Letter To My Seventeen-Year-Old Self #52essays2017 no. 7

a bunch of mixtapes
All of my mixtapes, many of which I made at age 17.
Dear Laura,

You won’t always hate your body. You will grow into it. It’s not that you’ll grow any taller — sorry about that — but you’ll grow comfortable in your own skin (the breast reduction will help). They say you find love when you’re happy with yourself, and weight loss will work this way for you: once you’re happier, you’ll lose some weight. (The rest, unfortunately, you will lose because you will be very, very sad — when you gain this back, you will think it a small price to pay for not being so depressed.)

The music you’re buying now — those few used CDs you pick up at the Record Collector among the dozens and dozens you want — will fill you now. In later years it will come to haunt you, so that just listening to In My Tribe by the 10,000 Maniacs or Lulu by Trip Shakespeare will fill you with such aching and heartsickness that you’ll know you’ll never truly forget what it was to be seventeen. You will never forget this sense of aloneness, of loneliness, of being on the verge of something that never quite comes. You will never forget it, and you will never feel it again. You will almost miss it, almost miss being that girl looking through the CD bins, that girl at a party who is recognized by one of the record store clerks as the girl who browses but rarely buys, that girl who hopes that such recognition will be the break she needs but who will end the night as she does so many others, alone and listening to music, confused and on edge and not sure why except that nothing ever really seems to happen.

But things will happen: love and travel and adventure and heartbreak, all the things you think will never happen to you. They’ll happen, and they’ll be wonderful and terrible by turns, but they’ll never have the poignancy of what you have right now, the thing you have and don’t realize. It’s not innocence, that condition that you were spared. And it’s not nostalgia that makes me say this to you now. I would not go back to that time for ready money. It’s that there’s a quality to these teenage years that isn’t replicable, something about hope in the midst of despair, some belief that better things are to come.

You will look back at Bill Clinton and start to think he wasn’t all that bad, but don’t let go of the radical fire in your belly. You’ll need it to fight bigger fights in the years to come.

You’re starting to slack off in school now, unbeknownst to anyone, because you can get away with it, but later you’ll wish you’d worked a bit harder. In some respect book learning won’t do you much good, but you might have found more uses for it if you had stuck with it more.

You are going to have to get a job. An actual job, working full time, where you have to show up and frequently do dull and repetitive things. You will try to avoid this for as long as you can, rather to your detriment.

Remember to thank your mother. She does more for you than you know, and while it’s probably not Constitutionally possible for children to be properly grateful to their parents, you should put forth some effort.

I’m scolding now, and that’s not what I set out to do. This was meant to be an It Gets Better, which is a thing we say in 2017 that wasn’t around in 1993. It’s meant as a message to LGBT youth, although as with so much else it’s been coopted by the wider culture, including apparently by me. But it’s worth noting that though the threats now are very real and although the progress wasn’t all that we could have hoped (where’s that federal nondiscrimination law, eh?), there are positive things that happened for LGBT people that you never could imagine. Maybe moral progress is real, though the events of 2017 will make you doubt it all over again.

But back to you, because, selfishly, this letter is about you: things will get better. They’ll also get worse, and you’ll have things happen and fall into pits of despair you can’t yet imagine. But this inescapable loneliness you feel now will not always be there. Things will start to happen to you, and you’ll make things happen too. And one day you’ll wake up and find you’re 41 and still thinking about being seventeen. You’re reading Mrs. Dalloway right now, so you know in fiction about how all times can exist concurrently in the present one. In the years to come you’ll learn that’s true of life, too.

Hang in there.


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