On high school, nostalgia, and reaching for the stars so as not to let down your teenaged self, who is still out there in a parallel universe, rooting so desperately for you to make it
Nearly six years ago, I was sitting in Health class when our very pregnant teacher told us about a project we would be doing. I don’t remember the specifics now and I don’t know why we dove into this undertaking in glorified sex ed, but she told us that we would be writing letters to ourselves. And in five years, once we were all out of high school, maybe out of college, maybe working, maybe married, she would mail them to us and we could see how far we’d come. Immediately, we all doubted her ability to remember to put the damn letters in the mail, because high school children care only about making teachers look bad, but we were assured that she had “a system” and our letters would be safely delivered to the address we provided on our SASEs.
So, somewhere along the way, I convinced myself it was only four years between the writing and the mailing–the length of college, if one was driven or rich or lucky, or at least enough time to get your feet under you. So when the letter didn’t appear immediately following college graduation, I figured everyone had been right, our Health teacher had forgotten us, and I’d never get to know what seventeen-year-old Katie had to say about her (my? our?) life.
And then I got home today, eager to collect a Barnes & Noble order I’ve been waiting to see since mid-April, and my letter was waiting for me, like the #TBT of Teen Angst Past.
Reading this letter was quite possibly the most surreal moment of my life to date, including that feeling you get at your own graduations and other milestones. Most of the first page is general “this is what my life is like” rundown, which was glorious. Having these insights into my day-to-day life in my senior year of high school, the little things like in-jokes about first period AP Econ, things I thought I’d never forget and then promptly did, is an amazing things. I didn’t remember that I had Health on blue days (our school had blue and gold days–crazy, right?) or when I had double AP Calc, or what it felt like to paint the windows at the local supermarket or be part of the five-person staff of the school paper. These memories are precious, and it was beautiful to have them handed back to me.
And then things got a little sad. “I wonder if I get into Brown,” seventeen-year-old me muses, as I wax poetic about college applications in the fall of 2009. “God, I hope so.” Sorry, booboo–you didn’t. And no, you didn’t find a “fun, quirky boyfriend” in college. You learned a lot, though. You found people to talk about writing and reading and books and comics and Boston and your hometown and favorite foods and awful movies with, and some of them are still a part of your life. No, you didn’t publish a book yet–but that was a reach goal, right? And yes, your parents still fight. Yes, unfortunately, you read this letter in your childhood kitchen, just as the last page of your letter hopes you wouldn’t. Yes, you’re still plagued my memories of shouting matches and ruined family vacations and awkward nights with boys and friends.
These are the things that make me wish I could hug you, seventeen-year-old Katie. You need me to tell you that these things will linger, perhaps, but they won’t always hurt quite so much. You needed me to tell you that things aren’t perfect, but they’re getting there.
Because…yes, you beautiful, angsty teenager, yes, you went to college and you loved it. You made friends. You drank. You studied abroad. You ate. You learned to cook. You lived in a dorm. You rented an apartment.
No, you’re not married or pregnant or any of that. But you’d still like to be, one day. Count your blessings, maybe, that I didn’t jump on that bandwagon just yet.
Yes, you made it through your parents arguing. And yes, they’re still together. There are a ton of new problems you need to deal with now, as an adult living with her adult parents, but you’re going to tackle them and we will survive this, as we always have. And you’ll stop spending your damn money on comics and booze and start really saving for an apartment, right?
And, yes, beautiful, you still love to write. And you got that creative writing degree. And you work in a publishing house! It’s a beautiful, wonderful place, and it’s all you’ve wanted. You might acquire a book one day soon–imagine that? You’re going places, kid.
Yes, you saw Paris–and so much more, more than you could’ve imagined (and yes, you went back and told your stuck-up French teacher all about it). You have no immediate plans to go back to Europe, but amorphous plans, and up-in-the-air dreams. You don’t remember any French, but maybe you’ll take a class. I won’t let you down, baby. You’ve already done and seen so much. You’re a wanderer. Once your feet are under you, you’ll go places again.
Do I still go to the mall and Olive Garden with Alyssa? Among other places. Do I ever ride my bike with Tom? Well, we didn’t know it then, but he’s in the navy now–has been for awhile. But I miss him terribly and I love seeing him. Maybe we’ll break the bikes out on his next leave. Better, we can go when he’s done for good. Amelia as drum major? How could I forget?
No, that boy means nothing. He’s gay and you were dumb.
Do you see those girls anymore? Not much–okay, not ever. I’m so sorry to have let that slip by, honey. We all went to college and we started living our lives, and things fall through the cracks. That what growing up means. That’s what five years (six?) can do. But maybe this letter will help us reconnect, hey?
You don’t share your iPod headphones with Brittney so much anymore, but you lived with her through four years of college and she’s probably your best friend. You just saw her last weekend, in fact! (Only took four and a half hours on a bus to get to her.)
Ugh, yes, you still see Kyle. Yes, he’s still insane.
And you have so many new people in your life! So many new places to see and things to do, more than you ever thought you’d have. You were so lonely, for so damn long, and you deserve these moments with people who genuinely seem to enjoy your company. I’m making sure we count now, kid.
You ask me on the bottom of the front of page two of that looseleaf paper from your French folder, “Can I look in the mirror, right now, in 2014 [whoops], smile, and say, ‘I’m happy’? And mean it?”
Yes, sweetheart. Yes. Things are hard and there’s still so much left to do, but yes. You are happy. You have made it this far and you will go so much farther, and you’ll have blog posts to write and books to read and people to meet that even I can’t imagine right now. You’ll fall in love and maybe it’ll be forever.
You can be proud of yourself, because you managed to become me. I’m looking forward to my future, too. And I am profoundly grateful to you for that–and ridiculously excited to see where we go next.
All my love,