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Personal Essay | Letter To My 20 Year Old Self

To a Dear, Lovely, Broken Creature:

When the time comes and you need them, there will be very few photos of you when you are 20 years old. This will be due to a number of reasons: at the time you will be dating – and devastatingly in love with – a man-child who does not love you in return, and all the pictures for years will be of him. Only. You will be in some of them, those his mother is nice enough to take of the two of you together, but those times will be few and far between.

Photo Jul 16, 5 24 04 PM

You will isolate yourself from your father and his new family, and any photos they have of you will be burned in a house fire.

Your mother won’t have many because there will be years – whole, dark, prickly years – when you don’t speak to your mother.

Your entire life, for years, will be consumed by this man who does not love you. You don’t see it, but everyone else does. Later, much later, this will embarrass and shame you, but you have to endure the barbs, the insults, the degradation because it molds you into the woman you are today. Besides, you’re too stubborn to listen to anyone or leave him until you are forced to. And even then, you leave claw marks.

You will rush through college so you can move to Florida (Florida? Really? Redheads don’t jive well with sunlight, sister.) to be with him, even though he tells you not to. He tells you not to, but you don’t listen. You are trying so hard to be who he wants, you would do anything – you would do anything – you would flay yourself open for him so he could stroke your heart, so he could rearrange your parts to suit him. But it’s not his acceptance you seek. It’s not his love you crave, not really, but because you feel you have been replaced, displaced you will run, and it will all be a mistake. But again, you will stitch yourself back together, you will staunch the bleeding with literature and poetry and some really, really bad writing.

But you will get something you want, eventually, and it’s important that you pursue it doggedly, as you did him; you will write for a living. That English degree won’t be for naught: you will eke out a career, unearthing opportunities like brushing sand off seashells, revealing the stories beneath.

After six months of being at your first professional writing gig, as a part time newspaper reporter, you will have a significant mental break as you realize on a blinding personal level – in one suffocating, mushroom cloud moment – the faceless atrocities that plague humankind. You will see what people can – and will – do to one another, and it will wash you inside out. It will bleach you. You will want to quit, to run, to get a normal job as a bank teller (don’t, because you will never get better at math, and you don’t want to), a teacher, a store clerk – anything normal that doesn’t slice the face off society and push it onto yours.

Don’t.

You will remember too much; you will crave and collect talismans. You will adopt a dog in Florida, and you will name him Jedi because that’s what your boyfriend suggests, and he will be the worst dog anyone in history has ever had. He will constantly try to escape, to flee, and you will love him more than anything until you have your son. And even then, you will take more photos of the dog until you have to bury him in your mother’s backyard, lowering him into a hole that fills up with water from the driving rain almost faster than you can fill it with dirt.

But right now, you are 20 years old. You are beautiful, and you will never be more beautiful, but you don’t think so now. You feel empty, a hollow shell washed upon shore, shining and swirls caught in morning light – you are at the whim of the tides of other people’s desires, their dreams and ideas of you, and you succumb to the ebb and flow because it is easier that way. You are so young but so tired of struggling and sinking. You will stop eating. You will beat the shit out of a telephone pole with an aluminum bat, the hot sting of pain coursing up your arms will satisfy you, electric power lighting your veins in a way you haven’t had since her palm on your cheek in the pinkness of dawn.

Your strength is still forming, the grit and sand of disappointment and disillusion scraping and rubbing and curling into the pearl that will form your own gritting teeth, your own sandpaper skin when you need it. And you will need it.

At 20 you are finishing college – you will graduate just months after turning 21 years old. Your entire college career – not even four years – will be spent as a minor, as a child in some eyes, as a small-town girl flung into the world before she was ready (and no, no, you will never admit that) but who gasped and broke the surface every time, who pushed away life preservers, who slammed onto shore only to stand, and breathe, and brush the sand off the smallest but brightest shell, squint up into the sun and demand more.

 

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About Tomi Wiley (38 Articles)
Tomi L. Wiley is the Poetry and Short Fiction Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee.com. She has written and edited for media including Southern Living and Oxford American magazines, has been published in the literary anthologies Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, Telling Tales, Maypop and the Southeast Review, has coordinated panels for the Southern Festival of Books, spoken on the creative writing process at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a past president of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She lives in Knoxville, where she is writing her first novel with the help of lots of wine, goat cheese and the Barefoot Contessa.

9 Comments on Personal Essay | Letter To My 20 Year Old Self

  1. That was beautifully put Tomi. Such a firecracker.

  2. I would tell myself to have follow your dreams don’t let insecurity hold you back cause now I regret it!

  3. Painful and beautiful in the most brilliant way.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Thank you, lovely ladies. Just re-read this and opened a fresh – but necessary – wound. Hugs and red balloons to all.

  5. Varina Suellen Plonski // January 18, 2014 at 11:14 pm // Reply

    How powerful you are! Thank you for this beauty and truth.

  6. Nice answer back in return of this issue with genuiine arguments and explainning
    everything concerning that.

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