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melanie thernstrom: halfway heaven

halfway heaven cover
  introduction

Well, why am I writing this letter? Because I am desperate. Most of my days are long and boring that I drag through them with sigh after sigh. Even the days that I call happy are randomly pierced with pain, realizing that I am laughing standing on thin air. My problem is that I am not bonding with people. I do not make friends not even with my relatives.... I live in my own shell, afraid to reveal my personality and to express my opinions. Although it took me a long time to realize, I am very shy. I blush at every little thing....

The mention of Harvard might make you think, OK she is one of those successful people who made it in life. Unfortunately, I don't feel one tiny bit of the success. Despite the outward glory, I live in pain. All my life I have been plagued with social problems. All my life I have been wondering why I were not as happy or content as even the poorest or the stupidest girls that I have met in my life. I always felt insecure and lonely, especially ever since my father was sent to prison for two years. Starting from that time we were becoming financially poorer and poorer....

As far as I can remember my life has been hellish.... Year after year, I became lonelier and lonelier. I see friends deserting me. They would take every chance to show me that they did not have any love or respect for me. They made me sit by myself when we went for long school trips. I stared out the window while they had fun sitting together. I had to swallow my pride to start talking to them to prevent pitying looks from other students. All this time I was becoming an outstanding student and one not many people knew. High School turned out even worse. I got a scholarship to the best school in the country where the children of the very rich went in a country where the rich & poor could be told apart at one crazy glance. Day in and day out, I cried my head off; I was so lonely. If I went early or left late I would be roaming the yard and deserted hallways alone while other students roared with laughter and talked their hearts out standing in groups. Home was not a comforting place. I swallowed my pain and anguish just as my siblings did to theirs. I was so lonely. But I hung on tight because I wanted to come to the States in hope of a solution. The only way I could do it was through academic excellence, to get scholarship. So I made the best use of my empty days....

Now I don't care about the past.... [But] if I live, I want to be out there in the world. Just like those my age, I want to have friends, eat with friends, spend hours on the telephone, go to parties, and if ever possible, have boyfriends. But I find it so hard. When I am with a group of people, I keep so quiet (I have nothing to say) that I send chills through those who notice me. Then I cry when people forget about me, or dislike being with me. When I am with one person, I shake with nervousness fearing that we will run out of things to say and she or he will be bored. For math I had a teacher; for painting I had a teacher; for social life I had no one....

I write a lot of diaries, I make a cassette recorder listen to my problems, I recite meaningful sayings to give me encouragement, I probe deep into myself to solve emotional pains I go through, I meditate to keep myself stable.... I read true stories in search of solutions & so on & so forth. I don't want to give up & this year I will try harder making use of all the help I can get.... The one help I believe and have always believed would be very crucial for my success is someone who will constantly check in on me & share both the good and bad part of my life with me...one ordinary person who will invite me for jogging or taking a walk, for shopping, for watching TV together, for having dinner together a few times, etc. In these petty, but constant activities, the tips about living that I would pick up, the skills that I would develop and the peace of mind that I would get are immeasurable. After all a pat on the back means a whole lot more than a recorder that squeaks when it is done....

I am like a person who can't swim chocking [sic] for life in a river. You are one of the very few people who see me struggle.... All you have to do is give me a hand and put into words what you already know. No expenses are involved & there are no risks. I am sure one of your concerns, if you have gotten this far in the letter is, what if I am one of those criminals lurking around. But believe me, right now I am not strong enough. I would have been aggressive rather than shy if I was to hurt others. Also, if I had no control over myself, I would not have made it to Harvard all the way from Ethiopia.

All it takes is a few hours from your week and some energy. Me, I have nothing to lose. I am so desperate; please do not close the door in my face. Even if you are not interested, please give this letter to a friend or relative who might be. I would be forever grateful to hear from you.

I anxiously wait to hear from you.
 
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    Reproduced from Halfway Heaven by Melanie Thernstrom. Copyright © 1997 by Melanie Thernstrom. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.