Letter 70: Be Louder

18 Oct

Dear me at 18,

That did just happen. You’re not crazy.

You’re standing on a crowded subway car, people jammed in elbow-to-elbow during the mid-week rush hour. Seconds ago, you felt a hand take a firm grasp of your ass. Right cheek. Fingers wrapped down and beneath to that spot between your legs where one private part becomes another.

Your initial reaction was denial. I must have imagined that. It must have just been the corner of someone’s briefcase. The shoe of a passenger sitting cross-legged.

But no. A beat passes as you realize that what you felt was unmistakably a hand. You felt the fingers move individually before they pulled away.

Next, you wondered if it was someone you knew. You glanced behind you, hoping you’d see one of your girlfriends playing a (weird) joke. But as you turn your head, you recognize no one.

All alternate options dashed, you now begin frantically searching the crowd for the perpetrator, scanning the bodies nearby for a sweaty, hairy, wild-eyed face gleaming with the satisfaction of having violated you in public.

Instead, no one makes eye contact. No one looks out of the ordinary. Everyone looks normal and clean and sane and engrossed in their own commute.

There is a small voice inside of you that wants to yell, “SOMEONE JUST GRABBED MY ASS! HELP ME FIND THIS FUCKER AND BURN HIM!” but something bigger inside you tells you to remain quiet.

This something is your second reaction: Embarrassment.

IMG_5286

Me at 18

Though you are only 18, this is not your first experience with unwanted sexual advances. In the summer, a man followed you to your car late at night, and showed you his penis when you stopped to get out your keys. Last New Year’s Eve, a boy you’d just met forced a kiss on you and grabbed your breast while he pushed you against a wall, lights low and music blaring.

This will also not be your last experience.

In a few years’ time, you’ll start your career. Shortly after starting a new job, you’ll walk in on your boss watching pornography in his office with the door open. It will happen when he knows that you’re the only two people left at work, late on a Friday evening.

Later on, working as a freelance writer, you’ll be introduced into conference calls as “The beautiful Miss Kyra”, and called “Darlin”, “Honey”, and “Baby” more times than you can count. In the same breath, your male colleagues will be referred to as “Sir”.

At 34 years old, you will consider yourself lucky because you have never been raped. Many, if not most, of your friends cannot say the same. And because of this, for years you will brush aside the many varied incidents of sexual harassment in your life because they are “too small to count”.

But then, an interesting thing will happen.

You see, dear girl, in 16 years, the United States will elect (another) President who will use his power to carry out predatory behaviour on women. In Canada, we will wring our hands and secretly feel superior because our current Prime Minister is a self-proclaimed feminist. But then we will think of Jian Ghomeshi and remember that our country, sadly, is no different in this respect.

As I write to you, the current scandal in the news is surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s elaborate network of sexual predation. Subsequently, right now, the world is talking a lot about how high profile men use their power in the workplace to force women into tolerating inappropriate behaviour. And that is absolutely, 100% true.

But what will be on your mind is this: In that moment on the subway, when that strange hand grabbed you, why didn’t you speak up? No one was going to blacklist you from Hollywood for asking for help. No one was holding a paycheque over your head, threatening to take away your livelihood.

No.

Instead, I think it was this: The moral imperative placed on your shoulders at birth. Though wrapped in a satin bow, it’s heavy like a block of cement. It’s the need to “be nice”.

As girls, we were raised to BE NICE above all else.

Don’t make a fuss.

Don’t be dramatic.

Don’t be loud.

Don’t be gross.

Don’t be a prude.

…But don’t be a slut either.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Rape is the culmination of thousands of tiny, ignored nuances that take place each and every day, pushing the boundary of acceptable behaviour so far over the line that, when someone grabs your ass on the subway, you actually think that your best option is not to say anything. They push the boundary so far that when you’re 22 and walk in on your 48-year-old boss watching porn in his office, you will quietly walk away, crossing your fingers that he didn’t see you catch him (though that was undoubtedly his plan).

These “small” incidents push the boundary so far that many of us (men, women, trans; gay, straight, and otherwise), have internalized the belief that going on a mutually consensual date means that we have no recourse if the night ends in rape. Maybe, we say to ourselves, we were “asking for it”.

Dear girl, I am writing to you to tell you something: Be loud now. Be loud, and then be louder. Don’t wait until you’re 34 to start using your voice to protect yourself and the women around you. Make a fuss. And do it today.

Throw away your fear of “looking crazy”. Crazy is the word patriarchy uses to discredit women who fearlessly speak their truth despite suffocating pressure to stifle our anger, repress our discomfort, look pretty, and stay quiet.

In this respect, you could choose to wear “crazy” like a badge of fucking honour.

You have every right to “make a fuss” on the subway when a stranger grabs your ass. Anyone who thinks you’re the crazy one for calling out inappropriate behaviour should be the one questioning their sanity.

It doesn’t matter how small the act is. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who noticed. It doesn’t matter if your talking about it will disrupt the delicate balance of power/peace/or protocol. If something ever happens to you again that makes you uncomfortable, and that voice inside you urges you to speak up, do it. Take a stand, and know that in that moment you are nudging the needle, no matter how slightly, towards a healthier, fairer, more respectful landscape that will benefit everyone, regardless of gender.

Small steps taken today make the journey less arduous tomorrow. We have to scale the mountain anyway. You might as well get started on the subway.

Love,
Me

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So Long and Thanks For All The Shoes

26 Feb

Hello Wonderful Readers,

As I’m sure most of you have guessed by this long hiatus, after a lengthy decision period I’ve decided to close this chapter of The Hindsight Letters project. A number of life changes, not the least of which being an enormous cross country move, have significantly cut down my time in the past few months. And, being keen on the Quality Control factor of THL, I haven’t wanted to post anything that wasn’t up to snuff.

The Hindsight Letters has been such a challenging and fulfilling project for me. I’ve been so blessed to be able to share in the many amazing stories submitted by THL’s incredible group of contributors. Thanks to each and every one of you for opening up your joyous, hilarious, heartbreaking, and most importantly, awkward teenaged stories to the world in this forum. I most definitely couldn’t have made The Hindsight Letters without you.

Is this a permanent goodbye? Quite possibly not. I would very much like to leave the door open for future submissions from anyone interested, as well as the occasional Letter written by myself. I’ve never been very good with farewells 🙂

And so, I’ll part with you (for now) with a song by Noah And The Whale all about the good, the bad, and the nostalgia of being a teenager growing up in the suburbs, “planning my escape”.

So long, and thanks for all the shoes,

Kyra

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Letter 68: You’re About To Break Your Mama’s Heart

24 Oct

Amber writes:

Dear me at 12,

You are about to break your mama’s heart, and I wish you wouldn’t.

The Author (right) at 12

Things are getting harder with her, I know. You’re almost a teenager, and no one gets along with her mother during middle school. But since your dad is trying to convince you to move in with him, it’s going to be harder than usual. And when you decide he’s right and you begin a two year custody battle… oh honey. You’re in for some heartache.

I know the grass seems greener at Dad’s house. Your stepfamily is super cool, whereas your mom is cramping your style. You don’t understand your new stepdad’s humor. You have to share a room with your little sister since your big sister moved back in, and your baby nephew cries a lot.  Compare that to Dad’s promise of your own room and a puppy if you moved in with him. You’re forgetting something big when you make this decision: Your dad and stepmom can be cool and permissive because they parent you every other weekend. They can’t be that cool all the time.

This is also important, and I don’t think you realize this, but your dad is kind of manipulative. Dad always says, “I never talk bad about your mother, BUT YOUR MOTHER…” and describes some horrible thing she did.  Despite his claim, he’s *always* talking bad about your mom, and usually, in half-truths at best.

Now, I don’t want to talk bad about your dad, but I won’t lie– I’m going to talk bad about him. Just listen to logic instead of arguing, pretty please. Your dad likes to have his way, and manages to get it most of the time. (This is something you get from him– try to use this talent for good, not evil.) Unlike you, however, he doesn’t mind hurting your mom, and he’s using you for that purpose. When this awful custody ordeal is finally over and he loses, he will be hurt instead. You’re going to see an ugly side of him. He and his wife will lash out by screaming obscenities at you. The worst of it will be you can’t protect your little sister, who they insist needs to hear all the screaming and cussing.  Thank your lucky stars that the judge knew what he was doing and saw through the manipulation.

You and your mom will be fine. When you realize you’re turning into her, you smile. You will cover your mouth in a horrified giggle when you automatically blurt out one of your stepdad’s jokes, and you’ll call him your hero. You’ll treasure your sisters, sharing a room or otherwise. Your nephew will grow monstrously huge, but he will still look up to you, as will his sister later on.  Your dad and stepmom G, however, are a little less sturdy. They’ll divorce, he’ll remarry (and divorce again), you won’t talk to your stepmom again after your stepbrother’s graduation party. Your relationship with your dad will never be whole again, but you’ll at least be on speaking terms.

Please ride this out. Give you and your mom time, and whatever angst you have will turn into a beautiful friendship. She loves you, and you love her back. (You know you do.)

Amber, 27, is an educator in East Tennessee. She loves reading (classbookworm.wordpress.com), crafting, and being with family (especially her husband and cat, Cat).

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Letter 67: Just Do It

3 Oct

Tara writes:

Dear me at 18,

The Author at 18

The first thing I have to say is that I know you’re unhappy with the choices you made last year. You chose to go to college close to home for all the wrong reasons, and on top of that you let E back into your life and – no big surprise – he broke your heart again. Right now you’re feeling pretty miserable, but you have a slough of decisions to make coming your way and I’m here to tell you that many of them will be the right ones.

For instance, you’ve been agonizing over applying to the Walt Disney World College Program, and you will do that. The only thing I ask you to change is your start date. Don’t wait for the fall program, no matter how scared you are – apply for fall advantage and start in May. There is absolutely no reason to stay in Connecticut all summer, trust me. You have fun but nothing truly amazing happens; the amazing things happen when you get to Disney. Everything changes, but I think if I gave you “advice” on that it would do more harm than help.

If you wait until August to start your internship, working for Disney will be difficult. You’ll be unsure of the friendships you’ve made. There will be a boy and you will fall for him and years down the road he will break your heart over and over again. You won’t be careful enough; you’ll almost get fired for partying, you’ll have to be practically carried back to your apartment at least once, and you’ll have the absolute worst night of your life on December 30th.

The thing is, I can’t promise that any or all of these things won’t happen if you decide to go in May rather than August. But I will promise that you will realize, sooner rather than later, what you’ve always known deep down – that Disney is your dream. Working there will change your life and you will go back over and over and over again, as an employee and a guest. So don’t put it off – not even to help B out with his musical, or to go C’s prom with him, or in hopes that K will move to Florida with you like she promised.

Nike has been telling us to “Just Do It” since 1988, so trust me when I say that in this case that slogan applies.

The Author today

Tara is an avid blogger who writes her life stories at A Serendipitous Life, and even though her 18 year old self started her internship with Disney in August rather than May, it was an amazing experience that shaped the person she is today and Tara ended up working at Walt Disney World for five years. She has now found her true home in South Carolina and her true love in a high school acquaintance and has at least a dozen letters she would love to write to her teenage self.

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Letter 66: There Is Nothing Wrong With You

19 Sep

Allison writes:

Dear Me at 16,

The Author at 16

I have very few photos of you from this time period. You were always so camera shy. You felt the same way about a mirror. Even now, I still can’t quite understand why you were always so self-deprecating, self-sabotaging, and so very unforgiving. How I wish you could have realized this, then.

Right now, at 16, you’re headstrong and cocksure. You’re flippant and naive. You’re young, and you aren’t yet able to foresee the rocky road ahead. You are about to make some crucial decisions that will change your life forever — and, much later, you’ll feel as though you’ve lost your way, that you’ve both compromised your potential and jeopardized your future.

And I am so thankful that you were wrong…

I remember the last day that you were in high school. You hadn’t attended class in weeks. Your arch nemesis, your English teacher, will refuse to accept a late assignment. She’ll say that there’s no way you’ll pass the course. And then she’ll remind you that, at 16, you are no longer legally obligated to attend high school… and, at the time, it was the best advice you could have received, but you won’t know that, then. Blind to the learning curve ahead, you’ll curse at her under your breath and storm from the room. You’ll leave without emptying your locker. And you’ll have three and a half credits, after failing grade nine twice. But you’ll think that you can beat the system, and that education is a waste of time. At this point, you’ve been told that you’re stupid so many times, that you now accept it as the truth.

You’re going to believe this for five more years, and many, many dead-end jobs are going to crush your spirit. But you’re going to encounter many rich learning experiences that will help you to lift that heavy veil of ignorance. You’re going to slowly start opening up to the world and begin to find your place in it. You won’t believe this now, of course, but you will also learn how to love yourself, and, after a very traumatic hospital stay, you’re going to stop injuring yourself. You’ll always have scars, but, in time, they will serve as a reminder of not only your rocky past, but also of just how far you’ve come since those darker times. By 20, you will have grown to a point where you are capable of perceiving the beauty in this world, and the reality that you truly deserve to be happy. And finally, you will allow yourself to be.

You will let your father and mama back into your life, and you will learn to forgive others — yourself included — for past transgressions, hurtful words and moments.

And you’ll finally discover that you really aren’t stupid; you’re different, you’re definitely one of a kind, but this is a wonderful quality. And that, above all, you are resilient. And at 21, you’re going to go through a rather addling emotional experience that will lead you to the realization that you need a formal education.

At first, you’ll be terrified, but you’ll find yourself in a community college. This experience will not only redeem your sense of self, but your (amazing) instructors will also help you realize your potential… This will be the most positive learning experience that you have ever had at this point. You’ll do well in college, but you won’t write the GED that you planned on… Instead, your instructors will bend over backwards for you, and you’ll be permitted to complete an English course to fulfill the requirements for university. One university. And — which still astounds me — you’ll be accepted by that university as a mature, part-time student… The first year, you’ll discover that the ground beneath you is solid.

That first year has just ended… and, although you are still technically a “drop-out,” you’ve been officially accepted as a full-time Honours student. You’ve never been more stressed out, sleep deprived, or caffeine dependent in your life… but you’ve also never been happier…

You’re a straight-“A”-student, by the way.

More than anything, I want you to know this: There is nothing wrong with you. The people that have made you feel negatively about yourself only did those hurtful things because they, too, were unhappy in life. And they deserve your pity. And I know that, right now, you feel that life’s not fair, and that the world is a cruel place, full of cruel people, but the rest of the world is nothing like high school, and you will be able to overcome all your obstacles, trials, and errors. You won’t become stronger in spite of them — you will become stronger because of them.

I forgive you; I accept you; I love you.

And it was so worth the wait.

Carpe diem…

Allison Mackay is a fledgling writer, a born-again optimist, and a starving-second-year-English-student at the University of Western Ontario, who believes whole-heartedly that the search for beauty is the scavenger hunt of the soul.

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Letter 65: He’s Not Worth It

6 Sep

Bay writes:

Dear me at 16,

I know you are lonely.

The Author at 16

I know it’s hard that your 16th year, the year you envisioned as being perfect, didn’t turn out anything like you thought it would.

I know it’s not easy that the guy you had crushed on for two years was finally interested in you… but he turned out to be something of a loser.

I know it’s hard that deciding not to date him killed your social life and left you out of the group you had so much fun with.

I know it’s killing you that your best friend, the one who’s more like a sister, is making some terrible decisions that are ruining her life and putting some serious distance between the two of you.

I know.

But please, don’t reply. I know it’s exciting that he just IM’d you, the boy who lives across the country, the one who you haven’t talked to in months and never really knew very well in the first place. I know you secretly thought he was pretty cool last year at competition, and that you may have even had a mini crush on him. I know everyone talked about how much he loved your friend, and you couldn’t help be a teensy bit jealous.
I know.

I know it’s amazing that he’d decide to talk to you out of nowhere, for no real reason, just because he saw your profile online. I know he’s funny, and intelligent, and complimentary right to the edge of being flirty, something you’re completely new to.

I know that no guy has ever really told you that you were pretty before, except the creeper who was way older than you and semi-stalked you a few months ago. I know that everytime you get online the two of you come up with hilarious plans to take over the world and run for president and build a chocolate factory and a million other things.

I know.

I know that he will mention he doesn’t have your number, and you’ll be all to eager to give it to him. I know that in future months you’ll text 24/7 and talk on the phone whenever you get the chance. I know that he will only seem to get better, funnier, smarter, more mature, the whole nine yards. I know that you will meet up again at competition and that the week will be incredible, everything you had wished it was last year. You will talk and laugh and flirt and sit next to each other all the time and be talked about as a ‘couple’.

I know it will be one of the most exciting things you’ve experienced to finally have a ‘boyfriend’, even if nobody knows and it is just over the phone.

But please, stop it now while you can. If he really loved you, he wouldn’t ever ask you to do or talk about things that make you extremely uncomfortable. Ever.

If he really wanted to commit with you, he wouldn’t break it off every few weeks to think about it, then start all over again, jerking your heart around mercilessly.

If he really wanted only the best for you, he wouldn’t be averse to telling your parents. He would have no problem talking to your dad and making it a serious relationship.

And honey, let me tell you from this end, if he really loved you, when the secret came out and everything came crashing down, he would have stuck by you. He wouldn’t have cut it off forever without making any effort to fix things with you and your family.

So here you are, on the eve of your seventeenth birthday, a lonely girl with the exciting prospect of a new friendship and maybe something more. I know how hopeful you are dear, but please. Don’t give him your whole heart. Don’t plan your whole future around him. Don’t cut off ties to friends an family because of him.

He’s not worth it.

Bay is a cynical romantic who spends her time reading, writing, and dazzling the world with her sparkling wit. You can find her rambling’s at Bay285.blogspot.com, where she continues to write even though no-one is reading. She loves comments!

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Dear Adult Me Summer Series Finale

4 Sep

Hello everyone,

As summer draws to a close I wanted to finish the Dear Adult Me summer series with some submissions from writers who are just embarking on their adolescence.

The following is a collection of Letters written by 12 year old students to their Adult Selves, gathered by THL reader and contributor Amber Saferight. Amber is a teacher who writes a fabulous Blog called Class Bookworm. Be sure to check it out! Thanks very much to Amber for facilitating the writing of such fantastic Letters.

Although the first Letter is my personal favourite (left unsigned by a mystery student! How intriguing…), all the Letters are wonderful and give a glimpse of what we might have thought life would be like, as we marched unaware toward our hopelessly awkward adolescent fate. Hope you enjoy!

Kyra

 

Dear future me,

I’ve hoped for the future that I will be a doctor, married, have kids, and have a house. Have I accomplished any of this stuff? Who am I married to? Also in the future I hope to be fun and not a boring strict adult. Am I like that?

I hope to do all this by like my mid 20s. When you hit 30 you’re kind of considered “old.” I hope to marry an Asian ’cause Asians are amazing. I hope I have a happy life.

 

Dear Adult Self,

Well right now I’m twelve years old. When I grow up I would like to be a NBA player or a teacher. I want to have a family when I’m grown up. I hope I go to a good college and finish. I’m hoping that when I’m older that I have many things accomplished and a lot of people, including me, are proud of what I’ve made in life.

Some advice I think I should give my older self is to stay out of trouble. I’m going to keep myself onthe right path. I should get a good career and have a wonderful family. I should always keep my head held high through the good and bad times. I will never give up on life.

Love,

Skyler T. (12 year old girl, shy basketball player.)

 

Dear Older Self,

Hello. I am your younger self. I’m reminding you to follow these instructions: go to college and get a masters degree and diploma from high school. Try to get a job as a biologist and a cook, and try to get a hot girlfriend. Always keep your head up and swim a lot.

Don’t skip college. Do not make bad grades. Do not be a doctor. Do not not get a date. I wish you good luck.

Sincerely,

Alex M. (12 year old boy, likes science, cooking, and reading.)

 

Dear me,

Hi. I would like to tell you that you should always try hard in school and aim for your goals. Even when it seems like school is boring and grades aren’t important, they really are. And when you make a bad grade, try everything you can to bring it up. By getting bad grades, you may not get the job you want. Even when you feel like not trying in school, try to get through the day and think how things will effect you in the future.

Also try to keep a positive attitude and not worry so much about things. Think about what you do before you do it, think how it will effect the future. Try hard at everything you do. Always do your best at everything you do.

From,

Paiton (12 year old girl, enjoys laughing with friends)

 

Dear Adult Me,

Whenever I get older I want to have a good job! Mt mom says I should be a masseuse because I give her massages all the time and she loves it. I love to do hair. I do my sister’s hair sometimes for school. I also like to play with my mom’s hair but she won’t let me fix it for work.

When I get older since I will hopefully have a job I want to have a big house so all my family can live with me. I love my family and like to see them. I also won’t have any kids, but might adopt a girl. I can’t wait to see how I change over the years and see what I look like when I get older. I hope I keep my brown hair and hope it stays wavy.

<3,

Megan R. (12 year old softball player)

 

Dear Future Nathan,

What is the future like? Is there a cure for cancer? Did I ever make it to the police academy? Was there another war that effects our country, like WW2? Was there new technology invented like a flying car? Or teleporting? Also how old am I when I sign up for the police force? Also what is the economy like? Has it gotten better or worse?

Sincerely,

Nathan W. (12 year old, enjoys making jokes and video games.)

 

Dear myself,

Hey myself I want to be a doctor when I grow up. If I get smarter. You get good money for that. I might get good working hours. I think it will be fun. I hope I’ve got good hair. I hope I look good too. Be rich too. But even more have a good life. Even more, be a nice person.

Skyler H. (12 year old boy, likes baseball)

 

Dear Adult Self,

I want to be either a video game maker, a lawyer, or a chef. If you become a lawyer, I would like you to get a Ferrari for you and your husband, and an Explorer to go on trips with your family. If you have a boy I would like to name him Jacob. If it’s a girl I would like her to be named Elianna. After our best friend Elianna.

I would still like to live in east Tennessee. Because I would like our children to live in the beautiful  countryside of Tennessee. I would like to live in a fairly large house with a large backyard. Well that is it future me. Please think about it and take your time.

Yours truly,

The 12 year old Amanda

 

Dear Adult Self.

I want to be a ped dr when I grow up. I want to always be with my family and friends. If I have kids I would want them to play sports like basketball, football, and softball/baseball. I would hope that I would still be in church and act like a Christian should act. I hope that I am still singing too!

I think I will still have blonde hair. I will probably be around 5’3”. I would look like a Christian should look. I hope when people look at me they could tell I am a good Christian. I hope I will always have a positive attitude.

Love always,

Kaitlin

 

(Open when age 15!)

Dear Adult me,

Make sure you graduate. Make good grades when you are in high school. Try to be yourself as much as possible. Do as much as possible. You can’t be lazy and do all shortcuts.

Be a vet when you get to college. Do what your boss said to do all the time. Love the job and marry anyone that wants to work. Help with your mom, dad, and your family as much as possible.

Love,

Lillie

 

Dear Future Self,

I want to be a pro baseball player. It is not very easy to do. I will have to set fourth effort and stick with it. Practice every chance you get to be better.

I also want to not be greedy. I think that in the future I need to help people in need. You need to donate money to the homeless. That will make me respected. That’s all I have to say.

Sincerely,

Brian