My Fourteenth Summer by Janie Gunn

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My Fourteenth Summer

Dear round gold-rimmed glasses
and a bob that doesn’t suit.
Dear bootcut jeans.
Dear paper rounds
and wanting to be famous.
Dear Kit Kat Chunkies
and Sabrina the teenage witch.
Dear 1998,
the Backstreet Boys,
South Park,
J17 and
Haribo spelly-jellies.

This is a year of discovery.
A summer of not sleeping.

Dear staying up all night laughing,
changing the lyrics to songs you hated
on Nikki’s bedroom floor;
painting hearts on your skin with nail polish,
pretending they were tattoos.
Listening to late night lovesongs on the radio
between 11 and 2,
sending in faxes to hear them read out
your fake names,
your fictional love stories –
remember that time you signed yourself as Jesus
(with a trademark)
and laughed until you wept when they said
it’s amazing who listens to this show nowadays.

You practice writing love letters in the back of the car.
Keep those ones secret
— no one needs to know they are really to yourself.

Your heart is too loud for your ribcage already,
so here is a name to cross off its list:
She won’t do you one single favour
and there is grief in every strand of her hair.
Run away from that girl,
run as fast as you can.
(It’s ok. I know you won’t. You never could
say no to someone who said
they needed you.
That’s ok too.)

You’re going to pick up those scissors with the
peeling flakes of dirt on their blades
and score your frustration into your own arm this summer,
because you read about self-harm
in between the pages of Bliss magazine
(the April 1998 edition)
and you thought it sounded awful,
and ugly
and desperate,
and you feel awful today,
and ugly
and desperate.
If I could reach back and hold you through this, I would,
but I wouldn’t take that blade from between your fingers.
Not everything that’s awful, ugly, and desperate
has to also be bad.
And habits can be broken just as easily as they are made.

Don’t think about kissing her.
Save that up like pocket money.
You’re not ready for it

Your friend Jo has an e-mail address
— you think you should have one too, but
you’re not too sure why when all you really want is
a flat stomach, a navel piercing, and a boyfriend you didn’t make up:
the holy trinity of being cool,
being worthy; being what everyone wants.

This is the year you discover masturbation,
and although you won’t get it down to a fine art
until next summer,
you’re exploring, and that’s bold
and it’s lovely.
Ignore them when they say it’s dirty
or unnatural.
They’re lying. Keep exploring your jungles,
my little warrior.

Here’s a thing:
mum bought you a coat in spring:
from New Look.
You’ve never had a fashionable coat before and
it was on sale.
I wore that coat last week
on my way
to teach a class of people older than you.
I am the woman who grows
from your scars and
your dreams
and all the cells who fight your corner
on the days when you want to pour poison down your throat this summer
when you’re fourteen
and the world is too big,
too clumsy with your fragile soul.

I wear that coat with joy because it reminds me
that the root of my skull
grew straight from your brave spine.
Let me tell you something
which no one else says to you
the year you are fourteen:

I am so proud of you.

Janie Gunn

Janie is a wrestler of mental demons who uses poetry in her warrior’s toolkit. She believes wholeheartedly in friendship, love, and the all-healing power of tea. When not writing poems of her own, she helps young people to navigate, fall for, and find their own stories hiding in other people’s.