A Letter to My 16-year-old Self

sweet 16

Dear Rose,

Here it is, just a month until your 16th birthday, and you’ve received a mysterious letter from…yourself? Yes, this letter is from you, but not the you that you are today. This letter is from the you that you will be a month before your 40th birthday. No, time travel hasn’t been invented yet, let’s just call it a miracle of fate that you’re reading this right now.

I’m writing to tell you a little bit about me (and you). Things you could never imagine, things you have no way to process yet.

Let’s start small, shall we?

Nobody is going to remember your birthday this year, except for Sue Nelson. It’ll sting, knowing that none of your friends and family even wish you a happy birthday on your sweet 16, but you’re not going to hold on to resentment over it for too long. Mom is going to feel badly enough about it that she will let you have 10 girls sleep over, let you make Chinese food, and have a wonderful celebration when you turn 17.

Your mother won’t ever really stop treating you like a child, unfortunately. She will eventually get a handle on at least one of her mental health issues, but not enough to make up for the multitude of times she hurt you. She will continue to hurt you in ways nobody else ever could.

You will make it through High School. You’ll graduate with your class, and you’ll get a job in a book store. You’re going to love working at the book store. Soon enough, living at home with Mom will be too much to deal with, and you’ll decide to become a professional nanny. You will move out. Not just out, but to Boston at first, then out of state to Connecticut. You will work for a wonderful family and get to do fun and interesting things, like stay a weekend at Brown University, go to Broadway shows, and meet celebrities.

Around this time, you’re going to start to deeply question the religion you were raised in. You’re going to go on a deep spiritual search, educating yourself about every religion you can find. It will take a while, but you’ll separate yourself from Christianity and decide that agnosticism is more suitable for you. You’ll also be tested for that trouble you have with math, and find out that you have a learning disability. See, you weren’t just being stubborn!

You are going to meet a man…such a beautiful man, inside and out. His name will be Rafael Armando Esquilino Ramirez, and he will steal your heart, and share his with you. He will have a two-year-old son that you adore. He will treat you like a queen, look at you like you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, and will give you the most precious 21st birthday gift by making love to you for the first time on the lake shore at sunset. You will never regret it.

That summer, you will have a miscarriage. It will hurt far more emotionally than physically, and it will break Rafi’s heart. Over the course of a year, you will become even more in love with him, and when he proposes, you will joyfully accept. A few scant weeks after his proposal, Rafi will have a massive stroke and die at the age of 25. Devastated, you will make poor life decisions for a while.

You will rebound, and marry a man after dating him for only 5 months. He is a good man, but a poor husband. You won’t regret anything, however, because he will give you two amazing sons who are going to be the center of your universe, and the opportunity to go to exotic foreign lands before he decides to bugger off (don’t worry, you’ll eventually learn what ‘bugger off’ means).

Things will be hard for a while, after that. You’re going to be a single mom, but you’re also going to be strong, resourceful, and hard to intimidate. You’ll go to college for a bit and then have to stop for financial reasons. You’ll have to live with Mom again for a while when you badly injure your back at work and can’t take care of yourself or the boys until it heals. That will be a real struggle, because Mom is going to be just as toxic as she was when you were a teenager.

You will discover that the best way to deal with this poison is with kindness. You take on the attitude of non-judgmentality. You realize that what you put out into the world is what you get back from it, and learn that your wounds don’t necessarily have to become deep scars.

You’re going to meet another man online who comes to you and loves you well. Because of his love, you will go with him to far-off places. Life will be good for a decent handful of years. You will have to deal with the sadness of two more miscarriages. While you are with this man, you will join MySpace and meet a crazy girl named Lily who will become the best friend you’ll ever have. When you hit on truly hard times, she will be the one to open her arms to you and help you pick up the pieces. She will be the one whose shoulder you cry on and your strength when Mom decides to force her will on you and take the boys from you for three years. She will be the faithful friend who is so much more than friend, so much more than family. She will be your soul mate, and you will never stop loving her.

It is a good thing that you’re resilient, because you’re going to need that toughness in your 30’s. You’re going to meet a charmer who reels you in and then jerks you around for a few years. He will use your final miscarriage as a manipulation tool to keep you with him after you realize that he’s such a damaging person. That’ll end when he has you put in the psych ward for a week on suicide watch after getting your break-up letter. Somehow he will convince the police that it is a suicide note instead of a break-up note. You will eventually extricate yourself from that mess.

You will get your boys back. You will be happier then than you have been in ages. You’ll have a new relationship that lasts several years, and then you will be on your own with the boys. You will, for medical reasons, have to have a hysterectomy, but will find that it is a wonderful thing. You’ll bop around for a few more years until you decide to take Mom up on her offer to live with her again. It isn’t an easy decision to make, but you’ll feel it is the right choice.

See, a lot has changed with Mom over the last several years. She and Dad have adopted a little boy named Will who is severely handicapped, and it is as if Mom has finally discovered her purpose. He was 18 months old when he became part of the family, and he is 10 years old now. Because of Will, Mom has mellowed out immensely. She’s learned how to let go of the small stuff and to relinquish control of others’ choices. Of course she still voices her opinions loudly, but she’s stopped forcing them on people as if hers were the only option. A few years ago, Rae had to have back surgery and Mom took her and your niece Jesse in (yes, Rae has two daughters. One is three years older than your older son, and the other is five months older than your younger son).

Throughout it all, you’ll be able to hold on to your art. You will draw, paint, sculpt, craft, sew; pretty much anything you can possibly do to express yourself artistically. You’re going to sing an awful lot, too. You’ll do it so well that people will tell you that you need to perform for a living. You’ll pass your love of music on to your sons, and your older son will take up that torch gleefully, pursuing singing as a career. Your younger son won’t have found his voice quite yet, but puberty puts that kind of thing in flux for a boy.

There is just one more important thing I want to mention to you about your life. It is the thing that has chased you doggedly since you were little, sitting on the floor at Pearl St. making up stories to send to Highlights Magazine. It is your writing.

You will never let go of your writing. You will always feel the need to put pen to paper and bring worlds unknown to life. You’ll get quite good at it in your 30’s, and you will sell stories and be published! Someday, you’ll write an actual novel, and it will awaken in you such glorious things that you never stop. You’ll find a community of like-minded people to encourage and give encouragement to. You will learn to draw from the well of your not-so-easy life and pour those waters into fiction.

And then, one day, your best friend will challenge you to write a letter to yourself when you’re 16, and you will sit in front of your computer and type these words. They are the barest outline of what you’ll live through in the next 24 years, and there have been omissions in the outline, because some of the challenges you’ll face are too harsh to make you deal with just yet. Take them as they come.

Rose, there will be times when you just can’t see the sun for all the rain, but you’re a kind, smart, strong, talented, beautiful woman. You’re never going to let the world take away your openness or joy. You’ll maintain your childlike wonder. You will never forget how to laugh, even when things are at their most bleak. You’ll find a way to maintain perspective, and you’ll learn how to live by your own high standards. You’ll laughingly call mountains ‘speed bumps’, and take them in stride.

I’m not going to give you any advice, do you know why?

Because you’ve got this, girl.

You’re the fucking King of the world.

With every ounce of love in my heart,


1 Comment

  1. I knew this challenge would be an easy one for the woman who is the other part of my soul. I am happy that you are my best friend, my confidant and my rock and solid foundation. I’m proud of you Rose. So very proud.


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