We’re only as powerful as the compelling stories we’re brave enough to tell. So, join me. Be fearless. And together, we can change the world–or at least our little slice of it.”
– Keith, creator of The Pillow Talk Project
As a creative writing educator, I spend a lot of time teaching students and other adults how to discover their own stories through written reflection and performance. This has been very important to The Pillow Talk Projectbecause many of the interview questions and topics I explore come from my own personal reflection process.
In this case, I found myself tossing and turning all night, wrestling with feelings of shame, regret, and helplessness. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went to my office space, brewed a cup of Almond Vanilla tea, and started writing with the goal of answering one question:
“If I could say anything to my younger self, what would I say, and when would I say it?”
Below is my letter. I learned while writing that the time I wanted to go back to was when I was six years old, which is around the time I first started crying myself to sleep…
Dear Six-Year-Old Keith,
Only I know how many times you’ve gone to bed crying, wishing to be better than what you turned out to be. At this age, you’ve just moved to a new place. And although mom is a superhero, you see that even she can’t protect you from everything–or shall I say everyone. I know how different you feel from those around you. I know how you wish you could fit in; everyone else makes it look so easy. For some reason you can’t. And you don’t know why.
Only I know that if you could be what everyone wanted you to be, you would. You’d walk more like a boy, if someone could teach you how to banish the swish in your hips. You’d play football and basketball, if someone would teach you how to not throw like a girl. You wouldn’t cry out in pain when people hit you, if someone could teach you how to get used to the fact that men experience pain but aren’t allowed to show it. But everywhere you look, you keep coming up short.
Only I know what you really want right now, and what you’ll want up until you turn 27. A friend. Someone that’s brave enough to know you in and out. Someone that can see through the dozens of walls you’ve erected to protect yourself from feeling anything at all. A friend. Someone who knows that you have two types of smiles: the one meant to make everyone else happy, and the one that means you’re actually happy. Someone that isn’t afraid to touch you, hug you, and tell you everything will be okay–and you actually believe them. Someone you don’t have to protect yourself against.
Only I know what you really want right now, and what you’ll want up until you turn 27… A friend. Someone who knows that you have two types of smiles: the one meant to make everyone else happy, and the one that means you’re actually happy.
Most importantly, only I know that at this tender age, you’ve learned to hate yourself because you have a secret: You like girls. You like boys. You like anyone brave enough to like you. And you cry because it feels wrong. You’ve prayed to Jesus and every other god to take it away. But none of them will listen, even though you’ve repented and tried your best to be a good boy.
Because of this secret, I know you’ve dreamt about a world without you in it. A world where your mom could have pursued her dreams and finished college, instead of having to suffer to feed you. A world where you didn’t make everyone around you so angry that they had to use you as a punching bag.
It’s taken me all night to build up the courage to write this letter to you because I was scared–a lot like you are right now as you stare at the ceiling in the dark while the tears collect on your pillow. But I think I can finally say what I need to say to you: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to protect you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to show you that you’re enough.
But if you can stay strong, keep your head up, and survive, I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line. Don’t let what they say or do to you break you. And know that it’s okay to cry. It means you can feel. It means you can eventually love. And although I’m not perfect at showing my love for other people yet, I’m committed to being better at showing my love for you. I hope one day you’ll forgive me. I promise to do better by you.
You’ve read my letter, and I hope you either learned something new about me or yourself. But don’t stop there. I challenge you to write a letter of your own, answering the same question. And when your’e done, you can send it to me directly via a message or you can share an excerpt in the comments section below.
We’re only as powerful as the stories we’re brave enough to tell. So, join me. Be fearless. And together, we can change the world–or at least our little slice of it.