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Nothing but myself?….My selves.
After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known
I steer the boat in, simply.

— from “Integrity” by Adrienne Rich

Marci, you don’t know me. I’m your 56-year-old self. Or maybe you do know me a little—after all, we’re part of the same person.

There’s so much I wish I could tell you on this, your 20th birthday. I wish I could prepare you for what’s to come. Actually, perhaps you don’t need my help; in retrospect, I—I mean we—handled some of the difficult things quite well. Interestingly, it was often the little things that tripped us up.

Right now you are at cross-purposes with yourself. You are working full-time as a legal secretary when so many others from high school are away at college. In fact, you are working too hard; you’re also putting in a lot of part-time hours at Casual Corner, that new retail store at the mall. I know, I know—the 20% discount is wonderful. And once a fashionista, always a fashionista. But I wish you were in a position to take an extra night class at the community college, instead of working two jobs. I know you need the money; you’re helping our mother, with whom you still live—often at each other’s throats.

It will take you many years to understand why she was so fearful and distrustful of life, and why her fears influenced many of the decisions we would make. Her life will be instructive, though: it will teach you what the poet Adrienne Rich will, in just a few years, call a “wild patience.” You must trust me on this.

You haven’t discovered Adrienne Rich yet, but you will. In fact, I’d advise you to seek her out now—don’t wait until you’re at Oberlin College. Yes, you’ll get there. It will take a while, but you’ll do it.

Right now you’re taking two classes—one in English composition, the other in journalism. You think you want to be a writer. You should hold on more tightly to this dream. I know that if I encourage you to change even the smallest thing about your life—to decide just one thing differently—the course of our lives will change. I’m not sure I want you to do that, because I’m coming from a very good place. There has been more sweet than sour in our lives—it has been a good life. No, what I would like you to do is believe in yourself more.

I remember how your thinking used to go:

Fulfilling, exciting careers are for other people, not for me. It’s useless to dream that I’ll be something more than I am, or do something bigger with my life; I’m destined to live in this town forever.

Marci, if you only knew. Please don’t dismiss your dream. Hold on to it. I cannot lie to you: although your dream will indeed be deferred, your “wild patience” will take you far; it will inspire you to pursue your dream again. You will finish college. You will write. You will also marry, and become a mother to a wonderful baby boy.

You will not remain married, but you will discover a strength you didn’t believe you had by living on your own for the first time in your life. You will have a career you never thought possible. You will meet a new man, fall in love, and marry again.

I don’t know if I should tell you any more—I especially don’t know if I should tell you about the bad things that will happen—the sour that seems to always accompany the sweet. Let me just go back to that idea of a wild patience: it will give you strength. It will fill you with passion and resolve. It will be your salvation.

And don’t worry: I’ll be in the boat with you. We’ll steer it in to shore together.

NOTES: The idea of writing to my 20-year-old self came from Chloe of the Mountain, founder of a wonderful blogging network to which I belong called “Generation Fabulous”  (GenFab for short). Today, GenFab started something known as a “blog hop.” We’re all writing to our younger selves and sharing the collective wisdom. You can read the other posts on this topic by clicking this link.

Marci Rich is not related to the late poet Adrienne Rich.