A while ago, I joined the Into the Fire street team for Kelly Hashway.
I’m always cautious joining street teams, because I’ve joined a few and then ended up not liking the book.
Then it gets awkward.
But Into the Fire has turned out different. I’ll actually be posting my review very soon. But let’s just say that memory plays a big part in it.
In fact, here’s the synopsis if you’d like to read it. It might offer some context as to why this is relevant to the book.
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“In one month’s time, seventeen-year-old Cara Tillman will die and be reborn from her own ashes…
Her life of secrecy has never been easy. She’s watched her younger brother, Jeremy, burn and rise again in a coming-of-age process called rebirth. And just like her brother, when her time comes, she won’t remember anything from her first life other than she’s a Phoenix—a member of a small group of people descended from the mythical Phoenix bird.
The last thing she needs to worry about is falling for the new guy in town—Logan Schmidt.
Cara is drawn to Logan in a way she can’t explain, but she’s not exactly complaining. Everything is perfect…except it’s not. Once she’s reborn, she’ll forget Logan. And to make things worse, a Phoenix Hunter is on the loose, and Cara’s involvement with Logan is bringing out her Phoenix qualities—the very qualities that will draw the Hunter right to her.
Desperate times call for desperate measures…
Afraid of hurting Logan, Cara breaks it off for good. But her attraction to him runs deeper than a typical high school crush. She wants him—needs him. And if he proves willing to stay by her side, their love might destroy them both.
Can Cara hide from the Phoenix Hunters long enough to survive her rebirth? And if so, will it mean a new beginning with Logan—or the beginning of the end?”
The author decided to post a Dear Teen Me letter, from Jeremy’s perspective, Cara’s little brother who loses his memory after his rebirth.
So, the street team decided to do Dear Teen Me posts for publicity. I was super intrigued by this idea. I’ve been thinking about doing one of these, but for whatever reason it never occurred to me to do a digital version and publish it on the blog.
I decided to jump for it. It kind of just spilled out of me. It was sad, but ultimately writing it felt great. Here it is:
Dear teen me,
I have thought about writing this letter for a good time now. I actually agonized over it. It’s not that I didn’t know what to say. I did know what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know how to say it.
I’m still not sure I know how to say it.
I don’t even know where to begin. But if I don’t write this now, I never will. Let’s face it, I just turned 21 that’s as good an age as any to write a letter to your teen self. But how do you write about so much with such little space?
In eighth grade, you were a preteen. But for the sake of reference, I’m starting here. So dear 13 year old me, You are going to agonize over your science project. You are going to procrastinate and drag your feet.
But something amazing is going to happen. You’re going to sit down, get that project done, and in the end, you’ll win 2nd place at the school science fair.
You’re going to take a leap of faith and win a gold medal at the county science fair.
You don’t even like science, but you go to the state science fair (where you will win nothing.)
But when you won that gold medal at the county fair, something happened to you. Or rather, a thought happened to you.
You stood with the medal, smiled as a brace face with tired eyes. You’ll eat ice cream in celebration, with your mother, father and sister.
You’ll float on air all the way home. You’ll show your medal to Granny and Papa who lives next door. He has Alzheimer’s, he’s taken a recent turn for the worse. But all that matters right now, is that he recognizes you, and he’s proud.
You skip along the property and you hug the horses. All fuzzy and warm…and dusty. They are your best friends and you wouldn’t be able to sleep without sharing this happiness with them.
Your mom is going to insist on taking a photo. You let her.
And right after the flash goes off, you’ll realize, that at this moment, you are on top of the world. It could only possibly get worse from here.
You were so right. You had no idea how right you were.
Sometime soon, you’ll read this quote from Stephen King
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
It will deeply resonate with you, and it will instantly be your favorite quote. Nearly a decade later, it still will be.
I don’t know how to say this, about what comes next. This is the hard part.
Over the next eight years, many close to you will die. Beloved pets will die. So will two grandparents and one great aunt and one great uncle. Life will be extremely harsh on you. Your best friends will be animals. Your only human friends will be your sister and father, and two girls who live thousands of miles away.
You will get sick. Really sick. You wonder if this is it. If it’s the beginning of the end. If maybe your doctors from childhood were right, and you won’t live to see 16.
It sort of is the end.
just not in the permanent way you think. You’ll be in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals. You’ll have three (or was it four?) surgeries.
Slowly, you’ll start feeling a bit better….physically. Mentally, you are on a downhill mudslide. After one of those surgeries, your horse will die. Yes, the one you rescued from a metal scrap yard. Your best friend. Please, just keep breathing.
You won’t know what to do with your life and the pressure will be so great. You agonize, and agonize. One day, your father will find you and you will hug him like a boa constrictor. Your hot tears will soak his shirt. You will cry for two and a half hours straight.
A week after your sixteenth birthday, you’ll nearly commit suicide. Finally, you’ll confess to your father. You don’t dare tell your mother. You know he’ll tell her for you.
And she’ll tell you it’s a phase. She’ll tell you it’s normal.
You’ll cry yourself to sleep, and ask yourself how all the other teens deal with it. The answer is, they don’t. You were right, it wasn’t normal.
Dad doesn’t know that that’s what she told you. He doesn’t know that the issue wasn’t resolved. He won’t know until you’re nearly twenty. Eventually, you will start to think that your mom is possibly destructive. But you will say nothing. (It’s not mean, it’s true. But even at 21, you’ll still love her, but in a way that’s healthier for you.)
You’ll think you’re an ungrateful. You’ll think, I have a roof over your head. I have a bed, blanket, parents…food. Why am I not okay?
You’ve been emotionally wounded too many times to count. Told: You dress like a boy. T-shirts all the time. You never change your hair. Why do you fixate on creepy things?… You get told that you don’t know how to take a joke. You think that’s true. You’ll wonder if you ever will know how to tell a joke from an insult or something completely unrelated. (at 21, it’s still a tossup, sometimes you still won’t be able to tell.)
You’ll wake up early to do chores, and go to bed late after journaling and thinking too much. You think, was I born broken? You think that you feel too deep, too much. Hurts hurt more than they should. Sadness weighs worse than it should. Why do all these crush down on me from all angles? Music makes you feel. So do movies, so do books. You don’t know how to cope.
You write all this down, journal, journal, journal. You speculate as to what could be wrong. Are you mentally ill? But mom’s a nurse, she would surely know if I needed help. Or would she? You’ll let the tears loose in those dozen journals.
One day, you find your grandmother reading your journal.
You don’t journal after that
You start cutting, self-harming. It becomes part of your survival.
You just cry. You get tired of secrets, both the loud ones, and the whispers. The ones you know about and the ones you don’t.
It’s one of the secrets you don’t know that nearly destroys you.
It nearly destroys the entire family. You go on, and on. Day after day. Just. Keep. Breathing.
You get up, looking forward to going back to sleep. The sun rises, just to fall. You look at the stars every night. They inspire you. Close up, they are chaotic balls of fire. But they are entities so calm from afar. So sure, so unmoving, and reliable. Lost people used to look to them for direction. I was lost. I knew these stars could not tell me how or where to find myself. But I looked to them for calmness anyway.
Finally, the string of floss keeping you together will snap. It makes your family snap. A proverbial bomb goes off. You look at this painted life and you love the view, you just can give your life for what it’s made of.
You realize you have to choose you. You choose to leave everything behind. It nearly kills you. You will have to leave all but one of your animals. You know your sister won’t trust you anymore. She’s close like a twin, but probably never will be again. But you will learn how to cope. You will live. That’s when the real you shows up.
A shattered survivor. The old you, the one you desperately clung to, has burned to ashes. You’ll learn that fire ashes aren’t black, they are white.
White like hope and wholeness and snow.
After a few failed attempts, You’ll run away. Like a cinder in the wind.
You take nothing but a bag of clothes, two boxes of books and a cat (a male cat, named Agne.) Your dad follows you because he loves you, and he knows you’ll choose to be homeless if he doesn’t.
Within a week you find a humble apartment. It’s enough. A roof, a bed, and food to eat.
You’ll cry every day for a year and a few months. You’ll get help. You start to recover. Recovering takes an eternity but at least it will start. For a while, you will sleep 22 hours a day. You still just breathe. You still get up, just to go to sleep. The sun rises, just to fall again.
For that year and a few months, Life just is.
What I want to tell you, teen me, is that you need not doubt yourself so much. You are smarter than you realize. Braver, too.
Weigh advice before you take it, and trust your instincts. Get help, from your dad. Most will make you believe you are the problem. You aren’t. Confess everything. Let yourself cry. Be blunt in the truth. Your truth. Perception is a thing, but perception is never a lie.
Choose not to perpetuate lies. It will consume your heart like tar. You’ll stop smiling like the girl next door. You’ll answer truthfully when people ask how you are. It will feel like freedom. Communicate, always. There’s no such thing as over-communication.
Healing & love? eventually you’ll find both. No journey is point A straight to point B. You’ll find things inside yourself you never knew existed.
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself closer to point A. Don’t fret, sometimes you’ll be much farther along in the alphabet than point B.
Eventually, you’ll realize that it doesn’t take bravery to survive. Surviving is the bravery. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Don’t let anyone make you feel different.
Eventually, you’ll see the world a little different, most of the time.
You’ll breath without thinking. You’ll go to sleep, to wake up in a new day. The sun will fall, only to rise. You’ll still look at the stars, but only for wonder. You already have their calmness inside you.
Stephen King was right. Sometimes the monsters inside us win.
But sometimes, we win too.