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A Portrait of Youth: Masks, Mistakes, and Mental Illness, Pt. 3



What is it about being young that prompts us to pretend we are something we are not? What is it about youth that makes the allure of mistakes almost seductive?

It is in our youth that we discover the dark side of humanity. As children, we are blissfully unaware of all the different forms of pain and suffering humanity is prone to losing themselves in; but past puberty and angst, we discover the worlds of depression and anxiety that envelop us in their bosom, as if they had been awaiting to embrace us. It is in these primal years of adulthood that, for the first time, we are aware of life’s most gruelling elements — and due to our naivete, we assume it will last forever. We do not have the wisdom of adults in their later years, and we no longer can cling to the innocence of our childhood. Thus we are left in a limbo, where things go wrong and all we want to do is hide because we firmly believe that what breaks will be broken forever.

It is in this series that I will examine, in hindsight, what it feels like to be trapped in this narrow perception of youth, through six poems that I wrote when I was younger. I aim to explore their causes and implications from the perspective of the (relative) lucidity that I have now, having grown away from the hurt that infuses their words. And perhaps, in doing so, I can provide closure to both my past and the past of anyone who has suffered from the “disease” of being young.

For those who are intoxicated by the ideals of youth, taking a wrong turn and straying from the path to maturity is sometimes justified by some fragile excuse of adventure — or, as it is in some instances, there is no attempt at justification, just a strong urge to cause a mess, to kick things about and watch things fall apart. It is in the influence of the ever-distorting angst that takes control of young people as soon as the hormones of puberty begin pumping inside them. In these cases, the danger in sacrificing logic to emotion is that life can end up taking an ugly detour from which one cannot escape, only move forward. The youth are expected to make mistakes, but to make it a habit, to make it a mentality can make the rollercoaster of youth quite an unpleasant experience. 

I know from my own personal experiences that I took wrong turns in my youth, telling myself all the while that it would only make my life more thrilling, more wild. Ultimately, it did quite the opposite, and it took me many years to get myself back to any semblance of normalcy; through this process, I have matured greatly, but I often wonder at what cost. The “live fast, die young” mantra can mislead much more than you’d think, since it’s such a common way of thinking for many young people —  because if you don’t happen to die young, you’re stuck with all the messes you made living too fast, messes you have to clean up afterward. 

This poem was originally written six years back, just as my wrong turns were beginning to make themselves palpable in my life; and it was heavily edited by me just yesterday. This edit was an essential fix to what would have otherwise been a deceiving poem: the original in many ways romanticized a life of excess, a life filled with the wilderness of angst and poor decision-making. But my edits stripped all romanticization, leaving only the bare skeleton of what encompassed my reality back then. This repaired version presents in the most direct and brutal way possible what it feels like to take a wrong turn and realize there is no going back, only forward — hoping someday to find a turn ahead that leads back to the main path. I’d call this poem a warning sign for anyone wanting to give in to the delirium of youth: no matter how appetizing it appears to be, the boring path to maturity will save you plenty of unnecessary hardship and suffering. 


Where I’m from


I’m from the creak of a closing door

To the privacy of the public;

From the floor’s minimal dust

Catching, scratching my eyesight,

Taunting my fetal position.


I’m from the monster under my bed

That I beat to death with a baseball bat;

From the pine tree outside my window,

That revealed its truth over the years, 

Branch by broken branch.


I’m from the fleeting thoughts I flounder in at two am,

The bitter black coffee I force down my gullet

Four hours later, to start up the fleet again.


I’m from the sharp gasp of broken glass,

The sound of a midnight scream;

I’m from the sneering morning after,

The monsoon from a faucet’s stream.


I’m from the masks of denial’s ghosts,

The ones I wore as well;

I’m from the mask I threw away,

The lies my stories tell. 


I’m from the doormats I ambled and trampled,

The one of mine that shelled me;

I’m from the shell with which I matted you,

Till to sell nor to hell held no matter.


I’m from the worms drawn by rain

Their deluded hope of rooting;

I’m from the swerving on a two-lane road,

The ruling cruelty of the unruly.


I’m from the desire after the first drink,

The lack of regret after the last,

The fear of strangers twelve hours later,

The fear of remembering the past.


I’m from the questions I don’t ask,

And the answers I won’t wait for;

I’m from the prayers I bray in prideful guise,

Like pennies thrown into a volcano’s swell.


I’m from the moment I reach the bottom of a lake,

Knowing my breath won’t last till the top;

I’m from the embers of my cigarettes

That warm the water into a simmer.


I’m from the wet ash, the wet ash in the current

And I know no rebirth now:

I am not an am,

I am a from.


There is no revelation,

No fiery wings to dust off

No lift from the tangled mud

No avoidance, no avoidance

Of my unlatched nostrils

My doorknob mouth

No wish, no win

No faith, no fast

No key to unlock me of my past:


No fiery wings,

No brave exit,

No rising up,

Once raised up;

No unclasping,

No releasing,

No rising up—


—Up in hope!

Up in hope for the flower’s opium!

Up in hope for a forest’s symposium!

Up in hope for the sky’s elysium!

Up in hope, for hope, toward hope!

In hope for Everything!

In hope for Something— 

Or just anything.

anything, anything, anything

In, For, Toward — anything!

anything but from…


No reviving— 

Only surviving

Where I’m from,


And dreading, 


Where from here.


I’m from the cold sunlight fighting through the curtains,

As I wake up and wish to drift back into dreams once more.


Anthony Herman

Helsinki '23

I am a half American half Finnish student studying English in Helsinki University. I've always been a creative type, and my main passion in life is writing. I've been writing actively for seven years, and I write poetry, prose, and drama. I am also very active in theatre: I produce, direct, and act. My other hobbies include painting horribly and singing musical numbers in the shower.
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