A letter to my 14 year old self

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Dear Erika,

I wish I knew you better than I do. To me, you are almost a stranger, a girl I passed by briefly in mirrors but whom I never spent much time with. I search for you now in old diary entries, photo albums, social media sites long extinct. But none of the searching gets me anywhere. You’re an enigma: there is a haze around you that I can’t quite see through. And I want to see through it- but if I cannot, and I know I can’t because of how often I have tried, writing to you will have to suffice.

Black and White photos have always suited you. When you were 13, you took an hour to get ready to take photos of yourself. And when the time came to take them, the Black and White option was your favorite. It complements you, these shades: the lightness in your hair, the dramatic flair of your eyelashes. But that’s not why you chose Black and White, is it? You chose it because you were afraid of the way you truly looked- the way your skin reddened in your cheeks, the moles on your chest that stood out far too much, the hair that you could never quite get right, the darkness around your eyes that you verbally blamed your mother for. They’re the same reasons you rarely looked into the camera. You were afraid that if you did, you’d see your real self, physically flawed and weak. I’m here to tell you that those flaws will never leave you. They will stick with you into adulthood, long after this phase of pretending to hate school. You will never be free of these flaws. But you will learn to take photos in color. You will be able to look into the camera.

My dear, at 14 you refuse to give yourself credit for anything. Your diary entries and xanga posts tell me nothing about you because they are always full of others: Alivia came over tonight, I love Mark, I hope Laura isn’t mad at me. What about you? A sentence telling me you spent the night bored and doing homework isn’t enough. Your imagination has a force that will write a novel some day. Your thoughts are so vivid you need time alone just to process them. Don’t be ashamed of the fifteen minutes a day you need to spend time in the forest. Don’t take a phone with you in case anyone calls you. Absorb nature, for it is who you are. I know you don’t know who you are, but I do. Please spend time alone. Please read books. Please write. You were never meant for normality- there is no reason to long for it. Tell yourself you are beautiful. Stop weighing yourself. Eat. You’re not as talented with athletics as your friends are- don’t force yourself to be. It’s okay to want to spend your free time reading books and learning to paint. I wish you’d do it more often.

You are so much more than the ‘I love you’ he says to you. I know that it feels like Eden when he holds your hand during lunch, when he sneaks in a kiss at the end of the school day. I know what first love feels like. But he does not define you. This will take you years to learn, I know, but I wish I could shake you, hurt you, prepare you in some way for that first heartbreak. You won’t see it coming, my love. You won’t stop crying for six hours. Your stomach will hurt and your face will feel raw and you won’t be able to lie to your mother about not crying. She will crumble to the floor with you when she realizes it’s your heart that’s been broken. Let her sit with you. You’ve seen the way her heart breaks- let her share in this hurt (Oh, and you know how you secretly always thought she was your best friend? She is. I’m so happy to tell you that she is. And you know what’s even better? She is happy. She smiles a smile you don’t know yet. I can’t wait until you see it) .You will fall to the floor in heartbreak so many more times. I’m sorry for that. But nothing will strike you down the way this will. You’re going to feel paralyzed by shock and loss. You will call his house phone and hang up when the person that answers isn’t him. You will see him in the hallway and put your head down until you can make it to the bathroom where you will cry and make yourself throw up. If I could change this, I would. Just know that as the years go on, you will reserve your tears. As you get older you will discover a certain grace in heartbreak, in loneliness. You will get over this heartbreak, and although nothing will ever be the same again, although you’ve lost the innocent belief in love without pain, you are resilient. You are strong, and brave, and your soul is too large for your body. There are colors within you that do not exist. It’s okay to continue opening yourself up. It’s okay to want love even after feeling so low. It’s okay to not have any problem giving your heart away again- you believe the best in every person you meet, and this curse will bless you in many ways. While I’m at it, I might as well warn you of two other people you will love: one will show you the monstrosities of selfishness. You will hang on too long to this one. Please let go- in the end, he will be nothing to you. And the other will wrap you up in a halcyon of love, a place you will lose in a tragic way. He will be nothing like the guy you imagine loving now, but he will be exactly what you are meant for. When it ends, I’m sorry to say, you will fall to the floor again. This isn’t the heartbreak of a first love but the heartbreak of an honest and true love, a love that should have defied it all. There is nothing I can say to prepare you for this. I can’t even give you a timeline of healing. But, how worth it he will be.

I know you try not to worry about your father. And I also know your worries are consistent, traumatic, and lonesome. There are nights you stay up crying, hearing him fall down or up the stairs. There’s a photo you have framed behind your bed, one of you as a child, playing guitar with your dad. You ignore the fact that he’s drunk in the photo because there is such joy on your face. Don’t feel guilty that that joy is no longer there. You can no longer pretend to not notice when he’s drunk. It cuts you with each beer he opens. I know you hate the sound of the tab opening, the beer fizzing to the top. You always will, even after you’ve become comfortable with drinking. His alcoholism is not something to be dismissed. It hurts you. One day you will tell him the indisputable truth: his problem is a plague on your life bigger than any other. He will forget you said this. It will haunt you for the rest of your life. The good news? You’ll find a way to love him despite. The bad news? Sometimes it will hurt loving him more than it would not to.

Feel it- feel it all. Remember what it’s like to go to your brother’s baseball games with your grandparents- you can’t believe it now, but they will age. Your time with them will not be long enough. Remember the football games and the long days at school. Live strongly. You don’t yet value the art that is memory making, but I wish you would. One day you will realize how to participate in life. That day will be a good day.

I wish you would’ve explored what being Erika meant to you then. I wish you would’ve known that identity is more than what others think of you. I wish you would’ve listened to the words of the strong females in your life. But somehow you became a strong woman anyway.

I know you haven’t heard it enough from yourself, but I love you. I’m so proud of you. And my pride for who you will be extends past the limits of any significant word. You will turn out to be exactly whom you want to be. I will see you soon.

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