Tag Archives: high school

Carry him in your pocket.

Dear Eilis,

Last night, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my best friend’s car, parked halfway inside my driveway, I wrestled with the idea of losing a father.

I don’t know how we ended up at that table, hammering hope into regret, but I think I know where it began.

At the tail end of 2003, when funerals were for the movies. When, six months before, a motorcycle accident was the closest some of us had come to saying goodbye. Back then I learned to hate the number 13.

So when, that same year, I spent the 13th of December learning that the world did, in fact, keep rotating on its axis while sixty or seventy preteen girls sniffled and sobbed on either side of me, I started toying with that idea of losing a father. A fourth father, perhaps, if I counted them right.

The Father I read about in books.

The man who named me. Who held me when I was just the length of his forearm. Who worried I’d never be bigger, grow stronger, if my mother didn’t write down every ounce of food I ate.

The man who held me and my sister to his chest on Sunday mornings as people filed out of wooden doors on either side of us, stumbling down red velvet stairs, whispering to Please Be Good For Your Parents This Week, OK?

And then this man. The one who taught me lessons every afternoon. Who looked after me long before he had a daughter of his own. Long before he never got the chance to hold her in his arms or look her in the eyes or dance at her wedding to Butterfly Kisses after Midnight Prayers to Father Nos. 1 & 3.

I have a feeling your father took the pieces of 1, 2, 3 & 4 and threaded them together. Piece by piece. Heartstring by heartstring.

And as you jump from one lily pad to the next, fumbling for your balance, I know it seems near impossible to land correctly without his hand stretched out to steady you. I know how it feels when you’ve never felt too good at this whole Life thing, this whole Change thing, this whole New thing, and he has always had your back. The perfect words when you fall on the floor.

And then, in a flash, he slides the cushion out from under your feet and whisks away to someplace else. Someplace that’s Gone far away.

I know it. So badly. Know the tears that last for hours as everyone says how wonderful he was, how it is such a shame to see him go so soon.

But I want you to know this: I believe in angels.

I see his eyes and his smile in the photos of his daughter sitting in a card from his mother, a woman who hung through pregnancy and grief all at the same time, just two weeks of We’re In This Together before his car smashed itself into the road and left her alone, holding out for the baby he left her to love.

He was my Father No. 4 for six years, the one I spent the most time with. The only one who never did the leaving. No, no, that was my job. Until, one day, it wasn’t. Until, one day, he didn’t show up for practice, to steady my balance on the wooden beam, to catch my flailing limbs when I smacked onto the ground.

Your dad is up there, hands on his knees, watching you from the sidelines of life. He’s in your smile and your eyes and the way that you carry yourself from this lily pad to the next. He is right here, right inside you, right where you can always keep him close.

And he’s not going anywhere. He’s left you with his words and his heart and his love. For you to take and spin into something wonderful, something he would have loved, with this next chapter in your book.

Carry him in your pocket. Unfold his words like roads on a map. Trace the outline of your smile and see his love in the corners of your eyes.

It is there. No matter where you position yourself on this Earth. He’s there.


Note: Eilis lost her father two years ago. She’s graduating high school, jumping into college life, and needs your words. Want to write to her? You’ve got until June 5.

Let her dance across notebook pages and down abandoned hallways. Let her breathe.

Note: This post is part of More Love Letters’ 12 Days of Love Letter Writing. Today’s love letter recipient is Hannah, a 16-year-old girl who’s dealt with bullying and forgotten she’s somebody beautiful and talented. We would love to have you write Hannah your very own letter and mail it in. The details are on the MLL blog (linked above). Gather your friends, your travel mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows, and take a road trip to the good ole Target for some stationery. *The Seven Simple Lessons Learned from Strangers turned Friends will return on Monday.

Hannah. Hannah. Hannah. You are a blessed girl.

You and I were spun from the same spool of thread, meant to shine in the windowsill of some corner craft store. Instead, you ended up as a sweater shipped across the country.

You were born to know the world beyond the department store. To never settle for the pokes and jabs and taunts that stretch you thin and unravel the heart stitched into your sleeve.









It is easy to be bold, a whirlwind of kaleidoscope colors, when you are small, still fierce, so hungry. Eyes open to the beauty of falling October leaves and crisp April rosebuds. It is hard, I know, to retain that wild passion and “no, I will not apologize” attitude when the first bullet punctures your sparkly sweater stripes.

But I have a little secret for you, Hannah. One that extends beyond all the generic globs of Google gibberish you can load and scan and download and print and tack on the bulletin board above your desk. (You can do that, too, but this little nugget is just for you.)

I know two Hannahs in this world, and between the Hs on the end-caps of their names, you can learn all you need to know about shining and creating and staying so true to the beautiful individual you are.

The first is twenty-three. And though I’ve never reached for her hand when jaywalking in New York traffic or sat across from her in a coffee shop, I know she has your heart in her FiloFax listing somewhere. She has your back. Your whole self, if you need it.

She taught me that the best people in this world have been put through the ringer and come out stronger. Come out not throwing punches at their opponents but looking for the lumpy sweaters who feel a bit underappreciated, a bit too clearanced. And then, those strong souls remind the sweaters how to dust off and sit pristinely on the shelf, patient for someone to love their soft selves.

You, I promise, are no exception. You are meant to create create create. To drum up beauty where there was once only dirt and pain. You are the light at the end of someone else’s tunnel.

The second Hannah is nineteen. She’s an artist, like yourself, and quite possibly among the smartest people I know. She sees this world in dark tints and thinks deeper than most, and every pencil mark, every brush stroke, documents and understands this chaotic world. Her art breathes life into what otherwise might be dead.

You, like her, should never apologize for your talents, your desire to be true to you. You have a girl deep inside and maybe you’re terrified she’ll escape, but if Hannah #2 has taught me anything, it’s that there is no alternative other than to let the real Hannah escape. Let her dance across notebook pages and down abandoned hallways. Let her breathe.

Loneliness will creep up on you. The world’s gonna make sure of that. But I believe you’re ready to beat it, and I believe you want to.

Hannah, you are the sweater on the shelf afraid no one’s coming to pick you up because somewhere along the sweat shop assembly line, some worker whispered that there was something not quite right about you. But the truth, coming from a fellow sweater, is that you are just seeking out the perfect moment to be scooped up and checked out.

You are not going to hang in a closet. You’ll be the sweater worn five days a week, the comfort on a rainy April afternoon and a blustery October evening.

You were meant to remind this big bad world that sweaters can be gentle and wild, worn and torn and tattered with love.

You keep your heart on your sleeve and remember that you are absolutely, unapologetically beautiful.


You define your rock bottom. (And other words of encouragement for my 16-year-old self.)

My sister’s best friend told me about this exercise. Write a letter to yourself 5 years ago, she said. At first, I thought she meant in 5 years but how could I possibly know what to tell my 26-year-old self? I can’t. If I knew that, my life would be boring.

Dear 16-year-old Kaleigh,

A lot will happen in five years. Plenty more than you will ever anticipate.

You’ll want to forget to be strong and beautiful. Don’t. You’ll want to take the phrase “spiraling out of control” and tuck it in your back pocket for easy access. Throw that phrase away. It’s too severe for your life. You’re better than it.

Don’t let the calluses you worked hard to build be erased under fresh patches of red-pink skin ready for the world to burn them.

You’ll fret over almost dates. Let me tell you: they weren’t real.

Just because a boy likes you doesn’t mean you have to like him. Figure out if it’s him or the idea of him and be honest. He deserves that.

Don’t dread first kisses. And don’t share them either. Let them happen in the moment. But if you must be direct, you better have a freaking amazing reason. He better be shipping off somewhere.

Learn something from every friendship. Any of your relationships, really. Take a small lesson from the way your best friend falls in love with a boy, giving over her whole heart, and don’t think she’s weak.

If you hate the whole traditional dating scene so much, find an alternative.

Don’t hate meeting people because some of them never become good friends. That’s how all relationships are: hard work. Figure out what you expect from a friend and find it. Don’t settle. Ever.

Don’t let anyone push you around or claim you’re less than capable. Listen with one ear and prove them wrong so you can hear their jaws drop with the other ear.

Stop being a martyr. You are a teenager, for God’s sake. If someone upsets you, tell them. You’re too afraid of being honest. It’s not a disease. You can’t always be the nice one anyway.

If you’re going to be in love, be in love. Don’t half-ass it.

That said, if you care about someone, they better know. You’re an excellent time waster.

Going to college 300 miles away is not an excuse for losing touch with people in your life. Even if there’s not yet an app for that.

Hold onto the friends who leave you voicemails that make you laugh on the way to the parking garage after a long day on campus.

Suck every second out of those long days. Going to bed at 9pm is for the sick and the elderly. You are neither.

Your life is not a Sorry! game board. Change doesn’t mean going back to start. It means potential. Try new things. You will have 14 beginnings in 5 years. Embrace them and throw yourself into each one. You didn’t do enough of that.

You define your rock bottom. Remember that always. Don’t fall into the Grand Canyon. Remember the parachute is strapped to your back. I know you tend to lose things. Car keys, shoes, yourself.

And above all, never lose sight of who you are. Who you always were. Today. Tomorrow. In ten years.

Love that girl forever.

21-year-old Kaleigh

Dear WSJ, you've forgotten about childhood.

When I read the book review written by the Wall Street Journal about teen literature, I wanted to scream. Take my laptop and chuck it out the window. Let it land in the hard earth beneath my second-story window and smash into two pieces.

But I knew that wouldn’t accomplish anything. I knew that my best bet, or my better one at least, would be to march straight up to the offices in New York and let the journalists know something fundamental:

That there are two types of educators.

There are those we recognize each year for outstanding achievements. For helping a child learn to speak English or bridging a relationship between two people using sign language. For crossing boundaries with test scores and setting the bar higher.

And then there are those who open our eyes by exposing the world’s injustices. Those who write stories of families who don’t function the same as the ones we see standing on the cover of real estate catalogs. Teens whose hearts break in the middle of the school hallway when the person they love kisses someone else in front of their locker between classes. Kids whose first lesson in separation is not going to sleepover camp but learning how to pack a bag to transition between a mother and father’s houses each weekend.

And I’m concerned the Wall Street Journal doesn’t know that. Or, if I’m giving those journalists the benefit of the doubt, I’d say this:

“You’ve forgotten. You’ve forgotten about childhood.”

“What are you talking about? Of course we haven’t.”

“It’s okay,” I’ll tell them. “That’s what we’re here for. To remind you.”

“We don’t need to be reminded. We remember. That’s why we’re doing this.”

“That’s why?” I’ll shake my head at the floor and wait for them to backtrack and say it’s not true.

They won’t.

“Yes,” they’ll say. “We’re trying to keep kids thinking positively. Clearly. They have enough problems.”

Kids have enough problems. They don’t need us to stack the problems of the protagonist from their favorite novel on top of the family issues and fights between friends and therapy sessions. They just need to pretend that life really is guaranteed to come tailor made with a white picket fence.

They need a promise that tomorrow will be better.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have forgotten that that’s why we write these stories. That’s why we breathe life into these characters whose problems might, at times, frighten us.

We need to remember that change is possible. That these stories and these problems are real, yes, but the transformation within them is, too.

Being a teen sucks. And maybe that sounds juvenile but that’s exactly what your 15-year-old son or daughter will tell you. Your heart will break for a thousand different reasons and not all of them have to start with a crush. Not all of the heartbreaks have to take up permanent residence in their bodies.

Some of them can be healed.

Some of them can be exposed for what they are and worked through and someone in this world’s got to shine light on those situations. Someone’s got to believe in the lost causes.

“Maybe,” I’d tell those journalists, “that’s our job. To write what’s real and make it better. To give these kids hope. Do you want to cut down their hope?”

And I’ll stand in front of these professionals with tears streaming down my eyes because I’m scared they won’t understand. I’m scared they don’t want to.