Years ago, a high school teacher made us write letters to our future selves, warbling about how high school was “the best day of our lives!” Clearly it had been the best days of her life. As many people know, it was anything but the best days of my life and I knew it at the time.
I don’t remember what I wrote, exactly. I do remember a few highlights:
- Don’t be one of those pathetic people calling high school the days of your life. Any era you want can be the best days of your life. Actually, it may have read “If you think high school was the best days of your life, then I’m ashamed of you.”
- Don’t dye your hair; nobody’s fooled about your age.
- Write something. Even if you still aren’t published, just write something.
- I hope there’s more than something insipid like a big wedding.
- For God’s sake don’t get married, you know there’s more to your resistance than how it seems like a scam to subjugate women while convincing them it’s their idea.
It was sharp-tongued, to the point…and for the most part, right. My tongue has softened, my vanity increased as I’ve come to like myself more/reject myself before others do less, and many choices I’ve made would horrify my younger self. While unpacking, I came across this letter of response I don’t recall jotting down. It must have been at least seven years, because my hair has remained virgin parchment for at least that long.
Dear Teenage Self –
Things turned out nothing like you hoped. Your career at best, unstable, your weight yo-yos like a weeble-wobble next to the elephant cages at a circus. Oh, you dye your hair all right.
Fire engine red, like Bucza’s henna, but identifiable from space.
Although right now it has blonde tips
I’m waiting to henna it mahogany.
Your breasts still droop – no deeper than they ever did, though. It turns out that that failed pencil test is a genetic thing, not a fat thing. Your belly still bulges.
You have only just figured out the Law of Availability as it applies to the dating arena. This is good, since you’re in a relationship. Yes, you. The drooping breasts and belly are really only ever obstacles in your own head – they are not enemies, they’re allies, honey.
No surprise his name is Mike – that first Mike, that one you loved that got put in the ground, he’s gonna haunt you and take care of you until you are not you anymore. He stops, once in awhile, when you beg him – but he always shows up in some form, and he tends to fill up your phone with guys named Mike.
Don’t freak but … you did get married. To a guy named N —
it didn’t last.
Right now, you already know that Alan won’t last. Tears come as he kisses you.
Don’t bother protecting yourself. The hurt will come, it will almost kill you, just as you want to beg any god that listens for death, it will pass, swept away in the next nightmare your family launches upon you.
Continue to avoid dating advice from Mom. It only gets more destructive and out of touch every five years, like some sort of inner downgrade program. Remember, always – Dad doesn’t know how to use a gun.
You keep chasing those romantic milestone moments out of external pressure. Someday we’ll both figure that out. But because of that belief in “should” senior prom will result in a sloppy grope in the car, and then going home by 9 pm.
For all those future disappointments, I can promise you – absolutely – it’s better where you are now. It’s not as good as it could be; too many injuries not to limp here. But it’s still so much better.
You get your voice back.
You get your hope back.
You find where your soul was hidden.
You recognize your own value.
You don’t have your pick of men – and it has nothing to do with what makes you matter, anyway. You don’t want your pick of men – you are still often unsure if you have standards or if you just politely reject for them. Leave that to me to work out; it’s some advanced stuff and you’re just trying to keep your head together. Friendships remain difficult roads, men and women alike; at least now, usually, you speak the same language. ((another indicator I’ve progressed since I wrote this.))
Pain will always be part of your life. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you it gets better. All the little mysteries of your now are never resolved, little harijaan. You’ll never know why he does what he does or says what he says, or why she tried to keep you from progressing at that dinky teapot of a private school. Every time you get a chance to find out, you sabotage it. There’s only one I really want to kick you for – most of the time your self-sabotage comes to good. All I can tell you is that years later, you’ll have one regret you hold from the stack of regrets that life builds. His name was Peter – and he will probably be horrified to know how much he contributed to who you eventually become. You will think he is too good to be true.
You have one gift that will stay with you: your phenomenal inner strength. Your strength is your gift, and what divides you from the world. Keep cultivating that strength, no matter how people object to it. That core knows your strength and can guide you.
You will be free.
Your future self
I’m guessing I wrote that at around age 29-30. For reference, I’m 39 now. Probably a good idea to write a letter to that old self, too.