During a recent trip to New York, I found myself stopping at the stand of a street vendor. Many different things were up for grabs to catch me off guard, but the one thing that really did was when the vendor randomly asked, “How old are you?”
Confused, I gave a general answer that I’m in my 20s, and the vendor responded with a simple “I thought you were 15.”
While I know my face probably hasn’t changed significantly since I was 15, the comment had me thinking about the past six years and what 15-year-old me would want to know about herself.
I wasn’t able to see the future when I was 15, but I can tell the past what I know now. And I’d start it off like this:
Dear little me,
I adore you — even though you don’t always feel that way about yourself.
Keeping it real, life doesn’t make it easy to see you the way I do. You realize you can have plans, but nothing is guaranteed. So I’m here to walk you through it, and remind you that you will get to where I am despite it all.
You get to about halfway through high school and decide to give a boy a chance at making you feel special (even though boys aren’t the ones who need to say you are). I’m so sorry he does the exact opposite and violates the boundaries you have every right to have.
Please know your worthiness has not diminished. If anything, you find a beautiful relationship years later with a man who knows what it means to love you. But even as an adult, no man determines the love you deserve.
School gets harder for you, and on top of that, you juggle adoration for dance and commitment to all the extracurriculars you sacrifice your sleep for. But your body knows more than your mind that you can only extend yourself so much before you start to break instead of bend. Be kind to the vessel you move and breathe in — it’s the only one you have.
You stay enamored with the incomparable feeling dance brings your soul. But some days, you look in the mirror to make sure your body fits the “look” of what you think a dancer’s body should be. Stop scrutinizing the legs, core and sternum that hold you up when you feel like you’d rather fall down. Take care of your flesh and bone in a way that remembers the head and heart encased within them.
Because you come to realize that your body as you perceive it also switches up when you least expect it.
The headaches you have get diagnosed as chronic migraines, and you go through at least 15 different medications to find the regimen that can overcome pain. Please know it’s all worth it in the end, because you find what you’re looking for.
You find out you have two brain tumors, and you have neurosurgery halfway into your matriculation at the college of your dreams. Two trips to the intensive care unit later, you rest in the best hands for medical treatment with the best loved ones supporting you each step of the way.
The doctor also puts you on infusions that make it hard to function. But the same people who supported you before stay by your side — and your dog happily rests with you on days when it’s all too much.
Somewhere in this messy montage, your mind starts to think that maybe your existence in a body with disabilities burdens the ones you love most. But you can’t forget how much love you deserve. Allow yourself to feel the extreme lows that your mind drops to, but know I’ll be here, ready to build you back up again.
And through it all, you make it. You graduate from high school with all these life changes that make you into the unmatched woman you are. I wouldn’t say everything from then on goes just as you want it to. But we take it one day, hour and second at a time — and that gets you here, entering your final year of college.
Saying “congratulations” would be an understatement. So instead, little me, I’ll say what can never be said enough: I love you.