Dear Linda Gregerson,
I'm Tyler, a sophomore from New Hampshire. Your poem "Prodigal" touched me more than any other that I have read. The way you describe the cheery, young women in the beginning was absolutely mesmerizing. I pictured everything so vividly; her chipped blue nails, the way the sweat in her lashes reflects the sunlight, her half singing after getting out of the shower. What caught my attention most was the sympathy in your voice. Even as you spoke of a cheery girl having fun in her kitchen, you seemed sorry for her.
You then spoke of a girl who self harms, one my age. At that moment I knew I would write a letter to you. The reason this poem touched me is because I have been in a very similar place. The description of the way she hid her arms, I could only picture myself, in the same situation only a year ago. When I was in my room, ashamed of what I was doing, not able to express my feeling to anyone because they wouldn't understand.
You described her as a beautiful young girl. "Her skin was almost unworldly," a girl with soft, fragile looking skin. When you think of someone like that, it's like thinking of a beautiful actress; someone who is happy, kind. Someone that all other strive to be. With a beautiful young girl, no one would ever suspect her to be suffering. It scares me to think of all the girls, and boys for that matter, that are going through something similar. Your poem allows anyone who reads it to know how serious this issue is. It allows people, like me, to want to help out in any possible way. "Prodigal" has not only touched me emotionally, but also inspired me to want to take action.
Near the end of your poem, you mentioned how many people think they will deal with it in the morning, or at some other time. No one knows how severely these teens could be suffering. 'In the morning' could be too late, a 'nice breakfast' might not be enough. I love how you address this issue, that a child's suffering shouldn't be ignored. Ignoring or postponing an issue has its consequences, dealing with it as soon as possible could save them.
I want to thank you for writing something with such importance, something that could save some young adults from suffering on such an extreme level. Your poem was beautiful in a tragic way that will stay with everyone who reads it. Thank you for addressing an issue that more people need know about.
I am so very grateful for your letter, and your warm response to “Prodigal.” The poem was a difficult one for me to write, because it involved suffering that belonged to someone else, albeit someone very dear to me. I didn’t want to trespass, or to cause more pain. Self-harming behaviors are so complex, so entangled, as you say, in shame and secrecy, and of course that shame only compounds the original suffering.
I am very sorry to learn that you have been, as you say, in a similar place. Your letter is so articulate and self-aware—those are formidable strengths, and I can only hope that they have sustained you through the difficult times to which you refer. Certainly, turning outward to help others, as you describe, is the most positive thing to be made of personal hardship. Bravo to you for that resolution and for your compassion.
I am happy to report that the young girl about whom I wrote in “Prodigal” is now a strong and beautiful young woman. She is working on her PhD in chemistry! And I’m convinced she can conquer the world. She is also, as you intuit, immensely caring of other people. This world is a much better place because of people like her and you.
I send my very best wishes—