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It was the Summer of ’99

The summer of 1999 I was preparing to be a senior in high school. I’d listlessly compiled the list of colleges I’d applied to, but my heart wasn’t in it. It was a hot summer, and I had an easy summer job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office. The dread of departure was starting to creep into the back of my mind. I didn’t love high school, but I loved my friends, and how they always got so philosophical late at night. I loved my house; the big kitchen that invited loitering, the spot in front of the window where we always put the Christmas tree, the little hiding places I’d chosen for when I wanted to be by myself. I loved my favorite pizza place; clicking on the metal top to my Snapple bottle while I waited for my slice to warm up.

So while there were many goodbyes I was already dreading, there was one I thought I couldn’t wait for: finally turning my back on the depression that I’d been in for almost two years. I don’t know what was playing on the radio as I drove to my last appointment with my therapist ““ Enrique Iglesias? Destiny’s Child? ““ but I know the windows were open and the late summer air was warm.

My therapist’s office was the next town over, and only once had I ever seen someone I knew when I walked in. It had been Katie, an aggressively popular girl in my grade, and she’d been walking out. Eye contact had been avoided, and no words exchanged. I’d paused before going in, gauging how I felt. It soon occurred to me that I wasn’t embarrassed that she saw me. I’d felt bad for her, she who supposedly had everything. And I’d felt a rush of empowerment in knowing what I now knew, and in knowing that I would never tell anyone.

My last therapy session was like something that would become familiar to me as life went on ““ a sort of professional goodbye. An exit interview. Our meetings had once been weekly, and intense. We’d talked about my depression, tomb that it was, or the cutting, how I’d gotten the idea to do it from, of all places, a fashion magazine. We’d worked on a skill that serves me well to this day: identifying toxic people, and extricating myself from them.

The appointments had become less frequent and less necessary. That’s why, a week before my senior year of high school began, I sat with her one last time. This time my eyes were wet from a simpler, purer pain: the pain of saying goodbye.

But it was time to go. My friends and I were about to go meet the rest of our class in the cafeteria for some school-sanctioned vandalism: drawing on the cafeteria windows with washable paint Seniors rule! Class of 2000! I had to go pick up my best friend. Later that day we’ll paint our names next to each others’ on the glass ““ above the others, almost near the ceiling. I was already afraid of losing touch after high school, but we won’t. After college we’ll move to the same city. Almost ten years after this day she’ll be the maid of honor at my wedding. (In her speech she’ll hold up a letter I’d given to her the night before she left for college.)

But first, to hug my therapist, to thank her. First the goodbye before so many goodbyes and reunions and hellos ahead of me. Those comings and goings that will come close to breaking the heart I’d always tried to protect. A thank you to my shrink, for bringing me back from the brink. For teaching me how to talk myself back from it on my own. And thank you to seventeen-year-old me. It’s going to get harder, it’s going to get easier, and it’s going to be worth it.

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