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,


Failing Hard

I have to admit, I’m not very good at life.

Here is my disclaimer: I’m not depressed. I’m not despondent. I’m not clinging to my last hope. I’m not writing this as a cry for help, or to reach out for the sympathy of friends or strangers. That’s not what I’m on about at all.

Now that we’re comfortably disclaimed, let me continue my thought. As I stated, I’m not very good at ‘life’. In fact, I fail pretty spectacularly at it.

By ‘life’, I mean the particular skill set people are required to have in the modern world in order to be ‘successful’. According to everything we’re taught from birth, we have to struggle and compete to earn our place in the world in order to become productive members of society. As children, we’re required to pass the tests and get the grades and play the sports so we ‘turn out well’.

Before we get a chance to grasp the barest of possibilities that the world has for us, we are told we need to choose what it is that we will be tied to for the rest of our lives. “Pick a career path,” we’re told at the age of 14, as if we really have any idea what we want to do. Sure, each of us has interests and aptitudes from an early age. But how, at the impressionable age of 14, or 17, or 22, are we to really have enough experience to make such important decisions? Why is it necessary?

In order to have ‘success’, the hurdles must be jumped. School, job, relationship, status. Money. Influence. Fancy car, fancy house, fancy friends, fancy lifestyle. Wear the right clothes, get the right connections, have the right body. There is always something lacking, everything has to be bigger, better, more.

But what about those of us who don’t follow that appointed path?

I personally have little use for money. Don’t mistake me, I understand the necessity of it in our society, and its purpose as a medium of exchange for things which are indispensable for survival, but it has never been a motivating factor for me. I enjoy my luxuries as much as the next person, but remove them from me, and I get by just fine. In this, I fail at life. I’m supposed to be consumed by the desire for money.

As a child, I had a vague idea of what I may possibly want from my life. As an adult, I have a vague idea of what I may want from my life. I don’t know if I ever will know. For this reason, I frequently move from job to job, sometimes discovering talents untapped, sometimes finding that my personal ethics prevent me from required duties even if I am good at what I’m being asked to do. In this, I fail at life. I’m supposed to have a clear end goal toward which I constantly strive and without which I feel empty and unfulfilled.

I am short, and nothing will ever change that. I’m also fat, and I’m healthy. I’m comfortable being fat. I’ve been skinny, I don’t like how I feel when I’m that way. I often dress unconventionally, and I wear my hair and makeup in any way I desire to. I am unapologetic about how I express who I am. In this, I fail at life. I’m supposed to be wracked with low self-esteem and guilt, and struggle to fit into a false societal norm.

I’m not a crusader, nor am I particularly political. I do want animal cruelty to end. I do want slavery to be a non-issue. I do want people who need jobs to have them. I do want equal rights for all people everywhere. I do want a world in which I can walk proudly as a polyamorous bisexual atheistical-agnostic without anyone getting their panties in a twist. But I know I’m not the one who will picket for these things, because I know that I personally have no power to affect change on my own. In this, I fail at life. I’m supposed to champion my causes loudly before the whole world, driven into a frenzy of ideals-bashing when confronted with anyone who does not share my leftward leanings.

I teach my sons to show respect in order to receive respect. I teach them that they don’t need to know everything to be worthy of my love. I accept their quirks and foibles. I refuse to discipline them for independent thought, failing, and acting according to their conscience. I hold them when they need to cry, laugh with them when they are filled with joy, and I refuse to minimize their impact on others and make them feel insignificant. In this, I fail at life. I’m supposed to push my children to be perfect, unquestioning automatons who follow all the rules and never step a foot outside the standardized box that they are perpetually being crammed into.

I’m just not good at all these things I’m supposed to be. Yet I don’t mind it at all.

I maintain a few Bohemian mindsets as I go day to day, and I make it through the good times and bad with my spirit unbroken by the cruelty of this world because I hold to them.

First, be kind. Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone, without exception. The Dalai Lama speaks mountains of wisdom, but the nugget I cling to most is “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

Second, don’t judge. Nobody is faultless. Everyone lies, everyone cheats, everyone makes big and little mistakes. None of us is qualified to lay judgment on another, because we don’t live their life. I don’t know your truth, you don’t know mine. Psychologist Wayne Dyer puts it well: “When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.

Third, seek out The Awesome. Beauty abounds all around us, but often we miss it because we’re just struggling through trying to live the way society has arbitrarily decided we must. There are so many, many awesome things to be found, and it doesn’t take deep searching. We just need to keep our eyes wide and observe. Confucius says “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

Finally, be love. Love isn’t only a feeling, it is an expression of our humanity one toward another. Give it fully, without reserve. Give it to those you find deserving and those you find undeserving. It will never lessen you to share wholeheartedly, because loving is not about others, it is about you. “When I’m being love, I don’t get drained, and I don’t need people to behave a certain way in order to feel cared for or to share my magnificence with them. They’re automatically getting my love as a result of me being my true self.” – Anita Moorjani

I know, I got rather quoty. But that’s ok.

I may hold a false belief, but I believe it nonetheless; mine is the better way. I am immeasurably grateful to be so bad at life.

A Girl Out of Time

As a child, I was once told that I ‘belonged to another time’. I didn’t quite fit, although I was not really that different from the other children in the neighborhood. I never felt ostracized or excluded; in fact I was well-liked and often sought out. I was simply different.

As I grew, I never lost that sense of difference. Regardless of where I went or who I spent time with, I always felt a lack of belonging. I wasn’t in any cliques in High School, although I was far from being a social outcast. After leaving home to pursue my independent life, I searched for that feeling of ‘home’ which was foreign to me. I never found it. Even now I still have not been in a place that feels like home, and I have been many places.

I wonder at times if perhaps my dearth of belonging simply comes from my writerliness. Each person drawn to express themselves artistically–whether with music, visual arts, dance, mathematics, creative writing, performance–has a unique view of the world, and affects and is affected by it in strikingly divergent ways. Creatives simply do not see things the way non-creatives do. We observe, process, internalize, and express absolutely everything in myriad ways. It is the way of the soul-led.

I have on occasion wondered if maybe I do ‘belong to another time’. The person who spoke those words to me when I was a child likely meant that I was a throwback to an earlier generation, but I don’t feel I am. I am comfortable in this time I inhabit.

But there is this niggling thought…

The Universe is so massive, that its scope is unimaginable for the human mind. We haven’t discovered its edges. New, mind-boggling concepts about its immensity are being found at astounding rates. Add to that theories on alternate realities and multi-verses, and the possibilities for life other than as we know it are quite literally unquantifiable to a degree we can justifiably call limitless.

In the grand opera of our universe alone, the most infinitesimal influence could send a consciousness intended for one place to somewhere so far off-course it would take a billion billion lifetimes to find it.

What if I am not a person meant for another time, but instead meant for another place?

What if I could find my home out there, in that vast, crowded emptiness?