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Dear Will Solace

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     Will Solace was used to being insignificant. That’s why when nobody replied to any of his social media posts or messages over the summer, he didn’t question it. Why would he? The only person who had ever commented or liked his posts was his mom. Well, her and Hazel Levesque, who had once commented a whole entire paragraph on one of his Instagram posts. Will had posted a photo of him at the park he was an apprentice ranger at, and Hazel had decided to write every single fact she knew about trees and why she knew each fact. Not going to lie, though, it ended up turning into a rather intriguing conversation. A rather intriguing one-sided conversation, that was.

     He was sitting on his blue checkered bed, his laptop on his lap, staring intently at the blank screen. His therapist, Dr. Lake, had told him to write a supportive letter to himself whenever he could. Unfortunately for Will, he had a lot of free time. Reluctantly, Will began to type.

Dear Will Solace,

     That was how he started all of his letters. First the Dear part, because that was just common courtesy. And next the Will Solace part, his name. Technically, his name was William, but his mother wanted to just name him Will. She said that she thought the name “William” made him sound like some royal prince, which he most certainly was not. His dad won the battle, but his mom won the war, because she called him nothing but “Will” his whole life. Spoiler alert: his parents were divorced. They had been since he was five. It was hard to remember a time with his dad, but if he truly tried, he could remember vague memories. His mom always told him that the divorce wasn’t anything to worry about, but Will knew it was. If there was one thing he truly did remember, it was the arguments. His mom trying to hold back tears as she tucked Will into bed.

     The only time the name “William” was truly used anymore was on his drivers license and the first day of school. The teachers would call out “William Solace” and Will would have to tell them that he went by Will. After everybody had already filed out of the class, of course. Just saying “present” was hard, let alone a whole entire sentence. It would be voice cracks galore. Social suicide.

     His mom always said that he was a true Pisces. The symbol for Pisces was two fish tied together, trying to swim away from each other. She’s into all that astrology crap. Will downloaded an app on her phone that would tell her the daily horoscope for each sign, so now his mom posted little sticky notes around the house that said things like, “be true to yourself”, and “step out of your comfort zone”. The truth was, though, if those horoscopes were true, he’d probably be surrounded by friends 24/7. Which, as you may have guessed, he was not.

      Will turned his attention back to the unfinished Word document. Next came the next line of his letter:

Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why!

     The letter was meant to reassure him. In his opinion, the idea of feeding himself lies seemed worse than just having a bad day, but that clearly wasn’t what Dr. Lake felt like, because Will was expected to turn his letter in at the beginning of each therapy section.

     At first, Will had tried to get out of it. “I don’t think a letter to myself is going to do much,” Will had said, “I wouldn’t even know what to write.”

     At that, Dr. Lake had perked up, smiled one his bright smiles that were clearly forced on, and said, “You don’t have to know. That’s the point of this exercise! To explore. For example, you could start with something like, ‘Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why.’ Then go from there. I assure you, the words will just start to flow.”

     The words most certainly did not just flow, but Will tried his best to make up for it with meaningless advice to himself that he inevitably would not use.

Because today all you have to do is just be yourself. But also confident. That’s important, too. Approachable. And don’t hide either: reveal yourself. Not in a pervy way, don’t disrobe. Just be you- the true you. Be yourself. Be true to yourself.

     “The true you.” What does that even mean? Being the “true” Will Solace never really got him anywhere in life. But as Dr. Lake, always said that the letter was meant for exploring himself. So he therefore had to assume that the “true” him was different than the him he currently was. Maybe the “true” him was better at life. Better at people, too. And less timid. For example, the true Will Solace probably never would’ve passed up the opportunity to introduce himself to Nico di Angelo at the rock concert last year. He wouldn’t have spent all that time deciding which words best captured his feelings about Nico’s performance but didn’t make him come off like a stalker-good, great, luminescent, enchanting, solid-and then, after finally settling on very good, end up not speaking to him because he was worried his hands were sweaty. What difference would it have made if his hands were sweaty anyways? It wasn’t like Nico would demand to shake his hand. If anybody’s hands were sweaty, it would be Nico’s hands after all that guitar playing. Besides, Will’s hands only got sweaty because he started thinking that his hands were sweaty. Then, he tried to dry his hands off under the blow dryer in the boy’s bathroom, except that didn’t made them less sweaty, it just made his hands sweaty and warm. The “true” Will Solace would never have done something like that. The “true” Will Solace would never have done anything that profoundly sad.

     Great, he was doing it again. Willing his hands to get sweaty. Now he had to wipe his keyboard with his blanket. And then his arm was getting sweaty, too. The sweat would end up settling under his cast, no air getting in, and then his cast would take on that smell. And what was even worse was that he didn’t have time to take a shower. Damn you, fake Evan Hansen. You really are exhausting.

     He reached into his bedside drawer. He had already taken Lexapro this morning, but Dr. Lake said that it was fine to take the Avitan, too, if things got really overwhelming. He swallowed the Avitan down, relief on the way.

     “So you just decided not to eat last night?”

     It was his mom, standing over him, holding the twenty dollar bill that he never used.

     He shut his laptop and shoved it under his pillow, “I wasn’t hungry.”

     “Come on, honey. You need to be able to order dinner for yourself if I’m at work. You can do it all online now. You don’t even have to talk to anyone.”

     But see, that’s actually not true, because when the delivery guy or girl came to the door, you had to talk to them. You had to awkwardly stand there while they make change and they always pretend like they don’t have enough singles, so you’re forced to decide on the spot whether to tip less or more than you originally were planning on. And then, if you tipped less, they would curse under their breath just loud enough for you to hear as they walk away. So, knowing that would happen, you always tip them extra and end up broke.

     “Sorry,” Will mumbled, twiddling his thumbs. He did that when he got nervous.

     “Don’t be. It’s just, this is what you’re supposed to be working on with Dr. Lake. Talking to people. Engaging. Not hiding and avoiding social interaction.”

     Didn’t he just write that exact thing in his letter? Being confident? Revealing himself? Being the “true” him? His mom started to circle his bed, arms crossed, scanning the room as if it was somehow different than when she was last in there, as if there was a new answer to the great Will conundrum waiting on his dresser or scribbled on the dusty mirror that he barely used.

     Will slid his legs off of the bed and shoved on his sneakers.

     “Speaking or Dr. Lake,” she said matter-of-factly. “I made you an appointment with him this afternoon.

     “Today? Why? I’m seeing him next week.”

     “I know,” she said, staring him dead in the eye. The gaze was so intense that he thought he was about to explode into flames and die right in front of her. “But I thought you could use an earlier session.”

     Because he chose to skip one dinner? Maybe he should have pocketed that money and lied. But the thing was, that was stealing, and Will was taught that stealing was bad, so he never did it.

     Maybe it was something else. He glanced into the mirror and tried to spot what was different about him. His blonde hair was gelled and brushed. He was wearing his usual orange-striped T-Shirt, completely buttoned up, and khakis. He even showered the night before. Not that it mattered, though, seeing as nobody at school would get close enough to notice.

     There was something new that he noticed. He was nibbling on his nails. Was that the problem? Was that issue so big that he’d need an extra session with Dr. Lake? He didn’t think so, but perhaps to his mom, it was. She tended to notice the smallest things, and then proceed to get worried about it.

     His mom was also visible in the mirror. She was poking around his room in her scrubs. She looked more like a scientist than a doctor. A tired scientist.

     “What happened to all of your pins?” she asked.

     Will turned and faced the map. When he first started working as a park ranger at Ellison Park that summer, he got into the idea of trying to hike all of the best trails in the country: Precipice Trail in Maine, Angel’s Landing in Utah, Kalalau Trail in Hawaii, Harding Icefield in Alaska. He had them all marked on his map in different colored push pins, all in the shape of stars. But after the summer ended, he decided to take them all down- except one.

     “I thought I’d focus on one at a time,” he said. “The first one I’m hoping to do is the West Maroon Trail.”

     “In Colorado?” his mom asked.

     “Yes.”

     The breath she took was painfully slow. She looked like she went limp. Colorado was where his dad lived. Dad was a word you had to be careful using in his house.

     His mom turned away from the map and forced on her brightest smile. “I’ll pick you up right after school,” she informed him. “Have you been writing those letters? Dear Will Solace, today is going to be a good day, and here’s why!

     He used to write a letter every day, but ever since he broke his arm, he had lowered it down to a letter a week. “I was just working on one,” he replied, looking down at the ground. Long eye contact made him nervous, among many other things.

     “Good. Dr. Lake is going to want to see it.

     “I know. I’ll finish it at school.”

     His mom sighed in exasperation and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Those letters are important, honey. They help you build your confidence! Seize the day! I don’t want another year of you sitting home alone on your computer every Friday night. You just have to find a way to put yourself out there,” she released his shoulder.

     It wasn’t like Will wasn’t trying. He was trying, all right. Most certainly. Definitely… he thought.

     She pulled a sharpie out of her back pocket. “Why don’t you go around and ask the other kids to sign your cast?”

     “Perfect.”

     “I’m proud of you already,” she ruffled his hair.

     “Oh… Thanks,” Will said awkwardly, ducking his head as she walked out of his room and quietly shut the door.

     He opened his laptop again to see what he had written so far.

Dear Will Solace

     Sometimes the letters hyped him up for a maximum of five minutes. Other times, they did the opposite of what they were supposed to do. He knew that he was feeding himself lies, and sometimes that just made the pain worse.

Today is going to be an amazing day

     That’s what he told himself every day. That never really ended up true. Besides the day he got his job, of course. But of course, that also had a downside, seeing as his cast was still very much existent.

Be true to yourself

     Yeah, okay. That was something he could try.