dear 20-year-old self

I've written a few letters to myself, my younger self, and myself now. It's an insightful exercise to think about how close and yet how far you are from the girl you once were. I have spent a significant amount of time trying to both distance myself and get closer to the girl I was/have been. For now, I want to create a connection between then and now.

This letter is to my specific 20-year old self because I was probably in the need for some very specific words at 20.

Dear 20-year-old self,

Though I know you're probably not incredibly interested in hearing any more advice on your life, as your future self there are some things I must tell you.

You have people in your life, right now, at this very moment who will change you forever. And you will change them, as well. You will still be friends with at least one of them and will look back on this particular time in your life and talk about how amazing it was. Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe because everything seems so raw and overwhelming right now. It will feel that way for some time. Make an effort to revel in what you are feeling rather than trying to hide from it.

Soon, you will be leaving for 6 months in Orlando, to work at Disneyworld. This will not be the experience you thought it would and you aren't going to be completely happy with the decisions you make even while you're making some of them. However, you create fantastic friendships and have a lot of stories to tell; this will sustain you when you're beating yourself up about all the things you could have done better. This time is important because you learn all that you don't want for your life. It takes you a while to begin the steps that will make great things possible, but once you start, you succeed tremendously. You already have in you, right now, everything it takes to be happy.

I want you to know how incredibly fantastic you are. I also know you probably won't believe me but I'm saying it anyway. You don't have to be high or drunk for people to like you, for you to be witty or clever nor do you need to numb yourself in order to hide all you're feeling. You are enough, just as you are. You are daring and tough and smart and intimidating. Your hair is sometimes purple and long and when you walk into a room people notice mostly because of your smile but sometimes because of your boobs. That's okay, too. You may think you aren't thin enough or pretty enough despite what anyone tells you. You don't see all the ways you're noticed, all the ways your body is appreciated. It's okay to wear tight t-shirts and baggy jeans and be flirtatious with boys you will never, ever sleep with.

You are terrified right now of what you are feeling and the relationship you are in doesn't make sense to you in the way you think it should. In fact, nothing in your life feels the way you thought it would. You aren't sure of what it means to experience the emotions welling within you. But you're more afraid of not feeling, at the same time. Right now, it seems like you are on a roller coaster and you aren't sure if you can stay on. You may not be in control of the ride but you are in control of how you respond to the experience, including how long you're in the seat before moving on to the next one. I will say this, the relationship becomes significant because you followed your heart, to start with.

You impulsively and bravely create a chain of events that will take you places both emotionally and physically that you could have never imagined. I have to let you in on a secret: one of those places is Paris, the city you thought would give you all the answers. It does, but (yet again), it isn't the ones you expect. Sometimes the answers you find, and life in general feel confusing and sad and desperate, but you become very good at following your heart. I wish I were better at it now at 32.

It seems you make a lot of big decisions for us and I forgot just how much I owe you.

So, thanks. Thanks for all those late nights at your friends' houses talking about everything you could possibly think of, and for being a good friend, a confidante and secret-keeper. Thanks for acting, doing, going and saying yes instead of wondering what if. All the times you worry if you're doing the right thing, or moving in the right direction, work out in the end.

I know there are times you feel like you are waiting for your life to begin and that if this one thing or that one thing happens then you'll feel like it's really started. I have to tell you, it's already begun. Right now, at this very moment the simple acts of your daily routine is life already begun. You will have so many adventures and experiences that shape you and each one is a piece of a larger puzzle, a piece of us. But it's the everyday stuff you enjoy like feeding ducks in the park or visiting the museum again, making sandwiches for friends in your grandmother's kitchen, eating at the counter like you did when you were a kid; these moments define you just as much as the decisions you make to leave the South, and return and leave again. It is these moments I am grateful for when I look at you, my 20-year-old self because you made time to do all the things you felt like doing.

I began this letter by thinking I was going to give you advice. But I'm learning that you just might have some things to teach me.

One last secret: you are blissfully and complexly happy in the future. And though life is never what you imagine, it's so much better.

So, continue on the journeys you've mapped out for yourself. You'll have a lot of fun if you just let go. Don't worry if it feels like you're always falling, you know how to land on your feet.