Column: A Letter to My Younger Self
By Danielle Naugler
Letters to Our Younger Selves, is a new column where readers write letters to their younger selves with insight and perspective. Submit your letter here and you may be published in Brain Child.
Dear 20-Year-Old Self,
The good news is, this will be one of the hardest years of your life, and in the scheme of things, it’s nothing.
Between the rejections you face in theatre, the responsibility you shoulder as an RA, the disappointment you feel in your brother when he trades his opportunity to follow in your footsteps at a great university for the chance to smoke away his college years, the fear you weather as your young garandmother faces and defeats stage four cancer, and the depth to which you realize you’ve lost yourself in your first serious relationship, you’ll think nothing can top that first year of your twenties. But just wait until you’ve been around the world and back a couple times, and to war with bed bugs for the sake of your relationship with Manhattan, and to the mansion in Malibu where they filmed a season of The Bachelor. After all that, when your weight and your heart are at their heaviest, you’ll find the cold grey basement floor of your parents’ home is the perfect place to hit rock bottom and start your climb back up.
You should know, you actually do like broccoli, and strawberries, and zucchini, and peppers, and bananas, and pears, and salad in general. Not cucumbers. Not celery. But brussel sprouts, believe it or not, cookies made with coconut oil instead of butter, and salsa – oh my God, salsa.
At the mansion where they filmed a season of The Bachelor, you’ll be starving – you won’t have had a carb in a week. Won’t have had anything to drink since before dinner the night before, because that’s how cutting water works, and you Xenadrine girls will have been told to cut water before filming your commercial there so as not to look at all bloated on camera. You’ll stand by the Grecian styled pool in a cobalt blue bikini and silver heels – cubic zirconium studs in your ears and fake lashes on you heavily made up eyes. You’ll give a misleading testimony that can be found on the internet to this day to the effect of “taking these pills totally changed my life.” And then you’ll thank God you dyed your signature curly golden blonde locks brown before landing that “gig” so no one will confuse the girl in the commercial for the one in your headshot.
You’ll learn no amount of weight you shed will change things the way you had hoped they might, because even being fitness model skinny won’t make your soap opera actor ex fall back in love with you.
You could snoop through said soap opera ex’s Facebook messages in July instead of August of 2008 to find his correspondence with the skinnier blonde, and cancel that second flight to Australia with him, because the money you’re going to spend simultaneously having your heart broken and going to the third of thirty six weddings in eight years while you’re there would be better spent paying down credit cards. You might also decline the invite to rendezvous in New Mexico in June of 2013 and instead ask the international man of mystery you met on a layover in Brussels to put his money where his mouth is and meet you on your turf instead of his. But if you don’t, fear not, because without making those pilgrimages, you won’t find out how cool it is to seek the comfort of church in different corners of the world. Mass has the same soothing rhythm whether it’s said in Italian or Spanish or English, and exchanging the sign of peace with strangers reminds you love and grace can carry you through anything.
At twenty, you’re struggling to find and define yourself, wearing a gajillion hats and scheduling your weeks so tightly, because you’re convinced you can catch up to your parents, but it was their path to “have all the answers” by twenty one when they started their family. It’s yours to keep uncovering questions well in to your thirties, and probably forties and fifties and beyond, since you will worry more about birthing your creative projects than listening for your biological clock to go off.
Luckily at twenty one, you’ll wear a fig leaf bikini on stage that makes you, your friends and your family forget you ever played a pink sheep in an operetta. And before you hit your thirties, you’ll make a point of double checking if your dreams are meant to take the shape of a place out west before your second brother has his son and you decide to settle back in on the east coast to be close to your original crew. You’ll have met so many people searching for connections you are already incredibly blessed to have at home.
You’ll come to believe time is what you make of it when, after being on a train that’s actually going to Switzerland, you manage to re-route back to the airport in Belgium in time to catch the flight you booked for you and your baby sister.
You’ll delight in American and European adventuring on trips like that one with both your sisters, and you’ll befriend the two of them, which I know you’re hoping to.
You can’t fix anyone, or just “do it for them,” and the sooner you learn that, the lighter you’ll feel.
Girly, you’re just getting started doing the things you say you’re going to. Be patient. Be kind. Be gentle on yourself, and be open to actually living – not just dreaming up – your story. You can’t make this stuff up.
A few years ago, Sugar, aka Cheryl Strayed (who has published in Brain Child), wrote a “letter to her younger self” in one of her stunning Rumpus advice columns. As writers and mothers we at Brain Child are trying, in this bizarre time, to show each other (and our younger selves) our similarities and our differences with a new perspective. -Francesca Grossman, Column Editor