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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It Gets Better & Other Bullshit that Isn’t True: An Open Letter to 16-Year-Old Me

Dear 16-Year-Old Me:


Hold on. I may have gotten ahead of myself there. Let’s start over.

Hey there. How are you? Not good, I know. You have braces, acne, and are disgustingly obese at 115 lbs. You feel lost, alone, outcast, bullied, and like a total fuck up. You also have a lot of adults in your life that tell you all of those things are true.

As a byproduct of that, you feel like everyone around you is a hypocrite and like you are somehow more enlightened than everyone else, because of how you have “suffered”. You believe the world owes you something. I get it. You’re very anxsty and have a lot to say, but are too scared, so instead you smoke pot, write really bad poetry, torture your parents, dress all in black, and feel sorry for yourself. To make matters worse “Baby One More Time” is topping the charts.

There is very little to live for.

I’m not writing to you about any of that, though, because you’re 29 now and none of that shit matters anymore.

I’m writing now, because there was a school shooting in Chardon, OH, the town your boss lives in. As of this writing, 3 teenagers that were shot are dead. The confusion, the loss, the questioning of why this happened and how we keep it from happening again reminded me of you.

This spring, for you, there will be another school shooting. I know the Paducah shooting happened a couple of years ago, but this one will get way more media attention. It will happen in a school called Columbine. You’ll write a terrible poem about it. Michael Moore will make a movie about it. It will be the go-to shooting to which every other school shooting will be compared.

You’ll identify with those boys carrying the guns. You’ll think of all the people who have made your life a living hell and how, even though you would never take someone’s life, you can certainly see how someone could get there mentally.

The people who were your friends in elementary school, but then acted like they didn’t know you in junior high because the random lottery of middle school coolness chose you to be a pariah instead of a cheerleader?

The guy you had a crush on that you’d known your whole life who told your friend, “She’d be cute if she weren’t such a head case”?

The principal at Lexington Traditional Magnet School who told you and Mom that he wasn’t going to do anything about the bullying, because it was “good for you” and “part of growing up”?

You think, maybe if those people had a gun waved in their face that they’d be sorry. Maybe they’d shut their mouths. Maybe they wouldn’t grow up to just be bigger assholes with a bunch of asshole kids that will inevitably bully your kids.

Yeah. That would show them.

One day there’s going to be a campaign called “It Gets Better”. It’s going to be geared toward LGTB youth (or, in your case, all of your guy friends), but it is meant to be applicable to anyone who is bullied. The moral is that if you can just survive being a teenager and a young adult that “it” will get better, so don’t give up.

I’m here to let you in on a little secret.

“It” doesn’t get better.

I wish I could tell you all of the assholes get theirs in the end. They don’t. Most of them are leading happy, successful lives and have adorable kids. Mike Carr from LTMS? Yeah, he’s the director of the State of Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.


He sets standards.

For professionals.

On a board.

And if “it” refers to bullying, gossiping, and people just generally being heinous to each other, sorry, that doesn’t get any better either. You know the internet? Yes, Web Crawler and AOL. Those are going to be replaced by Google and Facebook. Now, instead of hearing about all the terrible things people say about you from your friends, you can just type your name into a box and READ all the terrible things.


For added fun, we now herd all of our co-workers, family members, church friends, old friends, and new friends into one space and discuss religion, politics, and the funny things cats do. We call this Facebook. So if you think people are judgmental and hypocritical now, just wait until you see the pictures that people get tagged in without their permission.



The point is that the girl who was decked out in head to toe Abercrombie who wouldn’t let you eat lunch with her and her friends has just been replaced by the confrontational, uberpolitical soccer mom on Twitter. The anonymous peer grader of your 7th grade book report who said you were a whiny, cry baby that nobody liked, is now the anonymous reader that leaves very similar “reviews” on your blog. The guy who dared his buddy to ask you to homecoming just so he could laugh in your face when you said yes, has been replaced by the guy organizing professional development meet-ups that has met you six times but still doesn’t remember your name. And the adults that seemed to not just turn a blind eye to your torment, but actually enjoyed watching it because of all the good it was doing you? Those people have been replaced by the IRS.

“It” doesn’t get better.

But you do.

I know you cannot conceive of a day when you will no longer be enraged by the people who pick on you. But there’s going to come a day when those people are not even going to hit your radar screen. Yeah, if you run into them, you might have a muscle memory reflex that makes you go up and say, “Hey you were a dickhead when we were 12.” But I assure you, it’s far more likely that you will see them and think, “Hey that’s…that’s…what was her name again?...”

And even though the Abercrombie douches have been replaced by the Yuppie douches, their impact on your day to day life is next to zilch. Right now, in spite of making every effort to be different, all those black clothes and torn up jeans signify is that you are letting people tell you who you are. The reason the Abercrombie girl bothers you so bad is because you believe her.

The Twitter bitch?

You just feel sorry for her and go on with your day.

So if you’re holding out for “it” to get better, all the adult world is going to bring you is disillusionment and disappointment. The hypocrites are still hypocrites. The assholes are still assholes, and, yes, will probably raise more assholes. There are bullies and preps and jocks and freaks and we all still have to figure out how to get along.

But YOU will be different.

Age = time. Time will give you context. It will give you tools. It will give you opportunities to meet more people, several of whom will love you for all those things that, right now, make you a freak. You’ll call them friends. Time will pile on responsibilities that put all of “it” into perspective. Time will teach you who you are. Then it will change who you are. Then it will teach you all over again.

But most importantly, Time will give you things to live for beyond fleeting acceptance, which I know REALLY IS important when you’re a teenager.

In your case, their names are Hannah and Emma. They’ll think you’re very cool. Even without black eyeliner.

Just do yourself a favor and play the odds. Statistically speaking, you have not even lived half of your life yet. That means there’s less than a 50% chance that you’ve met the most awesome person you’re ever going to meet. Eaten the greatest meal you’ll ever taste. Told the funniest joke you’ll ever tell. Heard the most beautiful song you are ever going to hear. You haven’t even gotten to see Brittany Spears have a nervous breakdown and shave her head yet.

No, she totally, totally does.

And there will be a black president.

And something called an iPod.

And you’re actually a really great runner.

And, yes, you’re going to get paid to write one day.

And, in bad news, you’ll be using all that algebra you keep skipping, because you’re going to create websites for a living.

And marry an Asian guy.

And start liking barbecue.

It’s ok to empathize with those kids at Columbine. But don’t think they are heroes or victims. They’re just kids who didn’t play the odds right and ended up missing everything.

Everything that matters, at least.

Which brings me back to the beginning.

Be nicer to your mother. That huge tab you’ve written up for the world in all of your journals? All the things you think life owes you? She’s the one who has been picking up the check. And Dad, too. Plus Karma is a bitch, kid. Did I mention Hannah and Emma? You’ll find out soon enough.

If you’re half as smart as you think you are.




Heather said...

Why weren't you around to tell me this when I was 16??? Love this post. Love you too. Even without black eyeliner. :P

Anonymous said...

LOVE IT. very well written.

Unknown said...

Ann, this is absolutely beautiful. It should be required reading for every 16 year old. I'm going to save it for my daughter to read one day. I shudder to think about what she has in store for her and my uber protectiveness is already kicking in. Thank you so much for one of the best and well written pieces I have read in a long long time.

- your friend Bill Wynn

Anonymous said...

great piece, I thought you looked good in black. You've grown into quite a young lady, glad you made it.

Jennifer said...

What a wonderful communicator this "head case" turned out to be...and we love you so much for it!

Anonymous said...

Great piece of writing. I could see myself. Thanks for sharing about your experiences.

Anonymous said...

I'm 17 and I can relate to this so much. every word. thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, insightful piece. Love your work! I'm a fan and former co-worker of Heather Chapman's and saw the link on her Facebook status.
Keep writing, Liz C.

Ann said...

Thank you to all of you for being so supportive of this post. It comes from a very raw place, but as I was writing it, I kind of even surprised myself how much I've healed. You really do "get better".

Ironically, I've already gotten some nasty feedback on it. One person did make a valid criticism though. It may come off as an indictment of the "It Gets Better Project". That is DEFINITELY not my intention. That LGBT project is a beautiful thing that has helped so many teens, including many of my closest friends. The point I was trying to make, although I guess not eloquently enough, is that "it" gets better, but "it" has to be YOU.

And, @Kat. The fact that you're brave enough to really look at yourself and be open to the advice of someone older than you, puts you leaps and bounds ahead of 99% of your peers. Chin up. You're going to be just fine.

Lyn Betz said...

cityaWhen I was young, I always meant to write a letter to my adult self with a list of all the ways adults don't understand, and all the stuff they shouldn't do, in case when I was an adult, I forgot what it was like to be young. I am going to share this piece with my son, who is now 16 and struggling and thinking I don't get it. And in some ways I don't, but the part he can't see now, and that you so beautifully bring out, is that he CAN get better. From your pen to his heart... thank you.