This is written in response to The Lightning and The Lightning Bug:Flicker of Inspiration Prompt #5: A Letter to 16 Year Old You
If I could go back in time and somehow talk to my sixteen year old self, what wouldn't I try to tell her? It seems that so many of life's great regrets started way back then.
I would tell her to break up with the psychopath she's dating. I would tell her that he's even worse than she thinks. How would I explain to her that he will someday come to her house and hold a butcher knife to her throat? How will I convince her to get out now when I know that as soon as she ends the relationship he will begin a campaign of stalking and terror that will last for years? Could I get her to even begin to understand these things? Or that she will get through it?
How would I tell sixteen year old me that one psycho nut job won't be enough? That she will make some incredibly bad decisions when it comes to dating. That she will have another boyfriend who will cheat on her with one of her supposed best friends and generally treat her like crap...and that it will happen next year?
Could I convince her that she should just put dating on the back burner? Could I ever make her believe that if she put just a single ounce of her attention into her school work, she could own the world? How do you tell sixteen year old me that "good enough" isn't good enough?
Sixteen year old me thinks she's seen it all, she knows everything. Her parents have divorced. She has fought with her mother and stepfather and she has gone to court to legally change custody and move in with her dad. She has been humiliated by her classmates, and she has held her head high and laughed in spite of them. She has endured rumors, sexual assaults, and physical and mental abuse from her boyfriend. She went to prom with high gloves to try to hide the bite mark on her upper arm.
Sixteen year old me passes notes in class and makes a show of not paying attention. She refuses to turn in homework (but sometimes does it without handing it in), and aces all the tests. She's pretty sure most teachers want to strangle her. She likes that. That's how she wants them to feel.
She presides over her cafeteria table full of boys, the lunchroom her court, she the queen...sometimes handcuffing a loyal subject to the table. At least once, the handcuffs were taken away by the school Principal.
She is tired already, of having to be strong. She can't imagine how tired she will be by the time she is forty.
She doesn't think she will live past the age of seventeen. She is sure that AIDS or Nuclear War will have ended the world by next year. She loves the movie Red Dawn and secretly hopes to be a Wolverine.
She sits in her room and writes poetry, wishing for someone to love her so much that he will hold her and never ever let her go. She wishes for someone strong enough that she can trust them and lean on them and let them know all of the things she fears most...especially about herself.
If I could go back and talk to sixteen year old me, I would speak to her as her mother. I would tell her to forget about boys for awhile. She would be mad and she would stomp off and slam doors and blast loud music. She would try to sneak out and I would catch her. She would fight me and I would win, because I have her will and I have her strength and I know how hard life has been and how hard it will be later on and I won't let her settle for anything; because in the end, you get exactly as little you are willing to settle for out of life.
I would make her fight for the right things. I would make her focus on school, stop trying to trick her teachers and start learning. I would push her to do more, to do better. I would find a way to send her away to college. I would make her study languages, all the languages she wanted. She could be an interpreter. She loves languages. She wants to travel. I would tell her that this is the surest way for her to see the world.
I would warn her that her travelling days will be done for quite some time after she turns twenty and she won't be travelling anywhere farther than Albany for many many years. I would tell her that at forty she will still be dreaming of traveling somewhere exotic and far-away. I would beg her, on behalf of her older self, to do better...to do her very best.
I would tell her not to start smoking next year, or any year. I would tell her to count up all the money that twenty years of tobacco addiction would cost her and to think about all of the places she could have gone and things she could have seen with that money.
I would warn her to stop the crazy starvation diets. I would tell her that no matter how little she eats, she simply won't get any thinner. She will, however, give herself an ulcer at the age of twenty.
I would hug her.
I would hold her as she fought against me. I would hold her until she gave in and realized that my love for her was real and that I had her best interests at heart.
If you are anything like sixteen year old me, I hope you happen to read this. I hope you realize that you hold immense potential within you and you are the only force in the world strong enough to stop you from attaining your goals, no matter how lofty they may be.
Believe in yourself.
That's what eighty year old me would tell forty year old me.