Dear 14-year-old Chrissy,
It’s me, your adult self, writing to you from the future. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
You’re in 8th grade now, wearing the Love’s Baby Soft Musky Jasmine spray that Mom hates. You also wear BABE deodorant and you LOVE reading Judy Blume books (even Mom’s copy of WIFEY when she’s not looking). You’re in love with Tony Wichart and you hate that Mr. Miller makes you diagram sentences in Language Arts and that he just gave you your first detention 6 days before graduation for chewing gum in class.
Now do you believe me?
I need to tell you a few things while I have this opportunity. First of all, you’re an awesome person and I want you to remember that. Always.
Now to the bad news. You’re not going to marry Tony Wichart, but even worse, you won’t have kids with names all perfectly ending in “n”, like Lauren, Ryan and Colin. The good news is, you’re going to kiss many boys between now and the time you get married, including Mickey, Keith, Tom, Rich, Paul, the other Keith, Dave, AND (drumroll)… you’ll end up marrying the sweetest, handsomest, coolest guy of all – a superkind, smart, sailor/lawyer/wine lover (I know…wine…ewwwww) named Mike. He’ll take care of you in all the ways you hope, and you’ll take care of him right back. You’ll have three kids and they’ll be awesome. Though only one of their names ends in “n”, you DO name them in alphabetical order without even meaning to.
And, I might as well give you a head’s up on the shittiest part of what’s to come, just to get it out of the way. While you think Dad’s bad now (you realize he’s an alcoholic, right?) his verbal and physical abuse will get worse. He’ll say many awful things to you that he can’t take back and you’re going to believe all of them, particularly that you’re an ungrateful daughter of whom he’s ashamed. When he slugs you in Florida after fighting with his third wife (I’d duck right after he gets that dead look and lurches toward you), you’ll be terrified and think it’s all your fault which it most certainly is not. Your eye will heal faster than your inner strength surfaces…but that strength is in there and you’re going to use it in ways you can’t possibly imagine.
For example, the week before you get married (you’ll be 23 and Mom will fret that you’re too young but just turn up your Walkman), Dad will call you. He’ll have just gotten out of jail for yet another DUI. He’ll beg for your forgiveness and your money and your understanding. You’ll have the presence of mind to say, “Thank you for bringing me into this world, but I’m starting a new, happy, healthy life and you may not be a part of it.” Your stepdad will walk you down the aisle on your wedding day – fourteen years and 13 days after he married Mom. You’ll tell him you love him as you walk toward the altar and you’ll call him Dad instead of Bob for the very first time. Your kids will call him Papa and they’ll never have to meet your first father. When you learn that Dad#1 died alone in 2012 with a death certificate claiming he never had children, you’ll know you made the right choice. That’s when you’ll acknowledge the inner strength that guides you through life. That’s when you’ll realize you always knew that families are meant to build their members up, not tear each other apart.
A few more painful truths: You suck at sports and math and you always will. Despite what many boys say, it’s not because you’re a girl; it’s because you love words more than those things, and that’s so totally okay. You don’t have to be good at everything. Just don’t feel pressure to hide your weaknesses. It’s actually great to show your vulnerability, because it lets others see you as a human. Try it now. Today, instead of feeling like a failure working on your sewing project in Home Economics, look around and silently say to yourself, “I’m very happy for the people whose projects look perfect, but the world will not end if my apron’s hem is slightly uneven. Someday I will write words that move people to think deeply, to help lend a voice to those who cannot find one, and to make someone happy.” Screw the apron, Chrissy. Keep writing as honestly as you can in your journal. One day, you’re going to get up on stage at Shuba’s Tavern in Chicago and read some of the most embarrassing moments from your 8th grade diary (By choice! I’m SO serious!) and people will laugh and clap after having PAID to hear you do it! Seriously! Screw the apron AND your teacher’s ridiculous asymmetrical haircut. Trust me…your perm is just fine for now (just don’t ever let Mom get near you with an Ogilvie Home Perm kit ever again).
Speaking of bad hair days and unbearable sadness — don’t fight your tears when they need to come out. No matter what you think, they are NOT a sign of weakness. Tears are strength. They acknowledge deep feelings that some people just aren’t capable of knowing. Don’t believe me? Some of your most profound writing will come when your tears have moved you. You’ll use those tears to build a well of emotions you’ll constantly draw upon to write a children’s novel, to land an awesome literary agent and to deal with rejections. Your tears will motivate you to fight for what you believe in, to push harder for justice, and (are you sitting down?) to submit a question to the White House that ultimately leads to you interviewing the President of the United States in a Google Hangout (though, unlike Ronald Reagan, the president you interview is young and stays awake. He also ignores Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” message during college. Just saying…).
Chrissy, I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because each layer of happiness and frustration and confusion and joy makes up the person you ultimately become. Each heartache teaches you a lesson you can share with others and each accomplishment is a reminder that hanging in there is totally worth it. You’re going to have so many more ups than downs, and you’ll be surrounded by many more good people than bad.
But still, when it all feels overwhelming – and it will, many times over – just remember that you’ll always get through… and that you’re never truly alone. Want proof? Just look at how many times this letter’s been shared on Facebook (oh wait, remind me to explain Facebook to you…).
Christine Wolf is a journalist from Evanston, Illinois. She’s written more than 500 opinion columns for Patch.com, including one that went viral about local middle school girls protesting a ban on wearing leggings and yoga pants. Her blog on Tribune Media Company’s ChicagoNow, called Riding The Waves, covers just some of life’s ups and downs. She hopes to find just the right publisher for her middle-grade novel, MY LIFE AFLOAT, about a 12-year-old girl’s life forever changed when her parents lose their jobs. Christine’s a former teacher, a mediocre sailor, a terrible housekeeper and an insanely proud mother of three fantastic kids. She still can’t believe she interviewed Barack Obama and she really does cry more than anyone she knows; thankfully, her supercute husband doesn’t seem to mind. Christine’s always been terrible with numbers and she’s finally 99.9% okay about it.