The other day I was writing in Starbucks, like I always am, and I couldn’t help but overhear two teenage girls talking about boys. “I’ll text him and litz three hours later he will respond,” one girl was telling her friend. “And you can see that he totally read the text!” her friend exclaimed, disgusted. I started to sweat. This was one of those moments. A moment where I, an old woman, or an older woman than these sixteen year olds, can now bestow my hard earned wisdom to a pair of souls on Earth. “Ladies,” I began, butting my head in between the two of them, causing the brunette to let out a scream in alarm. “As an… elder,” I continued, “I can give you some knowledge….some very hard earned knowledge, knowledge only gained through painful, horrifying mistakes.” They looked at me in equal parts alarm, suspicion and awe, and I felt like Ursula in The Little Mermaid- a terrifying overweight old octopus woman, who if existed in real life would most likely be a participant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about to tell these girls that the only way to find true love is to surrender their voices to me, the evil drag octopus queen. “Send one and only one text,” I instructed, their eyes growing big. “What?” they asked. I paused dramatically. “Text, ‘hey’ at 2 am…..and then just turn your phone off.” They stared at me. “Then what?” one of them asked. My brow furrowed. “You just go to sleep,” I said in a tone that suggested, look at me, I clearly get all of the men. I could sense from their silence, I was losing some, if not all my credibility. “Men today are slobs,” I declared in a hushed tone. One girl sighed like she just figured out that I was not a person to take any advice from ever. I was losing them. “Give your voices to me or else Prince Eric will never love you!” I exclaimed. As they both ran away, I was left sitting there to stew, in shame.
As I watched them from the window I realized they would most likely go home to their parents overwhelmingly disturbed by the scary woman in Starbucks. “I’m sorry…” I called after them. In retrospect, I would have just told those girls that if he doesn’t text you back don’t worry. As you grow up life is going to throw so many more obstacles in front of you, boys will be the least of your concerns. I started to think about myself as a sixteen year old- I looked like a stick bug and I spoke to no one- and myself now- I still look like a stick bug and I talk to like, three people, but there have been so many things I have learned since being sixteen, valuable things I could share with someone younger than I.
I would have admitted that the hardest part about growing up will be not becoming that scary woman who has let all the painful lessons and failures of her life leave her jaded and bitter. Because there will be boys who don’t text you back sure, but sometimes you won’t text boys back, and there will also be boys that tell you they love you but don’t really know how to, and you will tell someone you love them but end up not knowing how, and there will be boys who use you, and you will use boys, and you will make and lose friends, succeed and fail at jobs, fall down over and over and have to get back up. And you will always have to get back up and keep going.
You will go out into the world, and nothing will be fair. It will shock you. You will have to figure out which battles are worth fighting for and you will realize everything in your life will be a choice. You will have the choice to fight or not to fight. You will have the choice to blend in or stand out. There will be moments when you will need to be brave. Moments when you will need to listen instead of speak, and moments when you will need to speak instead of listen- and you will need to know the difference. You will need to figure out how to love yourself, others and the world- in that order. Your heart will get blasted into a million pieces and, this will be one of those moments you will need to be brave, you will need to put it back together using yourself, others and the world- the very same things that shattered your heart to pieces in the first place. You will have the choice to let your defeats, embarrassments and failures define and weaken you, or make you a more empathetic and courageous human being.
You will have to face a media shitstorm. Everywhere you look there will be someone to compare yourself to, something to live up to, some person making you feel inadequate, threatened or afraid. And you will have to be smarter. You will have to investigate for yourself, you will have to form your own opinions and ideals and it will seem impossible and lonely at times, but it’s a struggle worth embracing- and it may take a lifetime, so don’t ever surrender. You will want to be beautiful. You will see beautiful women everywhere. You will hear men talk about beautiful women. You will have to define beauty for yourself because one day you will hopefully be a wrinkly old woman, and you will have to look at yourself in the mirror. You will be disappointed by how the world is presented to you. You will need to be more than creative, you will need to be innovative and take what’s given to you and recreate it. You will have to learn to seek- to really hunt for the good, and you will realize you have to be the good in the world, and you will have to figure out how. You will have to follow through. You won’t always follow through or honor your word- and you will learn how detrimental that will be.
You will lose things- innocence, dignity, pride, friends, lovers, family members. Your parents will get older- their hair will turn grey, they will get sick, you will need to be there for them. You will need to suck it up and be strong for others. You will have to prioritize your time and energy. You will have to determine what and who is important. You will have to be dependable for the people you love. You will need to stop thinking of only yourself. You will need to take responsibility. You will need to care. You will need to connect. You will need to be able to recognize those who are toxic to your wellbeing and you will need to learn to forgive them and let them go- because, you will learn, that sometimes you too, are toxic and worthy of being forgiven and let go.
You will feel sad. There will be some days where you won’t want to get out of bed and try. But there will also be some days where you can’t sleep because you are so excited about something, there will be moments when life will feel perfect. You will learn to remember the good days on the bad days and you will get out of bed and keep trying.
You will learn how complex you are. You will surprise yourself. You will disappoint yourself. You will be proud of yourself. You will hate yourself. You will love yourself. You will realize others are as complex as you are. You will learn not to fear different people, or opinions, or lifestyles. You will learn to embrace everything foreign to you with open arms. You will learn to be tolerant. You will become more interested in people, more forgiving, and more loving because of this.
You will learn that people in power are sometimes cruel. There will be people who have authority over you who will abuse you. You will have to learn to stand up for yourself. You will have to remind yourself that you are powerful too, even if they don’t think you are. You will learn how to help others see their own power- you will learn that breaking others down is a sign of weakness, not strength. You will learn how to be a leader and not a dictator.
You will learn to laugh. Laughter will be your saving grace, and you will realize it’s the only weapon you will need in any battle. You will learn that people who can laugh at themselves always win.
You will learn it’s worth it to pay attention to everything and everyone, even though everything you see, experience or encounter will most likely leave you completely bewildered and confused. Be conscious. Don’t ignore things just because it’s easier.
You will find soul mates. People who, in a crowded room, you can make eye contact with and just know what they are thinking. You will know who these people are because they will be around for all of it, they will endure your messy life with you. This doesn’t mean they will be physically with you all the time. Your soul mates will be traveling along on their own path, fighting their own journey, but along the way you both will be each others teachers and safety net. They will let you go out into the world and be there in some form when you come back completely fucked up from whatever happened to you out there. You will exchange stories with them. They will challenge you, they will see the best in you, they will bring out the best. They will remind you of all your strengths when you are downtrodden and they will call you out when you are being an idiot. They will protect you, sometimes from yourself. You will learn that being someone else’s soul mate is even better than having one.
You will love and lose. And love and lose. And love and lose. Each love will be different, and awesome, and horrifying. And you will learn to always be brave enough and willing to love again. And when you find that love you can’t live without, you will learn to fight for it every. single. day.
But most of all, you will learn to keep learning and re-learning. You will learn that your mistakes make you a good teacher, a more empathetic member of humanity. You will learn that throughout the different stages of your life you will make new mistakes, and that you will be ever evolving and in flux. And you will hopefully learn to make peace with this and accept your own humanness. And I hope you will, at the end of it all, have enjoyed being alive.
At this point, I had begun to weep- in the middle of Starbucks. As I blew my nose into paper napkins and rubbed my gigantic red watery eyes, one of the baristas stopped wiping down a table nearby and put her hand on my shoulder. “Uh, are you ok?” she asked. “Life is so crazy, but so beautiful…..so sorrowful. I just didn’t want to be Ursula, I wanted to be Grandmother Willow,” I told her. She nodded kindly and said, “There’s always tomorrow.”