The Art of Losing

The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

For my sister, Anna, who loves stories with a happy ending

and didn’t let me give up until I found mine

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

A letter from the author

One night when I was sixteen, I came home drunk and high after a party and found my parents waiting for me. I was drug tested and, soon after, put in a rehab program. In the hours of group therapy that followed, the counselors tried to help me and other kids my age understand why we used drugs and alcohol, but I already knew.

I used because it was the only thing that eased the anxiety and depression that led me to cut myself. My fear that no one would ever understand or accept me wasn’t unique, but I often thought about taking my life because of it. My parents were afraid that the next time I got drunk or high, I would actually do it. And though I wouldn’t admit it, so was I.

Part of rehab required going to Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, getting a sponsor, and working the twelve steps. I was resistant, but I went. I listened to the stories of the people in those rooms and, over time, I found a community of young, sober people. We were all a little off, a little weird, a little broken. We all carried around something inside ourselves that told us we were worthless. But together, we learned that with the support of the program and each other, we were strong. We were fun. We were capable of being happy. While sober.

But I was also exposed to a world outside of my privileged, suburban bubble. I saw the trauma that brought other kids into the rooms with me. Kids who had killed their best friends because they drove drunk, who had lost their parents to addiction and were following in their steps, who drank or used drugs because they were abused or neglected as children. Who found the strength to quit—without expensive rehab programs—and turn their lives around. And I was given perspective on whether my life really was too difficult to keep living.

The young people’s program in Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life, but my heart aches for the teens who won’t get there. Alcohol is an incredibly dangerous drug and the accepted abuse of it in our society is alarming. Teaching teens responsible drinking is important, but so is teaching them to take responsibility for the things that happen because of alcohol abuse, which is a message I tried to weave into this novel.

But I also wanted to share the stories of the people I met in the rooms who were so warm and welcoming when I needed a safe place. People whose nicknames were often holdovers from their using days, who were entirely comfortable with their weirdness, and who embraced my peculiarities and insecurities and helped me learn who I was and who I wanted to be.

The Art of Losing is about making mistakes, accepting things you can’t change, and figuring out when to forgive and when to walk away. But mostly, it’s about loss, especially the loss of the life you expected to have and the terror of realizing you have to reimagine your future.

I hope this book will help make the possibilities of the future a little clearer for someone who needs it.

All my best,

Lizzy Mason

Sixteen Months Ago

When my little sister started high school, my family held its breath. With her late birthday, Audrey was always one of the youngest kids in her class. Her maturity level was never quite the same as that of her classmates.

But she had an unnerving ability to assume the best of people. It was annoying, really, the way she looked past people’s outwardly obnoxious traits and found the good in them. I’d be bitching about someone, a teacher or a neighbor or whoever, and Audrey always, infuriatingly, had to point out something nice about them.

So none of us were surprised when she declared that she’d made valentines for all of her classmates in the ninth grade. But we were worried. I could practically hear the comments some of the girls would make. I could imagine the assumptions many of the guys would make. But Audrey wouldn’t be deterred, no matter what I said.

“She’s in high school now,” Mom finally said to Dad and me while Audrey was upstairs gluing and cutting. “She can make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.”

Dad and I disagreed.

“What if instead of cards, she gave out lattes?” Dad said, waiting expectantly.

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