Dear Me 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.
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.