Friday, January 11, 2013

To My Fourteen-Year-Old Self

by Jean Roberta

Dear Jeanie,

I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I know how you feel about old people who give you lectures. Please don’t tune me out. I haven’t forgotten being you.

I’ll start with some good news:

Your acne will go away. Seriously. I know you’re not happy with your body, but you will never gain more than 30 pounds beyond your current weight. That’s not much of a physical change over 47 years.

Consider this: you are not defined by the way you look. No one is. If you can’t find an inner core that feels like your true self, you will be as vulnerable to every passing influence as a weathervane.

The biggest challenges of your life will not be the ones you imagine now.

Bill, your current boyfriend, is a preview of the rogues’ gallery in your future. Remember what he told you about the value of the necklace he gave you? You don’t really believe it’s worth hundreds of dollars, do you? (By the way, I still have it. I’m sure an appraisal would reveal it to be the best bling from Woolworth’s, circa 1965.) And when he told you the words for “I love you” in the language of the Eskimos (which he calls “Eskimalian”), after telling you what a world traveller he is, you knew that was all hot air, didn’t you?

Yet even when your father found out Bill has never been registered as a student at the state college, as he claimed, you clung to hope that maybe there had been some mistake. You still hope, with all your wild energy, that clashing versions of the truth can be made compatible, that all the pieces can be cleverly aligned like the parts of the “Chinese puzzles” you love getting in your stocking on Christmas morning.

You are terrified of trusting your own common sense, let alone your deepest instincts. You know what guys like Bill say about girls who “can’t trust.” He’s right, in a way. Trust is good. Give it to yourself before you give it to anyone else.

Please remember that anyone can say anything. You can be lied to and lied about. (You know how that goes. When you hear Sandy Posey sing it on the radio next year, you'll be singing along.) You can be told you are crazy, and you will be.

I wish I could spare you from the worst experiences ahead, but then you would probably miss some of the good stuff too.

You know the dreams you’ve had about a beautiful baby girl with a brown skin? She’s real and she’s ours, by blood.

You know how much you would like to become a published writer? You will be. You’ll be surprised at how easily the words flow when you have enough time to think and a room of your own, just as Virginia Woolf explained it. Nothing in the world is really new. It’s just new to you.

Here is a paradox that you need to learn: truth and imagination are related. You need a flexible imagination to begin to glimpse the complexity of what is under your nose. Never try to shut down your fantasies in order to see things clearly, or close your eyes in order to find what you seek.

Your desire for sex is not a sign that you deserve to be locked up somewhere. Your confusing crush on Katie is not the symptom of a mental illness. Right now, you can’t imagine how much easier it will be for women to love each other in the next century.

Looking at photos of you, I see a glow in your eyes that you can’t see in the mirror. You have no idea how much I love you, just as I love the woman I gave birth to, and her children. I know you feel my love from time to time. It’s like a tingle in your skin when no one else seems to be touching you. Love is a moving current that needs to be passed on.

You know what you need to do to survive. Have faith.


  1. Gorgeous, Jean!

    It's amazing how many of your girlhood dreams came true.

    I love this:

    "Here is a paradox that you need to learn: truth and imagination are related. You need a flexible imagination to begin to glimpse the complexity of what is under your nose."

    Thank you for sharing who you were as well as who you are.

  2. You folks have really been giving my tear ducts a workout this week! (:v>

  3. Jean - Lovely! Like Lisabet, I like your comment about truth and imagination.

  4. Lisabet, Jeremy and Kathleen,

    You are a great audience! Remembering the past, I can't be sure whether adolescence is a tragic opera (as most teenagers experience it) or a comedy. (Probably some of each for most people.)

    This topic was inspiring.


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