One of our most anticipated novels of the year is Dear Evan Hansen! We fell in love with the musical and we fell even more in love with the book. Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel comes out on October 9, 2018 but we have a sneak peek right here!
I made my exit.
Better to burn out, right, than to fade away? Kurt Cobain said that in his letter. I watched a video about all the famous ones. Ernest Hemingway. Robin Williams. Virginia Woolf. Hunter S. Thompson. Sylvia Plath. David Foster Wallace. Van Gogh. I’m not comparing myself—trust me. Those people actually made an impact. I did nothing. I couldn’t even write a note.
Burning is the right way to paint it. You feel yourself getting so hot, day after day. Hotter and hotter. It gets to be too much. Even for stars. At some point they fizzle out or explode. Cease to be. But if you’re looking up at the sky, you don’t see it that way. You think all those stars are still there. Some aren’t. Some are already gone. Long gone. I guess, now, so am I.
My name. That was the last thing I wrote. On another kid’s cast. Not quite a goodbye note. But hey, I made my little mark. On a broken limb. Seems about right. Poetic if you think about it. And thinking is just about all I can do now.
Dear Evan Hansen,
That’s how all my letters begin. First the Dear part, because that’s just what you write at the top of any letter. That’s standard. Next comes the name of the person you’re writing to. In this case, it’s me. I’m writing to myself. So, yeah, Evan Hansen.
Evan is actually my middle name. My mom wanted me to be Evan and my dad wanted me to be Mark, which is his name. My dad won the battle, according to my birth certificate, but my mom won the war. She has never called me anything other than Evan. As a result, neither has my dad. (Spoiler alert: my parents are no longer together.)
I’m only Mark on my driver’s license (which I never use), or when I’m filling out job applications, or when it’s the first day of school, like today. My new teachers will call out “Mark” during attendance, and I will have to ask each one to please call me by my middle name. Naturally, this will have to be done when everyone else has vacated the room.
There are a million and ten things from the subatomic to the cosmic that can rattle my nerves on a daily basis, and one of those things is my initials. M.E.H. Like the word: meh. Meh is basically a shoulder shrug, and that pretty much sums up the reaction I get from society at large. As opposed to the surprise of oh. Or the wow of ah. Or the hesitation of uh. Or the confusion of huh. Meh is pure indifference. Take it or leave it. Doesn’t matter. No one cares. Mark Evan Hansen? Meh.
But I’d rather think of myself as eh, which is more like seeking approval, waiting for confirmation. Like, How about that Evan Hansen, eh?
My mom says I’m a true Pisces. The symbol for a Pisces is two fish tied together trying to swim in opposite directions. She’s into all that astrology crap. I installed an app on her phone that displays her daily horoscope. Now she’ll leave me handwritten messages around the house, saying things like: Step outside your comfort zone. Or she’ll cram the day’s message into our conversations: Take on a new challenge. A business venture with a friend looks promising. It’s all nonsense if you ask me, but I guess, for my mom, her horoscopes give her some hope and guidance, which is what my letters are supposed to give me.
Speaking of which. After the greeting comes the actual meat of the letter: the body. My first line is always the same.
Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why.
Positive outlook yields positive experience. That’s the basic concept behind this letter-writing assignment Dr. Sherman gave me.
I tried to get out of it at first. I told Dr. Sherman, “I don’t think a letter to myself is going to help much. I wouldn’t even know what to write.”
He perked up, leaning forward in his leather chair instead of casually sitting back as he usually did. “You don’t have to know. That’s the point of the exercise. To explore. For example, you could start with something like, ‘Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why.’ And then go from there.”
Sometimes I feel like therapy is total bullshit and other times I think the real problem may just be that I can’t ever get myself to fully buy in. But I ended up taking his advice—verbatim. (One less thing to think about.)
Because the rest of the letter is tricky. That first line was just an opening statement, and now I have to support that statement in my own words. I have to prove why today is going to be an amazing day when all the evidence suggests otherwise. Every day that came before today was definitely not amazing, so why would I think today would be any different?
Truth? I don’t. So, it’s time to power up my imagination, make sure that every single molecule of creativity is wide awake and pitching in. (It takes a molecular village to write an amazing pep talk.)
Because today all you have to do is just be yourself. But also confident. That’s important. And interesting. Easy to talk to. Approachable. And don’t hide, either. Reveal yourself to others. Not in a pervy way, don’t disrobe. Just be you—the true you. Be yourself. Be true to yourself.
The true me. What does that even mean? It sounds like one of those faux-philosophical lines you’d hear in a black-and-white cologne commercial. But okay, whatever, let’s not judge. As Dr. Sherman would say, we’re here to explore.
Exploring: I have to assume this “true” me is better at life. Better at people. And less timid, too. For example, I bet he never would’ve passed up the chance to introduce himself to Zoe Murphy at the jazz band concert last year. He wouldn’t have spent all that time deciding which word best captured his feelings about her performance but also didn’t make him come off like a stalker—good, great, spectacular, luminescent, enchanting, solid—and then, after finally settling on very good, end up not speaking to her at all because he was too worried his hands were sweaty. What difference did it make that his hands were sweaty? It’s not like she would’ve demanded to shake his hand. If anything, it was probably her hands that were sweaty after all that guitar playing. Besides, my hands only got sweaty after I thought about them getting sweaty, so if anything I made them get sweaty, and obviously this “true” Evan would never do something so profoundly sad.
Great, I’m doing it again, willing my hands to get sweaty. Now I have to wipe down my keyboard with my blanket. And I just typed out csxldmrr xsmit ssdegv. And now my arm is sweating, too. The sweat will end up sitting under my cast, no air getting in, and soon my cast will take on that smell, the kind of smell I don’t want anyone at school to catch even the slightest whiff of, especially on the first day of my senior year. Damn you, fake Evan Hansen. You really are exhausting.
I reach into my bedside drawer. I already took my Lexapro this morning, but Dr. Sherman says it’s fine to take an Ativan, too, if things get really overwhelming. I swallow the Ativan down, relief on the way.
That’s the problem with writing these letters. I start off on a direct route, but I always end up taking detours, wandering into the sketchy neighborhoods of my brain where nothing good ever happens.
“So you just decided not to eat last night?”
It’s my mother, standing over me, holding the twenty-dollar bill I didn’t use.
I shut my laptop and shove it under my 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 not true, actually. You have to talk to the delivery person when they come to the door. You have to 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 than you planned or more, and if you tip less, you know they’ll curse you under their breath as they walk away, so you just tip them extra and you end up poor.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s just, this is what you’re supposed to be working on with Dr. Sherman. Talking to people. Engaging. Not avoiding.”
Didn’t I just write that exact thing in my letter? About revealing myself? Not hiding? I know all this already. I don’t need her to keep repeating it. It’s like the sweaty-hands thing; the more you acknowledge the problem, the worse it gets.
Now she’s circling my bed, arms crossed, scanning the room like it’s somehow different from when she was last in here, like there’s a new answer to the great Evan conundrum waiting on my dresser or hanging on my wall that she can finally find if she looks hard enough. Believe me, considering how much time I spend in this room, if the answer were in here, I would have spotted it already.
I slide my legs off the bed and pull on my sneakers.
“Speaking of Dr. Sherman,” she says. “I made you an appointment with him for this afternoon.”
“Today? Why? I’m seeing him next week.”
“I know,” she says, staring down at the twenty in her hands. “But I thought maybe you could use something a little sooner.”
Just because I chose to skip dinner one night? I should have just pocketed the money so she wouldn’t have known, but that would be like stealing from her and karma’s a bitch.
Maybe it’s more than just the unused twenty. Maybe I’m giving off an extra-worrisome vibe that I’m unaware of. I stand up and check myself in the mirror. I try to see what she sees. Everything looks to be in order. Shirt buttons are lined up. Hair has been tamed. I even took a shower last night. I haven’t been taking as many showers lately, because it’s such a pain to have to cover my cast, first with the plastic wrap, then the shopping bag and duct tape. It’s not like I get dirty anyway. Ever since breaking my arm, I basically just sequester myself in my room all day. Besides, nobody at school will be paying attention to how I look.
There’s something else happening in the mirror that I’m only noticing now. I’m biting my nails. I’ve been biting them this whole time. Okay, the truth is I’ve been dreading this day for weeks. After the safe isolation of summer, returning to school always feels like sensory overload. Watching friends reunite with their bro hugs and high-pitched screeches. The cliques forming in corners as if all parties had been notified in advance where to meet. Bent-over laughter at what must have been the funniest joke ever told. I can navigate my way through all that because it’s familiar to me by now. It’s the stuff I can’t predict that concerns me. I barely had a handle on the way things were last year, and now there will be so much newness to absorb. New wardrobes, tech, vehicles. New hair styles, colors, lengths. New piercings and tattoos. New couples. Whole new sexual orientations and gender identities. New classes, students, teachers. So much change. And everyone just marches on like nothing’s different, but for me, every new year feels like starting from zero.
My mom is also visible in my mirror, the tassel of her personalized key chain dangling from her pocket. (Over the years, I’ve elevated many crummy gifts—mugs, pens, phone cases—by simply slapping Mom or Heidi on there somewhere). Poking around my room in her scrubs, she looks more like a forensic scientist than a nurse. A very tired forensic scientist. She was always “the young mom,” because she had me right after college, but I’m not sure the title still applies. Lately there’s this permanent fatigue in her eyes that seems less to do with how much sleep she manages to squeeze in each night and more to do with her finally starting to look her age.
“What happened to all your pins?” she says.
I turn and face the map on the wall. When I started working at Ellison State Park this summer, I got into the idea of trying to hike all the best trails in the country: Precipice Trail in Maine, Angel’s Landing in Utah, Kalalau Trail in Hawaii, Harding Icefield in Alaska. I had them all marked on my map with different colored pins. But after how the summer ended, I decided to take them all down—except one.
“I thought I’d focus on one at a time,” I say. “The first one I’m hoping to do is West Maroon Trail.”
“And that’s in Colorado?” my mom asks.
She can see it on the map, but still, she needs confirmation. I give it to her. “Yes.”
The breath she takes is painfully showy. Her shoulders practically lift up and touch her ears before they drop down even lower than they hung before. Colorado is where my dad lives. Dad is a word you have to be careful about using in our house, and the same goes for any word that makes you think of my dad, like, Mark, or in this case, Colorado.
Mom turns away from the map and presents me with a face that is meant to be brave and carefree but looks exactly not those things. She is wounded but still standing. That makes two of us. “I’ll pick you up right after school,” she says. “Have you been writing those letters Dr. Sherman wants you to do? The pep talks? You really have to keep up with those, Evan.”
I used to write a letter every single day, but over the summer I slacked off. I’m pretty sure Dr. Sherman told my mom, which is why she’s been nagging me about them lately. “I was just working on one,” I tell her, relieved to not have to lie.
“Good. Dr. Sherman is going to want to see it.”
“I know. I’ll finish it at school.”
“Those letters are important, honey. They help you build your confidence. Especially on the first day of school.”
Ah, yes. Another clue for why she thought today in particular warranted a visit to Dr. Sherman.
“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.”
I’m trying. It’s not like I’m not trying.
She spots something on my desk. “Hey, I know.” She pulls a Sharpie from the cup. “Why don’t you go around today and ask the other kids to sign your cast? That would be the perfect icebreaker, wouldn’t it?”
I can’t think of anything worse. That’s like panhandling for friends. Maybe I should find an emaciated puppy to sit on the corner with me, really dial up the sympathy.
It’s too late. She’s in my face. “Evan.”
“Mom, I can’t.”
She presents the Sharpie. “Seize the day. Today is the day to seize the day.”
This sounds like a horoscope. “You don’t have to add ‘today.’ ‘Seize the day’ already means ‘seize today.’”
“Whatever. You’re the wordsmith. I’m just saying, go get ’em, eh?”
Without meeting her eyes, I sigh and take the Sharpie. “Eh.”
She heads for the door, and just when I think I’m in the clear, she turns with an uneasy smile. “I’m proud of you already.”
Her smile sags a bit, and she walks off.
What am I supposed to say? She tells me she’s proud but her eyes tell a different story. She ponders me like I’m a stain on the tub she can’t wipe clean no matter what product she uses. Proud of me? I just don’t see how that’s possible. So, let’s just keep lying to each other.
It’s not like I totally mind the sessions with Dr. Sherman. Sure, our conversations are scheduled, inorganic, and typically one-sided, but there’s some comfort in sitting down and talking with another human being. You know, besides my mom, who’s so busy with work and classes she’s hardly ever around, and who never quite hears what I’m saying even when she’s listening (and is also my mom). I call my dad every once in a while, on the few occasions where I have news worth sharing. But he’s pretty busy. The problem with talking to Dr. Sherman, though, is I’m bad at it. I sit there, struggling to squeeze out even the simplest monosyllabic answers. I assume that’s why he suggested I write these letters to myself. He told me it might be a better way of extracting my feelings and could also help me learn to be a little easier on myself, but I’m pretty sure it makes things easier for him, too.
I open my computer and read what I’ve written so far.
Dear Evan Hansen,
Sometimes these letters do the opposite of what they’re intended to do. They’re supposed to keep my glass half full, and occasionally they do brighten my outlook, but they also remind me that I’m not like everyone else. No one else at my school has an assignment from their therapist. No one else at school even has a therapist, probably. They don’t snack on Ativan. They don’t shift and fidget when people come too close to them, or talk to them, or even look at them. And they definitely don’t make their mother’s eyes well up with tears when they’re just sitting there not doing anything.
I don’t need reminding. I know I’m not right. Believe me, I know.
Today is going to be an amazing day.
Maybe—if I just stay here in my bedroom, then it might actually come true.
Just be yourself.
Yeah. Sure. Okay.
What do you think? Want more? You can pre-order Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel right now and we have our first ARC giveaway for the book!