Coffee With My Teenage Self.

For most people, she’s hard to spot across the crowded cafe, having spent years developing the skill of being invisible. Hooded sweatshirts and ill-fitting track pants, hair in a ponytail hidden by a black bandanna, she fidgets and sips at a hot chocolate, knowing full well the dairy isn’t going to agree with her.

I am considerably older, and recognize her immediately. As she waits, unaware of being observed, she chews on the inside of her lip — a nervous trait I happen to share. I feel the corners of my mouth twitch upward into a smile, and begin my approach.

“Hi,” I say gently. “May I sit with you?”

Confusion registers, then recognition and surprise. I sit and take a sip of my own drink — some lactose-free concoction expertly crafted by the barista. I know full well the repercussions of too much dairy and have learned to avoid it if I can. The girl in front of me takes a moment to look me over before speaking.

“Are you–“
“Yes,” I interrupt. “I’m you, ten years from now.”

We are silent for a moment, past and future huddled together in some sort of conspiratorial meeting, separated only by a round wooden table and several years. I have waited for this moment for quite some time. I know this 15-year-old girl from inside to out, I know her doubts and fears and self-hatred and self-harm and depression. I know her despair. I need to save her.

She looks at me, wide-eyed and silent, afraid to speak for fear of sounding stupid.

“I need you to do something for me,” I tell her. She automatically agrees, because that’s what she always does. She tells you exactly what you want to hear when you want to hear it, and she hardly ever follows through. “No, really,” I emphasize. “I need to you promise.”

“Okay, sure,” she says. “What is it?”

“What you’re planning to do… don’t do it. Don’t take away your chances of finding something better, of learning and growing and creating something wonderful for yourself. Don’t nullify your chance to go places you’ve never been and meet people who genuinely care about you. Don’t give up the fight just because it’s difficult and it hurts you in places you didn’t know you had. I know who you are. I know the champion that lurks inside you, the reserves of strength buried under decades of abuse and torment. You miss Daddy, I know you do, but there is no reason to rush off this earth to join him wherever he is. There’s plenty of time if you let yourself have it. You are worth it.”

She fights to swallow down the hope as it rises within her, to coat it in sarcasm and use it as a weapon against her future self. She struggles to hide the tears as they well up in her eyes, to kill any emotion before it has a chance to take root and grow inside her. She’s at war with her own feelings and will not stop until she’s so numb she has to take a razor or a steak knife to her skin to feel anything at all. And because I know this already, and have already fought the same battles, I know I can get through to her.

We speak in unison. “What’s the point? Nothing’s ever going to get better.”

I take her hand in mine and lean across the table to look into the same stormy grey eyes that have stared back at me from the mirror for the last twenty-five years. I see agony and a wall built so high and so tight that her heart is suffocating already. I know I’m just in time.

“It does get better,” I whisper. “You can retort and make jokes and pretend you think nothing matters, but I AM YOU so you’re not going to fool me and I’m not going to lie to you. Fight. Keep fighting. There are difficult years ahead but every single painful moment up to this point has been preparing you for this. You are hurting, you are tired, and I know you just want to lay down and disappear, but you can’t. You have to keep going, for me, for your family, and most of all, for yourself.

“There will come a day when there are people around you who are genuinely happy to see you. You’ll be able to get up in the morning and make yourself coffee in your own apartment. You’ll wash your dishes and your hair and those things will bring you joy because they’re so hard-won. You’ll have a partner who loves you, and your years of people-pleasing will give way to self-care, self-love, and generosity. The next ten years will be harder than you could ever imagine, but I need you to remember that you’ve been built to carry this. Everyone has a burden to carry, some much heavier than others, but nothing is beyond your ability to cope.

“When the time comes — and it will — and you find yourself standing at the kitchen sink with a knife in your hand and numbness in your heart, remember me. Remember my promises. Remember that it will get better for you and I’m living proof. Accept what happened to you, tell Mom about it and then let it go. Holding onto the past will poison your future. When you find yourself unsure, remember that although you might feel alone right now, the truth is that you’re not. One day you’ll feel connected and loved and worthy.”

As I finish, our eyes meet again. She finally allows her tears to spill over and begins to cry quietly as I fold her gently into my arms. I stroke her covered hair and let her sob into my shoulder. No one notices us although the cafe is full — we’ve spent years learning how to be invisible.

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Sorting out my life by writing about it.

8 thoughts on “Coffee With My Teenage Self.

  1. Wow. You are a gift.

    I am SO GLAD you made it through. And you did it in what I think is the right way.

    See…people can be well-meaning and drive one to the brink with moto BS that is simply meaningless when you’re in the Pit. But you did the truly heroic thing – you embraced the suck, and saw that it had boundaries, and, if not an end, at least a shallow end.

    That you count me among your friends is equal to the highest honors I’ve received.

    (Sorry if I’m a bit choppy…had an accident that flared up the pain from my illness…I’m THIS CLOSE to beating my head against a wall in pain and frustration. A cheap cigar – Phillies Titans – would do well for me now.)

    1. I’m sorry to hear you had an accident and I hope you feel better soon (and I appreciate the need for a cigar, believe me!). You don’t seem choppy, you’re doing pretty damn well for someone who’s in pain.

      When I was growing up, and found myself in the pit of my own despair, there were plenty of people who offered me platitudes and cliches in a misguided attempt to make me feel better. Although they certainly had the best intentions, the only thing it really accomplished was to further alienate me and make me feel frustrated. When someone is in real emotional pain, telling them “Time heals all wounds” or “It’s always darkest before the dawn” doesn’t actually help at all. When I would be a total mess, slumped on the floor rage-crying in my bedroom, wishing for the “strength” to end my own life, my mom would be right there, telling me she knew how much it sucked and sharing her own experiences. My mom has hard much harder battles to face than I ever have, and eventually I came to see that if she could stand up, say, “NO. I WILL NOT LET THIS DESTROY ME” and fight to keep going, then so could I.

      But not everyone has the kind of support I have. My mom and sister have listened to me, cried with me, held me down when I was freaking out and about to do real harm to myself. I worry most for the people out there in pain with no one rooting for them or telling them it’s OK to feel like shit and that they don’t owe anyone apologies. I write posts like this one in the hopes that someday someone who’s in need will see it and know they really aren’t alone.

      I am equally honored to have you as a friend and I am very thankful that you read my blog and take the time to post thoughtful comments. It truly means the world to me. You are just as strong as I am (perhaps even stronger) and I am extremely happy we’ve both made it through some hard battles. In closing, I offer you a cliche (tongue-in-cheek, of course):

      What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. 😉

      I really hope you feel better soon.

  2. I would have to reach over several more decades than you have already come to speak to my own 15-year-old self, and I’m sure she would not recognize me until I told her what she was thinking. You understand what it took me so much longer to digest. Thank God you do, because I can attest that the longer one delays accepting the wrong done to us, or the pain we can’t verbalize, and taking action to regain our balance, the harder it is to do. Later, though, is truly better than never. I’m confident that you are changing lives for the better. I raise my glass of iced coffee to you (I’m in Texas)!

    1. Iced coffee is the best! As the months grow colder here in Toronto, iced coffee is quickly becoming a thing of the past for most people. I still drink it, even in the middle of winter, because it’s so good. Soon enough I will be jealous of the warmth in Texas, believe me!

      I agree with you, that it’s better late than never when it comes to past hurt. Everyone moves at their own pace in life, and learns things when they’re ready, it just so happens that in my case I am blessed/cursed with a heightened sense of self-awareness. I’m not afraid to put this stuff out there either, because I often wonder if there are people suffering who might stumble across my blog and feel slightly less alone when they read it. That’s my goal, anyway, and thank you for your kind words.

      I’m certain your 15-year-old self would be impressed with the person you’ve grown to become, no matter how many decades you’d have to stretch back to find her! 🙂 Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it more than I could say.

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