10 June 2010

Destination unknown

(Today's writing prompt: "If you could go back in time and meet your 16-year-old self, what three things would you tell yourself?")

Poor girl.

I had to pull out a photo of you to remember exactly who you were. And there you are, unlovely and gauche in a green dress you'd made over so it wouldn't look so dated.

Sixteen wasn't easy, was it? I have a 16-year-old now, and I hear you in his voice, his worries, his stories. He has no idea how fortunate he is, really. You really had nothing going for you but the brain rattling around inside your skull. People you'd grown up with were killing themselves by your sophomore year in high school, not just committing suicide, but dying in horrendous car accidents after keggers in the desert. You were sad enough sometimes, desperate enough sometimes, to consider a final way out, but what stopped you was that you wanted to know the end of the story. It's the kind of kid you were: you never skipped ahead to the end of the book; you always let the plot unfold. I think that's probably what saved your life.

So, what would I tell you if I came back from the future?

1) You are such a fighter! You have more courage than you ever give yourself credit for (or really than I ever gave you credit for), and despite all the second guessing, everything you do in the next eight years will be the right thing. Maybe not the best thing, but you'll do fine. You work out this year that escape is a real possibility, and you sit down and figure out exactly how to make it happen. Then you do. I would tell you to learn how to choose your battles a little better; you and I tend to fight everything. But at 16, your life is a real battlefield. I know your choices are limited, but you do exactly what you need to. No one knew how frightened you were, but you fought and you win.

2) You will make some grievous mistakes and you will hurt people. I wish, in particular, that the latter wasn't true, and I wish I could stop you from making those mistakes, but if you don't then I won't be who I am now. I learned from those things. I loathe my own imperfection (and yours), but it's part of the learning process. Be gentle with those around you, especially those on whom you take out your frustrations only because they are there. Be kind. Even if you don't like some people, you owe them the respect dictated by the fact they are fellow humans. Even if they are undeserving. I had to tell the son this exact thing last night. See? I learned from what you did wrong.

3) You will see the world and you will love every moment of it. For the moment, you are imprisoned, but you will see the world. You will see great and terrible things in about equal proportion, but you will hold to the good. Oh, you are such an angry adolescent, and that anger will inform your adulthood, even now. But you will learn compassion, and the natural empathy that you see as weakness will serve you in the future. You will meet people you never dreamed of meeting; some of them will have a life-changing impact. You will become a thoughtful listener, and you will continue to take with gratitude the life lessons that people give you. You have already set a course, and because you have few options, you will partly go where the wind the takes you, destination unknown. This is not a bad thing. You don't know it yet, but you have a future. And a lot of it is good.

What is funny, I suppose, is that you never needed me to tell you these things. You woke up every day, you put one foot in front of the other and you never stopped. Oh, there were bad days, endless days, days when all seemed lost. But you kept going. Along the way you learn to laugh, not the polite smile you give now, but a full-bodied, they-can-hear-you-down-the-hall guffaw. You learned to recognize the absurdity of the world...and to love it anyway.

We both know that things could have been worse, and they could have been better. But even if it had been better, neither of us will ever know if that's what we would have wanted.

It's ok to hold out for a better tomorrow. You did, and I still do.

Go listen to some music: "Destination Unknown" from the album Spring Session M by Missing Persons.

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