This week on SERENDIPITY we talk about taking a look backward at your younger self. What advice would you give? Here is my look backward as crazy and uncomfortable as it may be.
Letter to my younger self: Taking a tough look back
Dear Rich (at 14),
I know you are going through a tough time right now and you have learned to clam up about it. You don’t know who to tell or even who to trust so you build walls of defense around your personal life. These walls will not serve you well over time, I am sorry to tell you. I can say it is good you did not run away, although you probably did not have the courage to do that anyway. Your parents are going through an ugly time. When they sold the house and got an apartment, you and your brother both knew it was a mistake. The worst part about it is they made that mistake, they thought, for you. It was to see you through grade school, but it should have ended when it was over.
The good thing about the apartment was the large bedroom and large walk-in closet. It was an actual closet you could go hide in when necessary. Too bad you only lived there for a year. In this time you will take refuge frequently at a Boys Club where you have been a member and played sports, even though you were not real good at sports. You are further away from the club now so school, a few friends, and the Club will keep you away from home most of the time.
Soon you will learn that the first person interested in you sexually is another boy. He is a year behind you in school, but not very much younger in reality. He seemed quite experienced next to your naiveté. The brief friendship will weigh heavily on your Catholic, guilt-ridden conscience. You will come to terms with this, although it will take you years to do so. Many years later you will learn from your mother that this boy married (a girl) and still lives in the old neighborhood. You will have moved to another area and stayed put for years. I write to you from there and I can tell you that we found employment at the Club for a while and spent many years playing in that same park you found as a kid. These will be good memories.
While you attend high school proms and college dances with girlfriends, you will discover there are other boys who find you “cute.” You never thought of yourself as cute or handsome so these attentions may seem a bit confusing. When you get hit on by the younger brother of a close friend, you fear that the world will soon know all about it. Don’t worry, no one knows. At least, I think no one knows. Other boys travel through your life, but none stay. I think that is largely due to your stubborn attitude about most things. I guess it is less so from where I am at now.
You will come to believe, perhaps rightly so, that your various groups of friends, and various lifestyles, will not mix well so you make sure they don’t mix at all. This is a talent you picked up when you were very young. Within these several groups, people only see one side of you and may believe that is all there is. It is a defense mechanism on your part and I must tell you that in the long run, it is not beneficial. You are solidly convinced right now that you are doing the right thing, but people will leave your life not knowing who you really are. That will make you sad. It is a hard time to be open, but I am convinced your friends will stand beside you, even as they do now. Would you be surprised to learn that your closest friends after college and for many more years to come are mostly from your high school days, both from your class and a few that followed? When you finally let them get to know you, they remain your close friends. You will also make new and younger friends right about now. They will be great friendships, perhaps because they really know you. Well, I guess I am not certain about that, however.
I would like to warn you that after high school and college you will make a lot of stupid mistakes. You will invest time in meaningless friendships and all for the wrong reasons. Dare I tell you of the beating you will take for who you are and the scars it will leave on your face and your spirit? You were not going to have your class portrait taken for graduating from NEIU because it was soon after, but they convince you to come. Your face will be bruised and battered from what they would now call a hate crime. The photographer tells you that you can reject all the pictures and you are convinced you will. I am glad to tell you they come out OK. We would call it photoshopping now but you will know that they did a great job of airbrushing the pictures. I still don’t know exactly what that process is but it worked well. I do not think my words of caution will do much good since I know you so well. Would you steer a better course if I showed you the way? I fear not, since you remain stubborn.
Despite the mistakes and the downtimes that will follow, I need to tell you this one very important thing. It gets better. Those three words will almost be a cliché by the time you get to where I am now, but it is true. You will find many around you who will say the same. It is the only thing I can tell you that matters. I can not alter your course, but I swear to you that it gets better. Please believe me.
Your future friend,
See Also: “A Glance Backward,” Serendipity, teepee12.com Sunday, February 21, 2021.