What I Would Tell My Younger Self: ‘You Have To Be Strong And Then You’ll Be Happy’

High School Lockers
Phil Roeder

The halls are empty. It’s morning, just before school—you always did stop by your locker almost first thing, Corinna. Trade out your homework books for the books you’ll need for your first class or two. I remember senior year now, how I used to walk down these halls before school, and I would automatically gravitate toward the very center of the aisle—they say that that says something about you, whether you walk in the middle, or off to the side. But it’s still just junior year, what did I do then? What do you do?

There you are, at my old locker, just like I knew you would be. Dyed dark chocolate brown hair with red tones down and wavy around your shoulders, brushed, maybe held in place with a headband. Jeans. A fitted T-shirt, maybe, or a blouse, or that striped burgundy-and-white sweater from Hollister—do you have that one yet? Or was that from senior year? I think you have it… Black ballet flats, no makeup, of course, and maybe earrings. The first necklace from M., if he’s given it to you yet, but probably no bracelets, and no rings. You won’t start wearing rings until you’re 19, even though Mom and Dad gave you that color-change garnet for your seventeenth birthday. It’s beautiful, but it’s also valuable, and you’re nervous to wear it. Don’t worry—I can promise you you won’t lose it.

Your first Vera Bradley backpack is either over your shoulder or on the floor—remember when suddenly everybody had those? Pink. Boysenberry, I think the pattern was called. You’ll give that to Granny in a few years, and she probably won’t use it. That striped purse from Bailey, with the patterned long strap? You won’t have that anymore, either, when you grow into me, but it’s because the strap was about to come loose, anyway, and you wouldn’t have been able to fix it—but you used it so much, until it wore out. Just like you were always borrowing hers.

I reach out and touch your shoulder, and you turn to look at me, surprised dark brown eyes staring back into your own. It’s like looking in a mirror, isn’t it? Except this time it’s not—you’re real, and I’m real, and it’s like looking at the twin sister you’ve wanted for years but cannot have. Except, I’m older now. You’re 17, and I’m 23, but I’m still you. You’re still me—but not yet. And I see in my head that you’re shorter, but you’re not really—we’re about the same height. Maybe it’s just the years of age and experience that you don’t have yet, the years of reflection and frustration and worry, that make me feel older than I am, and taller than I am. Taller than you—than we—are.

“Hey,” I say, smiling at you, like a younger sister. Because even though we’re one and the same, you would be like my younger sister, and I’m going to treat you as such. Because it’s my job to protect you, to save you from yourself, in a way. Even though I know I won’t be able to, because I was there all along, and I remember how it plays out. I lived it.

“Hey,” you reply, kind of but not really smiling, because you’re not sure what to believe, if I’m real, what I am, who I am, and—it’s surreal. Of course it is. You stand there and look at me, holding your textbooks, locker still open. That’s all you say, but you can tell—instinctively you know—that it’s me, and that it’s you.

And I wrap my arms around your shoulders and pull you close, and you drop your books and they hit the floor without a sound, and you hug my waist, and we hold each other like sisters. “You’re gonna be okay,” I whisper against your hair. My hair isn’t that same chocolate brown anymore—it’s its natural color, but the ends have been bleached, and you can breathe in the coconut scent of the leave-in conditioner I’ve been using to treat the dry ends. My eyes are the same, except I’m not wearing the contacts that you are, and you haven’t yet seen or bought any of the clothes I’m wearing. I pull away then and take you by the hands, and you look down at the rings—one on my left hand index finger—a delicate silver ring with a double heart, very tiny diamonds set in the larger like a shadow—and one on my right—probably that color-change garnet, and you tilt my hand and catch a flash of deep green under the fluorescent lights of B’wood’s upstairs B-wing hallway.

“Where do I get this one?” you ask softly, your gaze returning to the heart. You look up again, at my face, and I smile sadly, my heart already breaking for remembering all you have to endure. “I don’t get it from him, do I?” and I shake my head.

“Do I…will I be…?”

And I grasp your shoulders, then reach up to push strands of hair away from your face, cup your chin. I tilt your head, examining your skin—less freckles than you’ll have after you spend a week for two summers on beautiful green Lake McQueeney and a week the next summer on beautiful Isla Mujeres in Mexico, but there are those tiny red spots on the delicate skin beneath your eyes. You’ll think that they’re caused by crying with your contacts in, but you’ll look it up one day, after you’ve had LASIK, and you’ll see that they’re caused by crying so hard that tiny blood vessels there break. “Yes,” I can honestly admit. “You will be happy. But first, I’ll make you strong.

“I want to tell you,” I say then, “to enjoy this time. With your friends. With yourself, because you will have to pick yourself up more than anyone else. But I know that nothing I say now will change the outcome, or make it easier for you. It’s going to hurt like hell. Later, it will be hard in a different way, and some days you’re going to have to fight like hell. You have to remember that you’re reaching an age where nobody knows what’s best for you like you do, and you’re gonna need to hold on to that as tightly as you can. Even around your friends and family. They love you and they mean well…but just remember.

“Remember that every girl is entitled to a secret. Remember that magic is real, and love is hard, and sometimes reality will shatter your dreams, but it will be for the better. You’ve already lost yourself in this relationship, so remember not to let that happen again. Remember that you are, and always will be, enough, and you deserve everything. Remember what you want, and dream even beyond that.

“Remember that you’re gonna be happy. But first, I have to make you strong.” I hug you again, feel you bury your face in my shoulder, as you sense that I have to go now. “Hey.” I look at you a last time. “Remember that I love you, and I always will. I can promise you’ll be okay, that I will take care of you.” I give you an affectionate smirk. “After all. You will be me.” I wrap my arms around you one last time, so tightly, and you cling to me as the bell trills, shrill, overhead, and feet start to pound up the stairs, the din of a couple thousand students’ voices getting louder.

“Have a good day, Corinna,” I whisper in your ear. “I’ll see you soon.” Then I let go, and I walk away until I run, dissolving into the air, and you blink, and you’re alone, for only the instant it takes the hallway to swarm with students. You pick up your books and your backpack, shut your locker. TC mark

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