Dear Teen Me from author Shaunta Grimes (VIRAL NATION)

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Dear Shaunta:

Here I am at LAX and there you are, sitting in a hard, molded chair next to a huge window. Because I used to be you, I know that inside you are begging your mother not to let you get on the plane you can see sitting outside waiting for you. You are screaming at her without moving a muscle or making a sound.

She looks just as miserable as I know you feel. Somehow I didn't notice that the first time I was here. I want to hug her-maybe even make that the whole point of this whole thing-and tell her that I forgive her for letting me go. She'll die before I find the fullness of that forgiveness and that will hurt for the rest of our life.

You and I-we both know that all you have to do is open your mouth and say you don't want to go back to the place you ran away from three days ago. She will keep you with her. She'll put you in a good school and your sister will be your best friend again. You won't have to work full time, doing your homework on your breaks. You won't have to spend your free time trying to figure out how to make six frozen burritos feed seven kids anymore.

But you can't open your mouth. Even now, sitting there with "don't make me go" shredding your insides, you know the real problem is that this shouldn't be your decision. This is what you'll finally figure out, when you're a mother yourself, that will lead to that fully-formed forgiveness: She can't open her mouth either. She is afraid that if she does, she'll lose you for good. Maybe she's even more afraid than you are, because at least this is your decision.

I picked this place and this moment for a reason. Not so that I can somehow force you to speak. So that I can tell you that, even though this shouldn't have been something you had the choice to do, it was the right thing in the end.

There are a few things though, that I'd like you to know:

Everything good in your life, from age 16 to age 41, stems from this moment. And there is so much good.

This is the worst of it. It gets better from here. In 25 years, you will not ever come close to feeling as awful as you do sitting there in that airport chair. Not that everything is perfect for the rest of your life, but you get stronger when you get on the plane back to Las Vegas.

That boy that is at the secret heart of why you're going back? In a few years, you'll marry him. He is going to break your heart, but in the end, you get the very best of that relationship. The very, very best.

Keep reading. It's okay to get lost in books. That's where you feel safe and there isn't anything wrong with that. Falling in love with stories makes all the difference in the end.

Hang in there, kid. You got this.

Shaunta Grimes has worked as a substitute teacher, a newspaper reporter, a drug court counselor, and a vintage clothing seller. No matter which direction she strays, however, she always comes back to storytelling. She lives in Reno with her family, where she writes, teaches, and perpetually studies at the University of Nevada. VIRAL NATION is her debut traditionally-published novel.

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