Letter to my younger self: Taking a tough look back

Dear Rich (at 14),

I know you are going through a tough time right now and you have learned to clam up about it.  You don’t know who to tell or even who to trust so you build walls of defense around your personal life.  These walls will not serve you well over time, I am sorry to tell you.  I can say it is good you did not run away, although you probably did not have the courage to do that anyway.  Your parents are going through an ugly time.  When they sold the house and got an apartment, you and your brother both knew it was a mistake.  The worst part about it is they made that mistake, they thought, for you.  It was to see you through grade school, but it should have ended when it was over.

The good thing about the apartment was the large bedroom and large walk-in closet.  It was an actual closet you could go hide in when necessary.  Too bad you only lived there for a year.  In this time you will take refuge frequently at a Boys Club where you have been a member and played sports, even though you were not real good at sports.  You are further away from the club now so school, a few friends and the Club will keep you away from home most of the time.

Soon you will learn that the first person interested in you sexually is another boy.  He is a year behind you in school, but not very much younger in reality.  He seemed quite experienced next to your naiveté.  The brief friendship will weigh heavily on your Catholic, guilt ridden conscience.  You will come to terms with this, although it will take you years to do so.  Many years later you will learn from your mother that this boy married (a girl) and still lives in the old neighborhood.  You will have moved to another area and stayed put for years.  I write to you from there and I can tell you that we found employment at the Club for a while and spent many years playing in that same park you found as a kid.  These will be good memories.

While you attend high school proms and college dances with girl friends, you will discover there are other boys who find you “cute.”  You never thought of yourself as cute or handsome so these attentions may seem a bit confusing.  When you get hit on by the younger brother of a close friend, you fear that the world will soon know all about it.  Don’t worry, no one knows.  At least, I think no one knows.  Other boys travel through your life, but none stay.  I think that is largely due to your stubborn attitude about most things.  I guess it is less so from where I am at now.

You will come to believe, perhaps rightly so, that your various groups of friends, and various lifestyles, will not mix well so you make sure they don’t mix at all.  This is a talent you picked up when you were very young.  Within these several groups, people only see one side of you and may believe that is all there is.  It is a defense mechanism on your part and I must tell you that in the long run, it is not beneficial.  You are solidly convinced right now that you are doing the right thing, but people will leave your life not knowing who you really are.  That will make you sad.  It is a hard time to be open, but I am convinced your friends will stand beside you, even as they do now.  Would you be surprised to learn that your closest friends after college and for many more years to come are mostly from your high school days, both from your class and a few that followed?  When you finally let them get to know you, they remain your close friends.  You will also make new and younger friends right about now.  They will be great friendships, perhaps because they really know you.  I guess I am not sure about that, however..

I would like to warn you that after high school and college you will make a lot of stupid mistakes.  You will invest times in meaningless friendships and all for the wrong reasons.  Dare I tell you of the beating you will take for who you are and the scars it will leave on your face and your spirit?  You were not going to have your class portrait taken for graduating from NIU because it was soon after, but they convince you to come.  Your face will be bruised and battered from what they would now call a hate crime.  The photographer tells you that you can reject all the pictures and you are convinced you will.  I am glad to tell you they come out OK.  We would call it photo shopping now but you will know that they did a great job of air brushing the pictures.  I still don’t know exactly what that process is but it worked well.  I do not think my words of caution will do much good since I know you so well.  Would you steer a better course if I showed you the way?  I fear not, since you remain stubborn.

Despite the mistakes and the down times that will follow, I need to tell you this one very important thing.  It gets better.  Those three words will almost be a cliché by the time you get to where I am now, but it is true.  You will find many around you who will say the same.  It is the only thing I can tell you that matters.  I can not alter your course, but I swear to you that it get better.  Please believe me.

Your future friend,



“I never wanted to stop, because I don’t want to start all over, start all over

I was afraid of the dark, but now it’s all that I want, all that I want, all that I want

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go”  – Maroon 5

We may see destructive behaviors in others or even ourselves and wonder why it doesn’t stop.  For example, you may watch people coughing violently, but then still go out to smoke.  You know it could kill them and armed with such knowledge you would think they would stop.  Most people know it too, but they can not stop.  Perhaps they are addicted to the nicotine.  Perhaps it calms their nerves in an otherwise stressful day.  Perhaps they can not see how they will be able to give it up, considering what they may have to go through to do it.  Surely it is worth the effort, you might think.  The smoker, however, can not see the light on the other side of the struggle.  They continue, perhaps, with all the good intentions of giving it up later.  Some pay a price much higher than the taxes that are constantly levied of cigarettes.

This happens in other areas of “addiction” also.  It could be alcohol or drugs.  Surely a life filled with hangovers and recoveries would be a lifestyle worth giving up.  The knowledge that over indulgence can ruin your liver or fry your brain ought to be enough to stop, you may say to yourself, but stopping one thing would mean you would have to replace all that time with something else.  What if  you could not imagine what that something else would be?  What if you think you are at least having some fun, and perhaps you will have no fun if you just stop.  Then what kind of life do you have?

Some people find themselves in abusive relationships.  The abuse could take many forms.  We may think that these people would run from these situations at the first opportunity.  We may find ourselves quite surprised when they don’t.  I am not talking about children who are easily manipulated, but adults who act like they are stuck.  Perhaps they are stuck, by the fear of the alternative.  If it is the only life they have known, they may not wish to attempt any other.

More startling are those who engage in self-destructive behavior by taking unnecessary risks that seem calculated to bring disaster.  Even worse are those that cut themselves or inflict other harm on their own bodies.  Why do they do it?  Are they mentally ill?  Maybe they are, or maybe they just are hurting so bad that the additional pain is nothing in comparison.  This may be the way of letting us know.

Some, however, may just want to die, so they feel any of these destructive behaviors are fine to them.  They maybe calling out for help, or they may just see no daylight in their lives.  So why give this up when they see nothing else?  If there is no hope, there is no reason.  If you are afraid of what you will find in the daylight, you may wish to stay in the dark.  In recent years, we have seen teens, mere children, commit suicide because they had no hope.  Bullying and abuse may have hurt so much, that they could not take another day.  There was no down the road.  There was no daylight.  There was no “It gets better.”  There was just destructive behavior.

I do not preach at the smokers, aside from occasionally pointing out that my parents gave up smoking.  My father died of lung cancer and my mother had a stroke.  I recall growing up to ashtrays filled with cigarettes around the house.  As for other “vices,” I will admit to some overindulgence along the way.  I always think I would have to wear a guilty face to point out problems to someone else.  I do see things more clearly in the daylight so I tend to moderation a little more now.   Of course my doctor may not agree when he gets my cholesterol count.  I guess that means I should not have so many chicken wings with Sunday night baseball or football.

Crime generally takes a jump in bad economic times.  It is for the same reasons that we saw more gang activity in poor neighborhoods or among the poorly educated in the past and still see it today.  If you see no chance of getting ahead on your own, you may be willing to take the type of risks that go with crime.  Big cities can put task forces and gang units on patrol, but without hope the gang activity continues.  We see it end in violence for some.  There are innocent ones too who get caught in the cross fire.  If you can not walk out into the sunlight and have hope shine through, then maybe the fear of getting carried out in a body bag is little fear at all.

We desperately need to offer hope to those in fear of their addictions, their “friends”, schoolmates, parents, their circumstances in life.  We need to show that daylight is not something to fear.  The tough choice to leave a lifestyle you know can mean replacing it with something better.  “I never wanted to stop, because I don’t want to start all over, start all over,” but starting all over can be possible.  “I was afraid of the dark, but now it’s all that I want, all that I want, all that I want,” because that is all that I know.  “And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go,” but that should be nothing to fear.  It get’s better when you let the daylight in.  I swear to you, “It gets better.”

Your younger self

Recently another blogger suggested a book to read this month that is a collection of letters that writers would send to their younger selves, if only they could.  Some letters are just a couple of pages.  Some are a bit longer.  Some of these writers may be well-known to you.  Others may be interesting just as a study of what an older person still sees of his younger life.  Although I am not yet far into the book, I can already tell that theses letter will touch me.  I can feel the emotion that I am reading.  I suspect that is because I am looking back over my shoulder at the same time.

If you were to write such a letter today, at the age you are now, to what age would you send it?  Would it be you at 12?  14?  18?  Older or younger?  When would you need your advice the most?  I guess it should be no surprise that many of these letters were sent to teenage years.  Perhaps it is when growing pains are felt the most.  Maybe it is when young love hurts the most.  It could be when you were terrorized by bullies, parents or supposed friends the most.  It might be at the time you needed advice the most, but you trusted no one to give it to you.  Would you even have taken it if it came from a more experienced you?

It seems pointless to me to send back a letter to a good time.  What would you say?  “I am glad you had such a great time at the picnic?”  No, that has just melted into a fond memory.  At your current age, you would probably want to send yourself advice to help see you through a problem.  You might want to send words of encouragement for times when you may have wanted to give up, or worse.  An early letter in the book is sent to a child alone and crying in a park.  She hopes to be murdered there because she thinks it can not possibly be worse than the hurt she is feeling.  Of course, you would go back and comfort that child, if only you could.

Few fall in love with their high school sweetheart, get married right out of high school and live happily ever after.  Even Cinderella had a tough life before her prince came along, and so it is with fairy tales.  Most of us may have thought that we were falling in love in high school, but we are really just falling and needed to get back up.  It does not look that way in the isolation of your teenage room, however.  What words would have helped you then?  You got little comfort from the one you longed for and had little or no desire to tell your parents, teachers or anyone more than 25 years old.  Do you now have the words for your younger self?  How would you help yourself through teenage angst?

If the thought of living without your “true love” was scary, I suppose life after school held a bit of panic for many as well.  “What will I do?  Will I make enough money?  Can I support a family?  Can I support myself?”  What answers can you send back to those questions?  Somewhere between 10 and 20 lie the years that produce emotional changes, doubts and questions.  Can you write the letter today that could have helped you then?

In looking through these letters, I think it is fair to say that people are writing back to what they see as a defining moment in their young lives.  While some may see that as 12, others are writing to 18.  Perhaps they only wish to send letters to a time that today’s knowledge could help.  Maybe we can not even find the words for certain moments in our young existence.  Some can only say that he or she will have to work through the problems with the knowledge from your older self that it gets better.

Awkward, yet emotionally charged, are those that struggled through their sexuality, the questioning, “Am I loveable?  Am I attractive?  Am I gay?”  We may spend many youthful hours looking in the mirror and asking questions.  We may spend many more avoiding the mirror because we do not like what we see.  Some years ago I spent a lot of time reassuring a handsome teenager (not me, btw) that he was indeed handsome.  I am not sure he believed me then, but he is much more self-assured now.  What could you tell yourself about those self doubts?  What would I tell myself?

This book was not just for those who “made it through the rain,” and came out the other side a stronger person.  It is also for those who are struggling now.  The Letter Q gives half of its royalties to The Trevor Project to help reach youth in crisis.  There are those that desperately need advice.  Let’s hope they are around to send word back to their younger selves that “it gets better.”

A coming out story update

When I commented on some coming out stories that I had seen, I could not find the video by Angel. I had told parts of his story that I had seen weeks earlier. Since You Tube has many thousands of coming out videos, I could not find his at the time my blog published. The story was so moving that many of the details stayed with me, however. As he had the courage to share his story with the world, I felt it was OK to share with the few visitors to this blog. I could not understand how someone could beat this handsome boy bloody because he is gay. To make it worse it was his own father.
Since that time I had seen a few more coming out videos. I guess my viewing history now prompts them to come up as recommendations on my You Tube home page. I am happy to see there are many good stories being told. Some, however, are painful to watch and are sure to make you wonder where all this hate comes from. As I learned more about You Tube working with my music channel I discovered that it will keep your viewing history unless you erase it. Going back through months worth of history, and deleting a lot of crap along the way, I finally found Angel.
Watching his story again, I found myself as emotionally involved as the first time. Before you get to the “it gets better” part of the video, it may move you to tears. It did for me. If you know me, you may find that hard to believe. I invite you to watch the video and see for yourself. You may better understand the difficult life of a gay teen, living in fear. In this case, it was fear of his own father.
I have gone back to the original story and made some minor corrections, including a couple of grammar errors that slipped through. I guess it is hard to edit with tears in your eyes.

The Trevor Project, “It gets better”

A coming out story

Despite everything that has been in the news lately, I thought I would shy away from this topic. It is often a political hot potato fraught with emotional arguments that have little to do with rational thinking. There seemed no reason to be another voice among the already countless raised voices. Then I caught a status message on Facebook that got me to rethink my position. A relative posted a status message that his daughter had put up. As I read through it, I was impressed with the thoughtful counter arguments regarding the opposition to gay marriage, as well intelligent remarks about being gay. I thought I need some of this when the haters start in with their venom.
As I read down the lengthy post I began to realize this was not just a rebuttal to recent actions in the news, particularly the gay marriage ban in North Carolina, but also a commentary by a relative of what it was like to grow up gay. I was totally unaware of the circumstances of her personal life or the problems that it brought her. She did not avoid the most difficult parts of the story, but put it out there bravely for us to see. I was moved by the willingness to try to help people understand by pointing to a personal story.
Unless you are a member of the 1 in 10 who grows up feeling different and alone, it is hard to understand what it is like. You may be picked on at school, bullied by classmates in ways much more hateful than mere childhood teasing. You might find the very thought of going to school as terrifying, and return home each day depressed, perhaps with thoughts of suicide. Recently a 14-year-old boy in Iowa took his own life as a result of the bullying at school and online. “Mom, you don’t know how it feels to be hated,” he had told his mother. He just could not live with it anymore.
What drives people to this kind of hatred? Recently I viewed some coming out stories on You Tube. The story of one young man absolutely stunned me. Angel did not appear to be overtly gay in his video. He told that his coming out was actually an accident. His father saw him kissing his boyfriend. The boy was often dropped off a block or more from home so his father would not see them. When the father got home he confronted Angel and demanded to know if he was a faggot. Angel knew if he said he was gay, he would get a beating, but he got one anyway. It was a severe beating the boy could hardly survive. When the father had to go out, Angel called for help. He did not call the police, his father was a cop. He called a hotline and then a family he thought might help. The woman told him to just get out and she would meet him at the corner. He did not make it that far. Bleeding he fell to the ground throwing up blood. He was found and eventually taken to a hospital emergency room. What father would beat his child almost to death because he dared to love someone not of his father’s choosing? Obviously, Angel recovered and was able to tell his story.
Imagine the terror many in the 10 percent may feel, if not for themselves, perhaps for their friends. Will today be the day they are bullied, beaten, or worse? Imagine not knowing who to trust, at home or at school. Imagine not knowing if life will hold anything of worth for you. “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Angel has forgiven his father, strange as that may seem. They have even talked since. When I saw his story, I did not have any idea about writing this, so I did not keep track of the You Tube link. I thought I would go back and find it to put at the bottom of this. I searched “A coming out story” since I thought that was the title and I got 149,000 results. For all the young gay people afraid to be who they are, you can be assured, you are not alone. I did find that most of these stories actually turn out well. Some were surprised at the acceptance they received. If you need some hope, search “it gets better.” It is the popular campaign of the Trevor Project. You will find hope shining through the dark night. I can not explain to you how people can use the Bible or other religious book to support a position of hate, it taught me that we should love one another as we should love ourselves. If you find it tough right now, for you or a loved one, don’t give in to the haters. It gets better.