(I am not sure who to credit this image to. Please let me know if you do!)
Hello from yourself, nearly twelve years in the future. You wrote me a letter, once upon a time during a boring Career Ed class, and I figured it was time to write back.
Your letter to me was filled with things about your best friend and the boys you were waging war with, but not an awful lot about your inner life. That’s okay, because I still vividly remember what it felt like to be in your head.
As you figured out early on in your life, yes, you are weird. I know that you wish you were otherwise, more than anything else in the world. Your weirdness makes you different and special, but it also makes it very hard for you to fit in. I know it’s all you want right now. It’s going to get easier, and with time, you’re going to learn to harness the strange energy you generate and turn it into something like charm. People will be drawn to your weirdness. They’ll be the ones to fit in around you, and they’ll slot into place like puzzle pieces. Don’t change who you are to conform. Be who you’ve always been.
Oh, little Ali, you are so angry. People are telling you to hate the way you look, or feel or are, or that THEY hate the way you look, or feel, or are. Your parents and their constant fighting. Your friends, one by one, growing up and abandoning you in the little Never-Never Land you occupy. The “popular” girls at school victimise you in every way they can think of. You hate yourself for not being physically perfect, you hate your family for being more than you can handle, you hate your friends for changing while you want never to change.
You have the potential to be a very bad person, Ali, especially to the people that you love the most. There are a couple of things in your emotional makeup that you’re missing: you know you’re a good liar, that you don’t feel bad about it and you know exactly how to push people’s buttons. This hurt and anger inside of you is going to manifest itself in very unpleasant ways, and you’re going to be awful to the people that you should be reaching out to. Please don’t lash out. Don’t hurt others because you can, and don’t hurt yourself any more than you already have. Your friends and family are going to forgive you every time, no matter how hard you hit or what you say. But you’re going to remember everything you put them through, and find it much harder to forgive yourself.
Oh my god, I love you so much, little Ali. Once day you’re going to change the spelling of your first name, dye your hair and then, finally, give yourself a new last name and a whole new identity. But the inside of your head will still be the same. Right now, you are dizzy with life and puzzled by what’s happening around you. Things are changing. They’re going to keep changing, and you’re going to be surprised and hurt by how quickly it happens. You have to grow up, Ali, but it’s not going to be the bad thing you imagine it to be. You think you’re going to have to give things up, but you won’t. And you’ll gain so many things you don’t even have a name for yet.
Life’s going to startle you with it’s beauty and it’s ugliness. Happiness will seem incredibly fleeting and sadness will seem infinite. That’s just a trick that sadness plays; in reality, nothing bad lasts forever. The good times will come back around, and in the meantime there’s nothing that you aren’t strong enough to bear. Though it’s really going to test you sometimes.
And love. Oh how you crave it, even though you don’t know it now, when boys are still giving you the icks. Your parents aren’t and will never provide a good example of a loving relationship, so you’ll have to figure out what it should look like on your own. You will, sometimes literally, look for love in all the wrong places. You will go out with guys because you feel sorry for them or solely because they like you. None of it will work, and you’ll be angry because it doesn’t work. You’ll be madly jealous of your friends and their boyfriends. You’ll work yourself into a little blonde ball of bitterness and eventually give up.
Don’t be angry. You’re making mistakes, yes, but they’re the same mistakes that everyone makes. There’s nothing wrong with you. Instead of beating yourself up and fixating on unattainable romantic objects, learn from the mistakes you’ve made and don’t repeat them. Because somebody someday soon is going to love you, and you’re going to be able to experience that a lot better if you’re not freaking out about screwing it up. A first love is something you only get once, and as these things go, yours is going to be pretty great.
Your life, at 24, is going to look completely different from how you imagined it. You are going to leave everything you know and love behind you and start over. You are going to look Death in the face and pry yourself out of his cold, dead fingers. You are going to see Death in the faces of people you love, and sometimes you are going to lose them. You will live a waking nightmare. You will be the rock of your family at 22 and an adult by 24. You will have boyfriends and friends who treat you badly. But you will also see wonderful things that nobody else will think to look for. You will find love. You will be beautiful, which is fine, but most importantly you will be healthy. People will admire and love you for who you are, not just what they can get from you. You will have true friends. You will be strong. You will be fortunate. You will be happy.
Someone will tell you one day that you will never have an ordinary life. Little Ali, sitting there in your room with the radio on and magazines strewn everywhere, all scabbed knees and blossoming anger, will not believe this. You won’t quite want to believe it, because all you want to be is normal and stay the way that you are right now forever.
But I am telling you that it’s true. You are destined to never have an ordinary life, and there’s nothing that you can do to stop it. Be beautiful and gracious, and smile once in awhile, as you rise up to meet it.
(This was inspired by Stephen Fry’s wonderful essay. Go here to read an edited version of his. I can but only bow down in front of such eloquence and hope to someday be half the writer that he is.)