This morning, as we both fought different degrees of influenza, Zach showed me a letter he had written in high school. It was called, "A Letter to my Future Self" and it was filled with rather sage advice from the eighteen year old version of my best friend. At the end, he told himself, "You're never going to be the best, but you can always be better." I laughed at this and read it aloud to him and he said, "It's true." And then I started to think about what it actually meant.
If I had a letter to read from my eighteen year old self, I don't think I'd like it very much, but maybe I'm discounting her. She is, after all, the reason I am where I am today. She is the one who got us to Chatham, to English, to Pittsburgh, to Zach, and to countless other adventures. When I think about her now, I only remember the parts of her that are different from me. She was extremely religious but failed to see her shortcomings. She was woefully romantic but failed to see how unromantic her predicaments were. She knew exactly where she wanted to go and exactly who she wanted to be. Unlike Zach's eighteen year old self, my eighteen year old self believed she would be the best at something, she believed she was impenetrable and revolutionary. Only to discover that the world changed quite drastically when you stepped foot outside of Cortland, Ohio. I discount her naivety, I scoff at it. I wonder how she could ever be so trusting, so rose-colored, so simple.
And then I wonder, why am I not? What changed between now and then, between 18 and 21, besides everything? Where have I hidden her away--the girl who believed she could, and then did, and then did over and over and over again. Why am I so afraid of just trusting that I will find my way? Why am I so hellbent on having "A PLAN" even if it has nothing to do with me or what I want? I have always trusted myself not to fail, not because I am exceptional or brilliant, but because I am too stubborn to have that kind of chink in my armor. And now, as the whole world opens up before me (the whole entry-level world that is) I can only see the vast array of opportunities I have to fail, rather than to flourish. I don't know why I think that, perhaps its that since 2008 people have been saying, "Good luck finding a job" to our entire generation. Maybe its that we live in a society of false perceptions and advertisements: look how great my life is, applaud me! False images that we are then left to compare ourselves to. Maybe its just that I'm scared and scrambling and feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff that has no fathomable valley. But just because things are getting less college, doesn't mean they have to get darker.
If I could sit down and have coffee with my eighteen-year old self, I don't think I'd give her any advice. I wouldn't want her to life to change, I'd still want her to become me. I'd want her to have all of the same triumphs and failures, to cry herself to sleep some nights and to go off the grid on others. I'd want her to have the good friendships and the bad, the meaningful relationships and the duds. I'd want her to stand in front of people she didn't know and read poems she'd been embarrassed to write. I'd even let her go to Brazil. I'd want her to do it all over again, in the same way, because the last four years were, simply, magnificent.
But if I could, I'd certainly ask for her advice. I'd ask her if she could choose, anything in the world, what would she want to do next? And I know what she'd say, it's always been the same thing. And then I'd ask her, if she was proud of me, if she was surprised about who I was, who I'd become over the past three and a half years since I'd left her, or if she was disappointed. I think she'd be really surprised, but I know she'd be proud and probably a little scared to do it all over again. Mostly, I'd want her to tell me that everything is going to be okay. It isn't that everyone I know hasn't already said this to me, its just that, I think I'll only believe it when I hear it from my own mouth.
And finally I'd say, "Zach gave me some really good advice today that I think I should tell you."
And she'd say, "Are you talking about that kid from the party the other night?" (Because my eighteen year old self knew Zach for precisely 10 days before she turned nineteen)
And I'd say, "No, someone else." Because I wouldn't want to spoil the ending.
And she'd say, "Okay what's the advice?"
And I'd say, "You're never going to be the best but you can always be better."
And she'd probably say I know, dickhead or Obviously or start an argument with me depending on what kind of mood she was in.
But then I'd know, that I didn't expect myself to be the best. I could just get better, a little bit every day, and see where I end up.
"Can you say it out loud? In front of an entire room of people, people you know, people you don't, your family, strangers, people who fascinate you, people who loathe you. Could you say it to them? The truth, the absolute truth of your life, the secret you've been keeping, the black hole you've been protecting. Could you stand on a podium, in front of a microphone, and bare your soul? Does it make you a bad person if you couldn't? I want to live in such a way that I can stand on the stage, in the spotlight, burning, sweating, scared shitless, and say it, no holds barred, and be proud of my truth." -18 Year Old Chloe