I am writing you from a few decades in the future. At the moment, you’re suffering through middle school, that wretched armpit of life that marks the lowest point in your existence thus far. Girl, I feel for you. Right now you think you’re a freak of nature. I know. For one thing, you’re beginning to notice that, unlike a number of your female classmates, your hair is never NEVER going to be straight and shiny and silky. No matter how you wrangle that curling iron and no matter how carefully you follow the instructions in Tiger Beat magazine, you are NOT going to look like Marsha Brady. Also—bad news—Your nose is WAY too big. Such an obvious defect gives you no end of grief, thanks to that little two-faced heifer next door who makes it her business to point out such things. Your dad says you have bird legs too, but really, that’s not altogether as bad as it sounds. One day when you’re fifty and the possessor of thunder thighs, you’ll look back on them with fondness. Trust me on that.
Personality-wise: You, girl, are a nerd extraordinaire. You can lose yourself for hours in a good book. You like drawing, poetry, horses, inventions, and mysteries. You enjoy real friends, but you also still like imaginary companions: whole troops of people and family configurations you cut out of the Sears catalog. I get that. Later on, when you start to write stories, you’ll pull bucketfuls from that wellspring of imagination.
By the way, in case you haven’t figured it out yet: you’re never going to be a cheerleader either. I know. That’s a girl’s fondest dream; it’s the golden ticket to success and popularity, that most coveted prize of the teenage kingdom. The cherry atop the ice cream sundae of life. But no. You couldn’t do a handspring or turn a cartwheel if God himself ordered you to; you have zero coordination. It’s exhausting to try to look that perky and bubbly all the time too, especially when you’re in kind of a low-grade funk most of the time. And you’re not really fond of yelling, so no matter how much you envy those cute little skirts and saddle oxfords, it is not happening.
So that’s middle school. Is high school any better, you wonder? Actually, not that much. You contribute to the school’s literary magazine, cute boys do NOT notice you except to confide in you about their girlfriends, which is of course thrilling on no level whatsoever. The only classes you really like are Art and English, you write for the school newspaper, and you proofread your homework before you turn it in—who does that? And you’re in the band, for goodness sake. Geek with a capital G.
You never attend the parties your classmates throw when their parents are out of town because your father does not bear the sword in vain. So, even though you have a social life, it pretty well revolves around the skating rink and church socials. How’s that for a wild old time?
So. Contrary to what adults with bad memories may be telling you, these are—thank-you-Jesus—NOT generally the best years of a person’s life. Now, they’re the best years of SOME people’s lives. You know that boy you’re dying to go out with, the one with the smoldering dark eyes and the swagger, who plays drums in a rock group and so very coolly smokes joints out behind the school every morning before first period? The one whose letter jacket practically swallows his chesty little majorette girlfriend? Um, hmm. Well, high school IS actually the pinnacle of HIS life. Give him a few years. He’ll be wearing an open-collared shirt with a gold chain around his neck and sidling up to women in bars with HIS greasy self. You can thank me later.
If you ever get out of high school—and you can and you will—you’ll find your tribe. You’re going to meet other people who love the Beatles and James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Vivaldi, and Bob Dylan. Who love Andrew Wyeth and Van Gogh. Who can read a line from Mary Oliver or Edna St. Vincent Millay and come away with tears in their eyes. In whose bookshelves you find the familiar works of C.S. Lewis and Anne Lamott. Who have read The Little Prince and Tuck Everlasting a dozen times, just as you have. Who watch The Trip to Bountiful and Fly Away Home and cry every time that 13-year-old girl guides her flock of geese to the wetlands of South Carolina and lands her little plane. You’ll find them. You’ll find your people. No matter how alien the world feels to you now, they are there, and you will find each other. That spark of recognition? It tells you you are home.
So for now, I have to say this one last thing: It’s no good trying to be someone you’re not. Go ahead and make a stab at it if you want. I don’t suppose it will hurt anything. You might even pick up a few useful skills here and there. But don’t forget to look in the mirror and appreciate the wonder I’m telling you that you are right now. Love that nose, girl. It’s from your father’s Native American heritage a few generations back. Embrace your wavy, curly hair—again, inherited from your dad—or at least tolerate it—because one day when everybody else is getting perms, you’re gonna save a ton of money. And admire your bird legs. Step back, examine them in a full-length mirror, and twirl around on them. I can’t tell you where THEY came from though; there’s not a skinny relative on any branch of your family tree, so just be grateful.
Middle school? High school? Meh! So you don’t have a boyfriend or a prom date and you’re not on the Homecoming Court? Don’t worry. You’ll wear your own brand of tiara someday, I promise you. You’ll wear it.
With all my love,
Your Future Self