When I was a teenager, I was sad all of the time. Imagine some kind of teenage tornado of depression, anxiety and a whole lot of hormones and melodrama. Recipe for teenage disaster, right? But sometimes I look back at pictures or read journals that I had scribbled in on many hopeless nights and I think you have no idea what sadness is.
I was sixteen years old in this picture. Twelve years after it was taken, I would be saying goodbye to a child. I would be wrapping her up in the blanket her grandmother crocheted for her and kissing her goodbye forever, sitting there while a funeral home took her away. Twelve years from the time of this photograph, I would be listening to doctor after doctor explain in detail how and why my little girl was terminally ill while watching her bounce around on ultrasound, chomping down the sugary breakfast cereal I'd downed for breakfast that morning. I know pain now, and I know sadness. Back then I only thought I did. Back then I would lay in bed for days when the boy I liked kissed someone else at a party and I wasn't supposed to find out about it but, of course, I did. Back then I would scribble depressing song lyrics on my notebooks as a cry for help because I was so riddled with agony that I didn't know how else to empty my heart. It's funny, in a way. How one event can sort of rewrite the way you remember everything that happened prior to that. Once upon a time, I was a teenager who was sad all of the time. Now, I was a teenager who had no idea what sad was. Dare I even say, blissfully naive.
Or there's this picture of my husband when he came to pick me up for our first date. He was 16 and had just gotten his license. My mom never let me drive with anyone, not even other people's parents, but she knew something about him was different and she let me go. I always looked back at this picture and smiled because young love is a crazy, powerful thing and I can still feel the way it swirled me around and swallowed my whole world. Now I stare at this picture and I say to the little boy in it, twelve years from now you will have a daughter and she won't make it, and she will look just like you. She will have your hair and your lips but she will be so tiny and she won't make it and we'll only have one set of pictures to look at when we are wanting so very badly to see her. One day it will take everything in my body to not look at this photo and feel sadness because now I know the pain that this teenage boy will feel. Twelve years in the future and he will have to write "father" on the form from the funeral home that asks his relationship to the deceased.
And those crazy kids up there, in love and blind to the world around them. If only they knew the loss they'd have to one day go through together. One day their worst nightmare would no longer be him in college while she finished her senior year of high school at home, only-on-the-weekends visits and exams and tests and attendance limits. One day their worlds would be rocked but, you know, they'd still be in it together. And maybe that's part of the silver lining to it all: they always had each other to lean on.
Oh, emotional teenager,
You will be a mother one day. You will have two babies but only one will be here for you to watch grow up. You will somehow be, at the very least, physically present each day for your son and even that will be hard. Getting out of bed and opening your own eyes will be hard. You will learn that you make everyone feel uncomfortable: your neighbor will sputter fifteen random variations of "so, it's rained a lot, huh?" before muttering some awkward condolences. People will be scared to tell you that they're pregnant as if somehow their baby has anything to do with yours or you would somehow want this to happen to anyone else. You'll learn you have to sort of take charge and lead your own life so you can still exist in society and be seen in public. It won't be easy for you. None of it will be easy for you. Those song lyrics you used to jot over every inch of your Converses now make sense and you'll wish you were again in a time when you only hoped they would. You will know sadness. You will know pain. You will know how long eternity really is when you kiss your daughters little lips goodbye and hand her off to be taken away forever. Somehow you will survive. Somehow you will laugh and smile and hear a song that moves you and appreciate something beautiful in the outside world even when it feels next to impossible. Once upon a time people will call you strong and say they admire your strength and you will feel baffled because you feel like every step and breath requires effort that you're not entirely sure you have. One day you will realize that a kiss and hug from your son is the best medicine, that his laughter gives you another breath of life when your sails are deflating. You will feel lucky, and then unlucky, and then still the luckiest person that you can think of. And nothing will make sense, but everything will make sense at the same time. You think you are sad now but one day, one day you will realize what sadness is. And that makes me sad for you.
But, you know, one day you will know how to hold your head high and keep going because you'll realize that there sometimes isn't a choice. Your mom can't pick up the phone and excuse you from a few days of real life. After all, you're the mom now.
As a teenager, how your mother would pick up your notebooks, your shoes, glare at them and sigh before informing you that these were the best years of your life. They weren't. Even now, they weren't, let's be real. But the funny thing about it all is that the best years of your life will simultaneously be your worst: you'll be living your dream watching your son grow up while falling asleep to the same nightmare of your daughter not being here. But your son will keep you going. He will be your sun, your moon, your stars, your oxygen, your reason for being able to feel anything at all. And how much you will feel. How much energy he will give you, how much laughter, how much frustration; how every bit of it makes you feel lucky.
And underneath the pile of sympathy cards and the baby book that you'll never be able to finish filling out, you will feel lucky to have had her, too, even if you have to spend your life feeling sad that she couldn't stay.