Traveling back to the place where you spent your coming-of-age years has a way of making you think about everything you’ve learned in the 20+ years since then. If I could give my 17-year-old self some advice, here’s what I’d say:
1. Put that cigarette down. I know you love it. I know you think it will be easy to stop someday, but you’re wrong. It won’t be easy to stop. You’ll decide to quit when you’re 23. On your wedding day. Right before a 10-day road trip. You will be the crankiest new bride that ever existed. And you will gain about 45 pounds in one month. Just do us both a favor and quit RIGHT FUCKING NOW.
2. Your. Hair. Is. Awesome. Don’t start dyeing it purple and blue and white-blonde and black. Just. Please. Don’t. I am forever trying to get back to our 17-year-old hair color. And it’s always just a few shades too yellow. It’s very frustrating and I would like to shake you. But that would probably hurt worse than falling down and twisting my/our ankle.
3. Wear your glasses more often. When you are 22, you will paper-cut your eyeball and it will HURT. You will be forced to wear a big, black eye patch on the same day that this really cool woman from the Chicago Tribune comes to talk to your class. She will not meet your other eye or answer any of your questions … because you look like a deranged pirate and she is probably a little bit scared of you. I can’t remember how it happens, so just wear your glasses all the time.
4. Worry less about what’s happening to you and more about how your friends and family are doing. Call them. Like, all the time. Write them long, rambling, funny letters. Don’t worry if they don’t write back. Be around for them. Know things about them. Don’t think that it’s OK to let people slip through your fingers because there’s too much space in between you … or too much time has passed. You’ll regret it. Deeply.
5. Grieving is OK. Let it out. It gets better. Crying releases toxins. And it does not make you a drama queen, despite what your mother says. It just makes you human.
6. When you’re 18, you’re going to meet this guy who will tell you, “I thought you were pretty and smart, but then you opened your mouth and ruined it.” He is a dick. Please punch him. Hard. Preferably in his tiny, probably-paid-for, California nose. If you can swing it, cut off that hideous ponytail and burn it. Whatever you do, don’t believe him. Don’t let him get to you. Again, he is a total dick. The end.
7. While we’re on the subject of men: You will meet so many great ones — so many funny, smart, kind, handsome, loving, great ones. In fact, you will marry one of the great ones and have an incredible daughter. It won’t work out, but that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that he’s a bad guy. It just was meant to be something different than a textbook marriage. However, when you meet the following types of men: The ones who don’t return your calls or only return your calls when they are drunk/high/up at 3 a.m.; the ones who ask you to smile more/smile less/lose weight/gain weight/cut your hair/grow your hair/dress differently/wear more makeup/wear less makeup/shave any body part; the ones who don’t give a shit that they’ve just made you cry; and especially the ones who call you crazy …. Don’t spend more than 30 seconds on those guys. None of them are worth it. And, between you and me, they all suck in bed.
8. Give birth in a dark room, by yourself. It will be faster and better. And she will be perfect. Also: If you’re wondering, you DO have postpartum depression. Get some help.
9. Don’t go into college immediately after high school. Take a year or three and travel. Go everywhere. Meet new friends. Learn new customs. Swim in different waters. Also: rethink that UofO journalism thing. Just … trust me on that one. Become a midwife instead. You’ll be a lot happier. And better paid.
10. Wear mineral sunscreen. There is no ozone over Jersey.