I recently came across this photo of me from the summer before high school. I had just turned 14. I saw it and got a little teary-eyed knowing what this girl would go through over the next few years.
When I look at this photo, I want to hug and counsel myself. If I could go back the 14-year-old a few things, I would do so in a heartbeat. Not to stop her from going through the things I did -- after all, it made me who I am. But I would like to let her know just a few things, to protect her just a little. If I had that chance, here is what I would say ...
Dear 14-year-old me,
-You're beautiful. I know you think that's just about the opposite of the truth, but it's true. You aren't going to believe it for a very long time. You won't at 15, 16, 17 or 18. But eventually, you'll start to recognize that you are made in the image of the Creator, and no matter what the boys are telling you now, you are still beautiful. In your twenties, you won't believe it every day. The most important lesson you will learn is that it's not about the exterior and that your true beauty comes from being at peace with yourself. And one day, you will believe it enough to put your foot down and go after what you deserve in this life, no matter how scary it seems.
-You're going to gain a very significant amount of weight very soon. You're going to cry yourself to sleep most nights. You're going to not understand what's happening to your body. You're going to give up sports and things that made you happy because you will internalize all the mean things people say about you in school. You'll replay in your mind when he asked you "how's the flab, fatass?" in front of the whole schoolbus. You'll remember when someone writes "Fat Bitch" about you in the bathroom. You'll cry when the boys you like make jokes about your size. About your hair. About your mother. About your race. About things you have no control over. You won't understand why people can't see you for the person and not the outward appearance. And all of that is going to make you seek out ways to numb your pain.
-While it's happening, you're going to go through drastic measures to try and stop it. You'll make yourself throw up for some time. But after a while, for some unexplained physical reason you can't understand, and what I say with certainty is divine intervention, your body won't let you anymore. You'll spend time in front of the toilet crying when you can't do it. So you'll try laxatives. And then diet pills. But none of it is going to make you lose weight. You'll stop using those things eventually, and keep gaining, and keep hating yourself in the process. But God is going to carry you through it to the other side.
-It will peak at 18, and then, as your teen years wind down, your body will balance itself out. You'll begin to hear God's voice in your heart. You'll start to know yourself. You'll discover your love for writing and music and theater. And all of those things will help you. Eventually, you will be able to take care of yourself. You'll go up and down in numbers over the years (something I'm trying to stop doing once and for all), but you'll start to be happy about who you are on the inside. Happiness is possible.
-The boys aren't going to pay much attention to you. You'll feel invisible. The ones you have a crush on will be jerks. And in their 20s, most of them will be the complete opposite of what you want in a man (trust me). A very small few will have an impact on your life and one will break your heart. You'll get over it. The one man that truly matters will be what you didn't even know was missing from your life until he is there. And he will be there ... without you chasing him or needing to convince him of your worth. He will love you at your best and your worst.
-The girls who bully you and make you cry and tease you about being fat, being mixed and not having money aren't all bad people. They are going through their own darkness as well. Being a bully and being the one bullied aren't that different. Both hate things about themselves, both are concerned with the silliness of being popular, being liked by the boys ... being cool. You'll meet some of them later in your adulthood. You'll even become friends with them. They'll apologize to you with tears in their eyes and sorrow in their heart. You'll forgive them and one day you both will laugh about it. As for the others --- well, let's just say they won't do much with themselves. It won't be ok to take a little bit of pride in that in your 20s, but you will anyway.
-You're going to seriously regret the electric blue eyeshadow phase. You won't die because you can't afford skater clothes and then oversize everything and all the other various, questionable style phases you'll go through. Your mom was right about most of those clothes being ugly. One day, you'll want to dress like her.
-Girls like yourself with curly hair shouldn't cut bangs. Ever.
-Wear sunblock. Your Irish side is going to be more dominant in that respect, and you will up your skin cancer risk with some serious burns. Besides, you already have a tan -- your other side is black, kiddo.
-Mom doesn't mean anything when she keeps dragging you to Weight Watchers with her and demanding to see the scale results in the most deeply embarrassing displays you can fathom. Or even when she makes a few less-than-favorable comments about your weight gain. In her own way, she is trying to help. You can't change her. She loves you and only wants the best for you, even if her ideas are different than yours. Eventually, she will see that you can discern that for yourself.
-You shouldn't stop singing or playing the clarinet. But you will. The good news is that there is a silver lining, and it is that it will lead you to writing. Eventually, that will become one of your main sources of income. Hold on to the poems, essays and short stories you write now. Some of them will one day become the premise for your first novel.
-It's ok to keep watching cartoons.
-You don't have a lot of friends now, but you will. You will be ridiculously rich in your relationships. I wish I could say the same for your bank account in your twenties, but there's always hope for the letter you'll write in your thirties.
-Don't apply for that credit card at 18. You won't just use it for books and emergencies.
-You're not always right.
-Your limit is 4 beers. You should never drink Vodka. You'll hate cigarettes. They won't make you look cool.
-Spend time with your siblings. You may argue now, but one day you will realize that they are your greatest gift from God.
-Hug your grandmother as much as you can. Your time with her won't be as long as you'd like.
-I'm sorry for the pain of adolescence, but it's not all bad. There will be lots of laughs and memories and beautiful moments. As an adult, you'll long for those days at the skating rink. For what felt like simpler times with bike rides with your brother, Nintendo and episodes of Saved By the Bell. You'll remember a lot of great moments along with the bad.
They will make you me.
I love you.