Yes, Teenagers are kind of alien. I think it is something built into the human transitional phase that is kind of healthy. We need to experience this metamorphosis in order to emerge on the other side. It is my role as a "Guide" that I ponder. I do not want to throw up my hands and say "Oh, Teenagers - You Know How they Are!". I struggle with the distance to maintain, while never abandoning her to the durm and strang of being a teen.
One of the intriguing ideas that I have been grappling with following the Thursday evening discussion of The Burn Journals is my awareness of which “voice” I am reading.
Like many others in the group, I found myself frustrated at times with Brent's subtle refusal to look inwards as to why he attempted suicide, as well as his non-cooperative attitude towards the therapists who were attempting to draw these reasons out into the open. In my “adult reader” voice, I felt annoyed that Brent had so clearly cried out for help through the suicide attempt, and yet seemed to actively resist the help that he had finally attracted. Towards both his family members and his doctors, Brents inability to be honest about his motivations – while simultaneously taking pleasure in the attention he drawn to himself strikes my “adult reader” as incredibly self centered and solipsist.
However, once I have recognized that my irritation is coming from my reaction as an adult and parent, I must step back and look further into the source of that anger.
What is it about this young man and his internal dialogue that is rubbing me the wrong way?
If I examine Brent's story from the reading perspective of “teen Dawn”, I must admit some uncomfortable similarities in thinking. I, like Brent, believed that my events and tribulations were all encompassing and ever lasting. No mean comment, no heartbreak, no bad grade was ever going to be able to be overcome. Everything was all or nothing.
In fact, while preparing for the Picture Essay, I re-read my high school journals and was struck by the rollercoaster of my emotions. While the 38 year old woman wanted to reach through those pages and soothe the 17 year old girl, tell her that things aren't that bad, and that she IS lovely and talented and smart....I couldn't. In reading those entries in my own journal, I could once again acutely feel the turmoil of my feelings.
Frankly, the adult in me didn't like it very much. I didn't like looking backwards into that space and feeling so powerless, so out of control, and so self isolated. Upon taking up the mantle of adult, I have prided myself on my problem solving skills, my calm and my ability to weather storms. Seeing my inner teenage self laid so bare was viserally uncomfortable. I had left that person behind, and Brents' story brought her back into the spotlight of my gaze.
If I view Brents memoir through the lens of “teen Dawn”, I recognize the confusion, the lack of ability to describe the “why” of my actions. I believe that Brent is being truthful when he states that he simply doesn't know why he lit himself on fire, beyond being the result of a series of decisions which don't make a lot of sense. I believe that the pain he caused himself, and as an extension his family, seemed like a reasonable trade off to Brent at the time he did it. He made his inner pain external. Brent made it impossible for anyone to deny that he was hurting, all the while denying it himself.
This is where my discomfort lay. My role as parent steps in to reasure my inner voice that I would always know my child, and would certainly know if she was so deeply unhappy. My “teen Dawn” voice pipes up and tells me that I would ( and did) hide the depth of my despair carefully from the adults in my life. As an adult, I want to believe that I have control over my world and the people in it.
Brent's memoir, and it's connection with the inner voice of the teenage Dawn, reminds me that I don't have control, nor are there always concrete reasons for individuals behaviors.