a letter to the girl in the photograph
Inspired by this lovely post
My darling little girl,
I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately. I see babies and toddlers and teenagers and remember that I was once that age. Sadly, we still haven’t invented a device in the future that allows us to revisit our memories or save them to a back up drive and watch them like a film. So all I have are glimpses of memories and photos and letters. Things that tell me, I was there!
I remember when the neighbor’s dog killed your cat, I remember the smell of burning leaves in the autumn and how your favorite yellow jacket smelled of smoke for days, I remember when mom showed you the fireflies that night when you woke up with a terrible ear infection, I remember the cicada like sound of the electrical towers where you picked raspberries (you should probably stay away from those towers, by the way). Mom said you were a magnet for bees that summer. This has not made you afraid of bees. In fact, you are more relaxed around bees than most people I know. Perhaps the more you are exposed to something, the less fearful you become of it. You have a lot to teach me, little girl.
When you are 6 years old, you will nearly drown. Mom told you not to go into the lake past your bellybutton but you had to test the waters. You will get this sensation again at age 37. Like you’ve gone past your belly button and are being pulled down. You will feel like you have to learn to swim all over again. You might have to tread water for a while but you will eventually swim to shore.
I remember when you had pinworms and needed to take big red pills that got stuck in your throat. You thought you “caught” pinworms because you were poor. Just like you thought you were poor because you had to pay for your schoolbooks with a check (a check is like money, dear girl, but you didn’t know that).
There will be money problems, sure. Mom will try to turn “the electricity being cut off” episode into a night of candlelight and fun. You will not understand nor appreciate the strength of a mother and the sacrifices she made for your happiness until much later in life.
I want to tell you something – now listen closely. You, sweetheart, were never really that poor. You had a roof over your head and food on the table. Sure, you didn’t wear the latest fashion or have a closet full of toys but this is something you will learn to appreciate as you get older – you had a mom who baked homemade chocolate chip cookies and sewed your Halloween costumes – from scratch! This is worth its weight in gold. You were and continue to be luckier than most people in that respect. Treasure that.
Know this: your parents did the best they could with the skills they had. You will spend a great part of your 30s in therapy, trying to figure it out. It is not your fault that your dad wasn’t there for you. He will leave, he will break his promises and your trust many times over. Again, it is not your fault. But because of this, you will not be able to trust men for a very long time. Let go of that. It doesn’t serve you. It’s too heavy. Leave the baggage by the side of the road and carry on.
Your journals from the 80s tell me that you fret over grades constantly. 90% is not good enough for you. I know you want to be a strait ‘A’ student but stop putting so much pressure on yourself, love. Perfection is over rated. Play more.
You will get your first camera when you are in your early teens. It will be pink. Take. Photos. With. Abandon.
Picking fights on buses is not a good idea. You are better than that. And you will only end up getting punched in the face on the street by some mean ass bitch (pardon my language – you swear in the future, quite proficiently actually). Your baby sister will come to your rescue. You will forever remember her jumping on the girl’s back like a wild banshee. This will make you laugh later.
You will not be the most popular girl in highschool. People will tease you. It will hurt. But trust me when I say that you don’t remember those people now and they don’t remember you. Time passes. Everything is ephemeral (if you don’t know that word, look it up in the dictionary – feed yourself new words every day). Don’t worry so much about what other people think of you. Don’t wait until you are in your 30s to realize that what people think of you is none of your business. You will have friends who really know you and love you unconditionally. They will span the globe and you won’t be able to see them nearly as often as you’d like. But know this – they would do anything for you. You are never alone.
Read more. Make it a habit. Write every day. Let the words pour out of you.
In University, you will study sciences and get a degree in Zoology. This will allow you to travel for the first time in your life – to Hawaii for 3 months, then to Jamaica for a Spring. I must admit that I wish you had studied Arts/Literature/Journalism/Photography instead. That being said, you are a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and perhaps the reason you chose Zoology has yet to be revealed.
You will meet who you believe to be your soul mate in University. Beware of the word soul mate. This relationship will last 12 years and take you to many places across North America. It will be a wonderful time for awhile. But he will eventually hurt you and you will choose to stay. I want to tell you not to stay. I want to tell you to leave Nova Scotia as fast as your feet can take you and start over. But the truth is, nobody knows what happens when you remove a link from the chain of life. Eventually you will leave and that feeling like your world ended will not last forever. This is one of the best things you could have done for yourself.
You will live by the sea for several years. Walk along its shores as often as you can. You will miss the sea when you move back inland.
One day, you will travel to Europe on your own. Just you and a backpack. You will meet a man on those travels – a man whom you will eventually marry. I don’t want to spoil the surprise by giving away details. You will move to a faraway land where everyone speaks the same language but not really. It’s everything you ever wanted, and yet, you will struggle. Your whole world will feel like it’s been turned upside down. You will find yourself vulnerable for a very long time. You will question yourself. You will discover the side of yourself that held on so long, that kept everything under control for so many years – that part of you will crack wide open and you won’t know how to deal with it. Don’t be ashamed to seek help. It’s ok that you don’t have it all figured out. This isn’t the first time you’ve fallen and I know you’ll come out of this stronger than ever. This is just another link in your chain, sweet girl. And I believe in you. And I believe in the light. And I believe in the man you married.
Appreciate your friends and family. You will miss them fiercely when an entire ocean separates them from you. Tell them you love them as often as you can.
One day you will write a letter to yourself. You will do this because when you read back on this letter in 10 years time, you’ll be able to smile and say “Silly sausage, of course it all turned out ok… it always does”
Your life will be filled with many awesome days. You will see more of the world than you could have ever imagined when you sat in the wheat field behind your house… dreaming.
Don’t be afraid. Keep dreaming. You will be amazed by what the world has to offer you.
With much love, Jeanine
PS. Don’t ever get your lip pierced – trust me. Also, that whole white socks and dress look, honey? Ouch! I’m happy to say that you grow up with a better sense of fashion.