Dear Eight Year Old Em,
The other kids think you’re weird. It’s okay. You have fire in your heart. Pick your glasses up off the ground, puff out your chest, and let them say the things they will. When they hurt you, tell an adult. Tell your parents. Take this time to learn that those two people will protect you with their last dying breath until they don’t know how anymore, and then they’ll still try to throw themselves between you and your pain, even if it looks like it could swallow them whole. They will always do their best for you. They’ve fought much scarier monsters. You were blessed with two people who love you. They will fight for you on the days you no longer have the courage to put up your fists. They will do it now, when you are small, and easy to console. And they will do it in three years, when you believe yourself to be a hardened adult at eleven. They will do it when you call them, long after you’ve moved out, eerily calm, and tell them about the razor blades and the pain you don’t understand, even though they no longer understand most of what you are. Take your struggles to them, dear heart.
They made you. They want you. You are wanted.
Dear Eleven Year Old Em,
You’re allowed to be angry, or hurt, or disappointed. You can be any or all of those things. Even though you keep your chin up, your eyes will water and your lip will tremble. It’s alright. Cry. No one has stopped loving you. Adult things are complicated. You didn’t do anything wrong. This isn’t your fault. People make mistakes. Good people, your people, will make mistakes. It’s okay to feel however you do. Don’t take your hurt out on Poppa. His heart is just as beaten as yours, and you may not believe it now, but Mama’s is, too. They’re bleeding with you, not against you. Don’t let anyone step on your broken heart under the guise of trying to be strong. People go away, but baby, they almost always come back. This is not the end, and don’t you dare think it is.
We’re nineteen now. We made it.
Dear Fourteen Year Old Em,
High school is scary, but it’s not as bad as you think it will be [and for the record, it wasn’t as bad as you remember it, either]. Take this time to learn to love your body, if you can – at least try. Accept that this is the only one you have. When he starts showing you affection again, do not jump at the chance to feel desirable. Do not accept his heart simply because you’re tired of watching yours beat all by itself. You don’t need him to validate your worth. You are not who loves you. You are what you love. He is only a man; he can not fill the gaps in your heart. You will learn that your worth comes from your own heart. I promise.
You don’t need him. You’re gay now anyway.
Dear Sixteen Year Old Em,
It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. I am so proud of you. You are so lovely, and worthwhile. Please, please, remember that people love you before you start dragging that horrible lighter across the backs of your strong arms. This is not your fault. You were created fearfully, wonderfully, and in His image. It isn’t your fault that no one else has figured that out yet. You are not inherently flawed. You are not worthless. Your sexuality does not negate who you are. You are not damned for this. You are so completely unprecedented. Take your pain to your parents, they will hold off these demons for you if you just let them. Take it to your therapist. Do not hide it. Do not bury it in the first girl who might love you. She doesn’t. Maybe she did. I still don’t know. Also, kid, take on less. Cut yourself some slack. You’ll thank me at nineteen.
There is so much I want to tell you, but I still don’t have the words. I’ll try again in a few years.
Dear Eighteen Year Old Em,
You are going to fall so hard for the first girl who shows you intimacy. It’s okay. That fall will hurt. She won’t know all of the damage you’ll allow her to cause. Learn the definition of unrequited now. College is new, and you’ve not grown up at all. This new found freedom does not come with any kind of maturation. It just happens. Drink less beer. Say “no” to weed more often than you say “yes.” Hug your best friend whenever you see her. Her heart is heavy, and you cannot stop loving her, because she’s one of the only people you’ll ever feel okay sobbing in to, one of the only people who will cry with you if that’s what you need. You cannot stop loving her, because you may never know this kind of love again. Don’t let a year apart and a hard summer get in the way of that. Not everyone who tells you they love you actually does. This is a hard pill to swallow. Don’t ever stop opening your heart, anyway. Trust me, in less than a year’s time you’ll be proud of the horrible, soppy mess of a heart you wear on your sleeve. You’ll guard it, and protect it, and share it with someone beautiful far sooner than you know, so stop pretending like it doesn’t exist. You are going to know so much more at nineteen than you do now. I’m sure we’ll know more at twenty, too. Let go of your pride. It is only weighing you down.
Keep pedaling, man. It’s getting less worse, and a little more livable.