I remembered earlier in the week when I was driving to university how a book helped to inspire me when I first started writing again. It was called ‘Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self by Joseph Galliano.
I never did write that letter, though it spurred me on to get writing again, so I’m very grateful for its existence.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to write a proper letter now, so here it is:
Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self
I wish I could tell you that you’re going to have the future you always dreamed of, but the truth is that nothing in life is going to come easily to you. All I can do is warn you of the pitfalls that lie ahead, and tell you a few things about yourself and the situations you will find yourself in that nobody else is going to tell you.
Firstly, although life seems to be opening up for you right now, I want you to know that you’d have been okay if only you’d worked a bit harder at school instead of playing catch up. The trouble is you’ve got nobody championing your academic future, except yourself (and to an extent, your parents), but you really need to know that you’re capable of so much more, and I wish that you could see that and focus on your schoolwork instead of trying to snog as many boys as possible and going out smoking and drinking. You will never get the kind of encouragement you need at school, and your parents, although on your side, will never push you in the way that you need right now.
Unfortunately, you won’t find that self-belief, and the drive to satisfy your intellectual curiosity until you’re in your thirties, but I want you to know that one day you will find it, and when you do, there will be no stopping you. I’m aware this is a long way off in your future, and is probably of no concern to you now, but I want you to know that you’re not a lost cause.
I also want to reassure you about your social status. You should never have ended up at the bottom of the heap, and I’m sorry about the dreadful first year you had at high school. You never really managed to climb back up after that, and you never found a place you belonged either. That’s not your fault. You were not to blame. I can promise you that you will never find yourself in such a peculiar social setting in your life, though your experiences at high school will always follow you wherever you go, and you will always doubt whether people actually like you or not (and for the record, they always do, but you probably don’t believe me).
I’m sorry to say that you’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, and your last year at high school will be the worst of your life, even worse than the last year before you got sober (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). And I really, really wish I could stop you in your tracks right now, before you fall in love with somebody dangerous, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and find yourself in a very dark situation, but I don’t think I’d be able to stop you.
I’m so sorry that nobody else saw what was happening, but that’s the nature of growing up as a female in a patriarchal society. Classic rape culture at work, to put it bluntly. (God how I wish you could look into the future to see the feminist you’ve become!) I still can’t believe that not one adult was able to read between the lines and see how you’d been scapegoated at school, and it’s the one thing I wish I could have saved you from. As for him, he’ll have to live with what he did every day of his life. Oh, and the other ‘rape’? You were totally right about that too, and I wish you’d had the strength of your convictions to pursue it with the police, instead of reverting to your fallback position of standing aside and letting the adults ride roughshod over your life again.
But you will learn from this. The injustice that you will feel, and the anger (though you are only barely aware of it right now) will spur you on in later years. It will be why you choose to study psychology, and later on, it will be why you begin to write – not necessarily about that, but it’s the reason you need to speak out, to be understood, to use your voice, to be the best person you can possibly be.
I also wish I could get you to slow down time when you eventually go away to university, that you could stop, and look around you, and see how your life is perfect in every way. Because you’re going to screw it all up, I’m afraid.
You discovered friends who didn’t know you from before, who accepted you regardless, and you started to find your way. I truly believe that you could have changed your future at this point, if only you’d valued yourself enough to begin with. If you’d just gone to more lectures, spent your money on clothes rather than booze, and tried to be a better friend, you would have had such a different life. Though, I suppose you also still had that deep hatred of yourself that meant you were always going to fuck it up.
If only you’d known – you weren’t bad. You could have been great. But you went down the slippery slope of alcoholism, and ruined everything. The best friends you’d ever have, the bright future (not that you ever believed it possible), all went down the pan, because you had no idea how to succeed at everyday life, at taking care of yourself, or the impact your antics had on everybody else. But mostly you.
And your fashion choices? Perfect. If only you’d worn the clothes you liked with confidence, you’d have been fab (still could be – it’s not too late to make that choice). You need to know that nobody else dictates your style. Nobody gets to say what you should be wearing. Why didn’t you defy your dad when he told you to take your nose ring out? You were seventeen, old enough to stand up for yourself. It wasn’t his decision; it was yours.
And when you bought that purple tie-died top and black tasseled skirt from ‘Head in the Clouds’, you looked great (not that you’d wear it today, aged forty, and you probably wouldn’t want to). Why the hell did you listen to the lads from school who asked you what planet you were from when you wore the top to class that day? You should have told them where to go. Just because they were used to you being Dull Girl, it didn’t mean you had to be her forever.
At least nobody ever called you that after the age of sixteen, you can take comfort from that. In fact, it’s probably more of a consolation to you than my warning of some of the terrible names you’ll be called in the coming years. (By the way, you were none of those things either. Except ‘Pisshead’ perhaps. We’ll take that one on the chin.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish you’d had more faith in yourself, in your self-worth, your opinions, and in every little aspect of your personality.
So, to my sixteen-year-old-self: Nobody else is going to tell you this, but you’re amazing.
Listen to your favourite bands, wear the clothes you love, and forget about trying to be a sex goddess – the right person will think you’re one without you having to work at it. Oh, and nobody but you has the right to your body, and how dare anybody tell you otherwise.
Be kind, be funny, and be a good friend. If you have great friends, you’ll never really be alone, and if you can find something to laugh about at the end of the day then you’ll never lose. And for those times when you feel like you really are alone, have faith. This too shall pass. Nothing is ever the end.
Have faith in yourself and Just Be.