This is an ode to my past self
I am writing to you six years from your future. Considering how much older I am now, writing this is supposed to be easy, but I do not know how to start. I wish I still had your writing prowess; you were always incredible with a pen and paper.
Six years is just a short time for others, but ours felt so long. I am still trying to figure out how to break everything down for you slowly, but I’m trying my best not to overwhelm you. But here it goes:
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There are a lot of things I miss about you. Looking back, I feel pride remembering how you excel in almost everything you want to do―always fearless to take the microphone, consistently at the top of writing competitions and never not ready to create art for everyone. If I may say so, you are my best version, and I mean it with all my heart.
But you’re still young, and living in those years is also so chaotic. So, through this letter, I’m here to say that I forgive you for your mistakes and the ones you are about to make. I forgive you for not knowing how to hold people better, for letting your first love slip away. I forgive you for mishandling your emotions. I can say this now: You still have a lot to learn. Please accept my apology for blaming it all on you. I apologize for being cruel and failing to realize that you don’t have anyone to guide you through the chaos. I apologize for all the people who will fail you. Despite the wrongs done to you, you are always so forgiving; for that, you have my utmost respect.
Please accept this apology because this is not the usual letter to write to oneself—the one where people assure their younger versions that life gets better. Ours doesn’t. After 16, you will start losing the people, your reasons for believing in forever―people you want to keep so much. You will start to experience horrible things no one deserves to feel. You will start to question life and eventually hit your rock bottom. Your heart will turn stone cold. Anger and hatred will occupy a place in your heart.
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I apologize for coming with a warning, not an assurance. But if there is one thing I can promise you, you have time. Your life is yours to handle. Your heart and mind are yours to heal. Your dreams are yours to decide. You can always fall into the pace that you need. You are an artist after all. Paint your world blue if you need to, it’s alright. But always be sure to draw in what makes you happy, too.
Take good care of your mind. This brings me to another important thing―there is nothing to be ashamed of about mental illness. Don’t be afraid to get help. Be with people who know when to embrace you, people who offer to massage your hands when you get anxiety attacks, people who do not make you feel sorry for being consistently unhappy and people who notice you when you’re quiet.
Your trauma will slow you down while the world demands that you hasten; this is why you will feel horrendously pressured. You don’t have to catch up with everyone else. You are allowed to catch your breath. Cry if you must. But do not forget to welcome the light in your palms. Open doors and windows. You don’t deserve to be alone. Some people will misunderstand you, but I’ve seen your heart. Its limits are unimaginable. You are special; don’t just settle.
At 16, you still have everything I want in life. If I could get the chance to go back in time, I’d come to you and tell you everything I know, because you deserve much better than what is about to happen. Then again, I believe you are wise enough to fight with what you already know.
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For now, hug your best friend for me. Hold the hands of your first love. Go paint your favorite sunsets. Say yes to every opportunity. Enjoy your best year. And breathe; don’t forget to breathe.
I will wait for you to heal yourself, no matter how long.
May at 22
Words Zhanele Africano
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver