Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

A Teenage Diary, Lost and Found

Melissa and her son Issaiah.

Joe here. Today, I want to tell you a story.

14 years ago, a young woman named Melissa Rodriguez disappeared. She walked out of her apartment in New Haven, left most of her belongings, changed her cell phone number, and didn’t tell her friends where she was going. All she took was her two-year old son, Issaiah, and a few photographs.

I had met Melissa two years earlier, back in 1996. She was 18 and had a profoundly tough life. I had just started a series on NPR called Teenage Diaries. I gave Melissa a tape recorder and asked her to document the months leading up to and following the birth of her baby. When I met her she was seven months pregnant and getting ready to create the family she never had.

The NPR story went well, and Melissa was holding her own as a single mom. Then, suddenly, she vanished. Sadly, it seemed like Melissa’s story wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

For over a decade, I didn’t hear from Melissa. Then last year, I got this email:

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

Melissa now lives in New Jersey. Her son Issaiah just turned 16, and she has another six-year-old child. She’s got a good job, she’s making ends meet and she’s a very together 32-year-old single mom.

This past year I gave Melissa a tape recorder again, so she could tell the story of walking away from her old life and building new one.

In our podcast this week, you’ll hear a sneak peek of Melissa’s new story, as well as her original Teenage Diary. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up now. Over the next few months we will be featuring many of the original Teenage Diaries.

In February on NPR’s All Things Considered, we’ll be airing a week-long series called Teenage Diaries Revisited. It’s inspired by Melissa, and also by Michael Apted’s Up series. You’ll hear brand new diaries from Melissa and four other teen diarists: Josh, Amanda, Frankie and Juan.

A lot of life happens in 16 years.

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