Dear 16-Year Old Me:
Congratulations, you made it. Well you didn’t make it make it, but you made it further than you thought you would. Remember how you used to look out into your future and see a vague dark hole? When they would ask you in school, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and your forehead would wrinkle with concern as you tried to decipher an outline in the milky haze of The Future, while your classmates had doctor-and-lawyer-concise answers and you’d think I can’t even imagine who I’ll be in five years, let alone where, are you crazy and enter a mild panic.
In a way, though, I know you didn’t really feel nervous. Sure you felt kind of out of place without a plan but I have a feeling you didn’t want one anyway. You realized early on that plans are more like suggestions, you can plan all you want but in each crucial moment luck and improvisation are your saviors. I’m grateful you didn’t spend your formative years planning because if you had you might have missed the moment, all kinds of moments, like your concise classmates. Kids your parents wished you were more like but were secretly grateful you weren’t.
All things considered, you did a fairly good job of being a teenager — and by that I mean you navigated the snake pit of high school without killing yourself. Seriously, that’s commendable. And even though I have never wished to go back to being your age, there are definitely things I miss about you; things that have withered with time just the slightest bit. Like your idealism, pure faith that everything will work itself out; like the fierce “love conquers all” determination that’s almost exclusive to being a teenager because your heart hasn’t gotten its ass kicked yet. That and a few other things. But there are some things I wish you had done differently.
I wish you had been nicer to your parents. Of course they didn’t understand you (whose parents understand them?) but they did care about you, even though they didn’t know how to show it. And I wish you had realized no one was calling you fat when they said you looked healthy. Wish you had accepted your curves instead of trying to starve them flat. You should have known makeup doesn’t cover the broken blood vessels you get in your face from vomiting and everyone knew, they just didn’t know what to say. I’m still dealing with the damage you did so thanks a lot. I also wish you hadn’t downed an entire bottle of vodka on New Year’s and sent yourself to the hospital, or given yourself a homemade surface piercing with a dull safety pin. That was just dumb.
But for a 16-year-old, you were right about a lot of things. You were self-aware enough to cherish your fantasy and not let anyone poison it out of you even before you read The Crying of Lot 49. After all it’s better to be just a little unhinged than flatlining so thank you for trusting yourself, good call on not taking those meds. Thanks for getting good grades and not doing (too many) drugs. And thanks for losing your virginity to the right person — it’s a sucky experience either way but at least you made it count. That’s more than tons of people your age can say.
Love and minimal regrets,
23-Year Old Me