I’m going to tell you the one thing you can’t seem to tell yourself.
For months now, you’ve been wondering what to do. Your mind changes daily, even hourly. You go to bed with your mind made up, only to wake up again confused. It’s not an easy decision, is it? One minute, you’re holding tight to this tiny life you’ve managed to carve out. You’ve got your part-time jobs and your rental apartment, your rusty Mazda and that teetering checking account. You’ve got your daughter, who is growing up so fast it almost gives you whiplash. The next minute, you wonder what’s on the other side of all this. What would it be like to start over, in a new place, maybe far away, on your own terms, without that shadow of betrayal following you everywhere you go?
It would be so easy to just stay put, to duck and cover, here where it’s safe and familiar, where nothing and no one can hurt you. You can live quietly and simply, just you and your child, under the radar of disappointment and rejection that has become too frequent. You know what you want to do, but you wonder if you deserve it. You wonder if you’re brave enough to say yes. You wonder if your parents will ever forgive you for leaving, and whether you might, one day, end up right back here, right back where you started.
Here’s what you need to know, what you, on some level, already know.
Everything you’ve ever wanted is over there, on the other side. There’s independence. Acceptance. There’s graduate school, a scholarship and a new career – one with dignity and a livable wage. There are friends, some of the best you’ll ever have. There’s a school for your daughter, where she’ll discover her greatest joys: art, music and swimming. There’s also a man who will love you and your child. He will love you in that quiet way, not with fancy jewelry and red roses by the dozen, but with gentle kisses on the back of the neck and love notes scrawled on the bathroom mirror. You will see it in the way he looks at you, the way he watches you when he thinks you aren’t paying attention. You will wonder how you ever managed without that kind of love.
What if I told you that, in two years’ time, you would graduate with a master’s degree, something you’ve wanted for nearly fifteen years? Or that, in three years’ time, you’d be standing at the front of a classroom at a prestigious university, talking about good writing and the power of literature? What if I showed you a picture of your girl, sitting in an art studio surrounded by new friends, drawing pictures of golden flower petals like Georgia O’Keeffe’s?
Here’s the thing, Wendy. If you stay there, you will spend the rest of your life wondering what you missed. You’ll carry the pain of divorce in your heart forever, like a disease. You will muddle along, yes, with your barely-enough paychecks and your food stamps, your lonely evenings and your quiet weekends. You’ll be fine, sure, moving through one season into another, through fallen leaves and then snow, every day the same as the one that came before it.
But you will suffer, and your daughter will watch you suffer. She will grow up thinking that we don’t deserve to follow our dreams, that we don’t deserve anything more than what life hands us. If you go, though, she will see courage and strength. She will understand that life is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you. She will know that you took broken glass and made a chandelier.
So go pack your bags. Quit those part-time jobs. Tell your parents you love them, that you appreciate how they’ve tried to help, but the time has come for you to go. You need to see what else is out there. They will understand.
Then get on that plane. Don’t look back. Hold your daughter’s hand and smile, knowing that you both are on your way to becoming the people you were meant to be.
In a few short months, you will lift your face to the big blue California sky, throw your hands in the air and wonder what took you so long to just say yes.
Letter to My Former Self – Oct. 16, 2010.