Teen Talk: Emilio Chayo
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Once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old boy. The boy learned that, because of how his cards had been dealt, he wouldn’t be starting school at the same time as his friends. He felt sad, but most importantly he felt powerless, for this was a situation that he had no help in solving. He was along for a ride—a ride that was forced onto him—and he had no say in where he was going or how fast they were getting there. So he did the only thing he could think of: He took his blanket, he grabbed his phone, and he did his best to wait out the ride. More often than not, he found himself asking the driver when exactly they were going to get off. He was much more of a seven year-old than he wanted to admit.
A week came, a week went, and another, and another… and then a full month had gone by. The boy would still ask when would he arrive at his destination. He had been sad before, but never to the point where he’d cry himself to sleep for one reason or another—he just could not see when life was going to start again. Two, three months went by and he realized that he wouldn’t be joining his classmates that year, but worse than that, he would not be joining anybody’s classmates for a whole year. Needless to say, the boy experienced grief like he never had before. He didn’t have the highest self-esteem before this, or the greatest confidence in his abilities, and by this point, he didn’t feel like he had any self-worth left.
As you can probably tell, that boy is me. Less than three months ago, I had become such a shallow, hollow, somber individual, my face showed physical changes. Put yourself in my shoes: You’re sixteen, having a complete existential crisis, believing that everyone hates you… what would you do? You hold it in, right? So that’s what I did—I held it all in. That was my way of dealing with the situation, because every time I opened my mouth, people responded with: “Don’t worry! At least [insert bad stuff] isn’t happening! Things will get better!”
Things. Will. Get. Better.
Hearing this really stung. Yet, somehow, part of me told me—screamed at me—that life would set itself back on the right track. This went on for months; I felt low, but I felt the voice telling me that things would get better. Up until two months ago, negativity had been crashing on the imaginary couch in my mind for so long; I felt like nothing else existed. I became a machine, having a set routine which I followed everyday, without any sort of emotion or thinking behind it. A zombie, if you will.
One cold January night, in the midst of my daily routine of playing video games until midnight, some truly wonderful people gave me a reality check. All of the emotions I had worked hard on running away from showed me just how much faster they could run. They came to haunt me. I had fallen very low, so low, I could not recognize myself in my actions anymore. That day I took a blank notebook and began writing. I wrote about my situation, about my desperation, about having nobody to talk to; I wrote to myself. I wrote to me, in the hopes that I would be able to hang onto the letter so that the Emilio Chayo, reading in a year—or even five, ten, twenty, down the road, could re-experience some of the emotion I felt in that moment, and make him remember that no matter how bad it gets, we had gone through this road before. That day I made a vow to myself: I was not able to live life to the extent that I wanted, but I was going to make sure that the person five years down the road had whatever he needed to live, not only for himself, but for both of us. Apart from this promise I made, I made a handy little list— list with the values and principles with which I would live my life. Honesty, responsibility, integrity, and kindness. For each of these, I wrote down what they mean to me and why they were so important for me to uphold.
I wish I could tell you that the next day I broke up with negativity and found a new relationship with positivity, the likes of which I had never experienced before, and I did! For a day… as you probably already know, thinking of something and actually going through with it are two different things. I wanted to be honest, responsible, and kind, but I did not have it in me. The emotions that caught up to me went away as fast as they showed themselves. Not a week later, I had slowly forgotten about the whole thing. That week was a pretty fun yet unremarkable, every day until that Friday afternoon. My best friend, who had invited me to hang out for the first time in months, had canceled our plan because he had not realized that a new guy from school was celebrating his birthday that same Saturday night. Yeah, feels bad man.
At the end of this hard week, Shabbat arrived. I felt like I had to happy because, hey, you can’t be upset on Shabbat! We were in the middle of prayer, and my mind was running wild; I had just lost my best friend. Up until then, in spite of everything I felt, of everything I had experienced, I refused to accept that I had nobody to rely on. Nobody who would not give up on me. On the verge of a total collapse, tears running down my cheeks, I felt my clothes strangling me. My first ever panic attack.
Then, in the middle of imagining myself alone in a room crying, thinking how it wasn’t fair that I never gave up on people, and yet everyone else had given up on me, out of nowhere, a bearded individual came up right to my side and he told me something so paradoxical, so out of the world, that it was just the thing I needed at the time, and that nobody else could ever give to me. He said: “I will never give up on you, because you never give up on anyone, not even yourself man.” I looked at him and I was able to see how old he looked. In his face you were able to make out how much the years had taken a toll on him. And yet, even with all the scars, marking his face, you were still able to make out his smile. He looked old, he looked wise, he looked sad, and he looked glad, but most importantly, he looked like me. Right then, I understood who he was. He was me, or the person I will become, or perhaps he is who I hope I will one day become.
This all happened inside my brain, in what was probably the span of a few minutes, but to me they felt like hours.
After that, I was able to pick myself up, with some G-d given strength. I made it through the prayers, and through the dinner and as I thought more and more about it, the better I felt. That night, a few hours later in my bed, I realized what transpired. My mind had experienced such negativity and sadness on that night, that it had come to the end, and couldn’t continue any longer. It went so far out into the negative it turned into a positive. Why that works, don’t ask me—I’m just along for the ride. The transformation began. That night set the ball rolling on a path that would be the complete opposite my mind took months before. I realized, nobody but me was ever going to be 100% of the time there for me, and that was okay. Most importantly tho, I re-learned something that I had lost. I learned that life was not going to wait around for me. Life had dealt me the cards and it was my job to make the most out of them, not to wait for life to surrender and let me win. I retook my life, and little by little, I started unpausing things. Once the ball was running there was no stopping. Today, after months, I am able to go to a school once again. I am able to learn and hang around people my age. Furthermore, I still give my little note of my values at least once every week, to ground myself and know why I do what I do in my day to day life.
Going to school with my classmates this year, was the single greatest thing that never happened. It gave me hopes and dreams, it ripped them off, it made me believe, it made me mad. But right now, the feeling that I’ve got, or just pure unadulterated happiness, makes it up for it all. You see, I took the fall and used it as a slingshot to shoot me off into a higher place than I ever was before, something I couldn’t have done if I had gone to school the last August. Much like my plot development, Judaism is about the same. We’ve fallen, we’ve climbed up, and the ladder was broken, multiple times. The world is divided, the people are at each other’s throats, and it does not seem like tomorrow is going to be much different. But, once we remind ourselves, once we relearn and reassure and use the slingshot, we’ll be able to overcome anything set our way.