, at a writing workshop I shared the story about a first love I wished I had broken up with before heading off to college. I knew tearing the bandaid off before we left was the sensible thing to do, yet my heart wouldn’t allow me to do it. Some of my Girls of Summer, ages 12-17, were mulling that around in their brains. When your teacher references being in love as a teenager, it’s a little like seeing them in the grocery store as a little kid. You only imagine them living in their classroom and can’t possibly fathom “regular life” experiences. I used my teacher super powers to read some of their shocked facial expressions:
- Krill was our age once.
- Krill was in love with someone before her husband.
- Krill had a regret as a teenager she wished she had handled differently.
“It’s just hard to imagine you were our age once.”
So, Matt, even though this broken heart you feel deep in your soul hurts more than anything your 15 years have prepared you for, it will heal. You will heal. Who knows, at this point, in summer vacation, you may have already found someone else to direct your attentions to. You, we, humans, do bounce back eventually.
Keep talking to your dad about your head and your heart because we really do need to listen to both if we are going to make better decisions. But do not mistake heart break for poor judgement, stupidity, or a lack of deserving better. Thank you for sharing your heart broken heart with us; heart break is part of the human condition, and we do survive. You will too.
Your English teacher