Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life
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Melissa’s Diary, Revisited

Melissa and her son Issaiah in 1996 / Melissa and her sons Issaiah and Tyron in 2013. Photos by Radio Diaries and David Gilkey/NPR.

Melissa and her son Issaiah in 1996 / Melissa and her sons Issaiah and Tyron in 2013. Photos by Radio Diaries and David Gilkey/NPR.

Today, NPR will broadcast the final segment of Teenage Diaries Revisited. We’ve been working for a year and a half on this project, so it seems like a good opportunity to tell you the story of how it all began.

It started with an email from Melissa Rodriguez in 2011:

“Hi JOE. Hope u remember me. I recorded my pregnancy with my son Issaiah in 1996. I ran into ur email and if u ever wonder about us we turned out ok.”

I met Melissa in 1996. She was 18 and seven months pregnant. I gave her a tape recorder and asked her to document the months leading up to and following the birth of her baby for our Teenage Diaries series on NPR. She was game to record everything; she even brought the tape recorder into the delivery room.

Melissa’s diary was an intimate window into a difficult life. She had spent her childhood in eight foster homes, five residential homes and seven group homes. With the birth of her son, she was hoping to create the family she never had.

At the time, I had no idea how Melissa’s life would turn out. But the odds seemed stacked against her.

When I got her email, after being out of touch for more than a decade, it made me realize two things:

  • I still thought of Melissa as a teen mom. She had been frozen in my mind, and perhaps the memory of some NPR listeners.
  • Her son, Issaiah, is now old enough to do his own ‘teenage diary.’

That email inspired me to track down all 12 of the original teenage diarists. Over the years, I’ve stayed close with some of them. I’ve lost touch with others. They are now in their early 30’s, the same age I was when I first worked with them. A lot has changed in my own life–and in the world–over that time. So I figured I’d find some surprising changes in their lives too. And I did.

As Melissa told me: a lot of life happens in 16 years. Of all the diaries, Melissa’s is the one that represents that idea the most.

Listen to Melissa’s new diary—and all the stories in the series—at npr.org.

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