Dear Erin at 17,
I know you’re miserable right now. That you’re sitting in math class, staring down at the sheet in front of you. The numbers are starting to blur and swim together. None of it makes sense.
Now you’re blinking back tears, feeling like everyone is getting it but you. Eventually you give up, flipping the paper over and marking it with angry black words. Angsty teen poetry. I still have some of it, you know. I kept it in a box in my closet. Sometimes I look at it and remember what you’re feeling now. Sometimes I smile and roll my eyes.
But I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen to me.
You’re not stupid.
It isn’t going to get better, unfortunately. You never do figure out math. The school you go to is so small that there is no help for you, and you end up attempting to teach yourself from the answer key. It doesn’t work, and even if you’d had a math tutor it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. You weren’t made for numbers. You were made for words.
You know this. You’ve always known this.
But it doesn’t stop you from hating yourself. Now, and in the future, you let other people make you feel stupid. This year, two people you thought were friends will laugh loudly (and publicly) when you admit you don’t know the answer to a fairly simple math problem. You will hide your hands behind your back and hope nobody can see you counting frantically on your fingers. Your confusion over maps and directions will only grow, until you refuse to go new places, or pretend you “don’t feel like going” because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’ll get lost.
You’ll get flashbacks of when you were thirteen, when you got lost in the woods while you were camping and a man and his two kids helped you get back to the campsite. You were panicked and embarrassed, and you fell off your bike and the kids laughed at you. Your face burned in the dark, and you didn’t even care that your elbow was bleeding. That wasn’t the part that hurt.
When you graduate a year from now, you’ll feel a rush of shame that you didn’t finish math. That the fancy paper they’re handing you that says “complete” is the only certificate you’re going to get. You’ll go home and tear the pins out of your hair and throw the dress in the corner, and write in your journal that you don’t know what to do now, because you’re not smart enough to get a good job or go to college, and all you’ve ever wanted was to be a writer anyways. But everyone knows you can’t make any money from it.
I wish I could tell you that you figure it out right away, but you don’t. It takes time. It takes years of working at a job you hate, years of feeling stupid and out of place before you realize what’s going on. That maybe a fish seems “stupid” on dry land.
But you do figure it out eventually. You quit the job and you take writing seriously. You let yourself believe that there’s something you’re actually good at. And you’re happy. It’s still hard work, and it’s still frustrating. But it never makes you feel out of place. It never makes you feel that you are somehow less. So hang on, get through this math class. I can tell you now, it does get better.
Have a look at present day me, because I’m still you. Look at us. We’re still scatterbrained and confused and forgetful. Still bad at lots of things. We’re still not great at sports and hate card games. We try to cook occasionally but things tend to catch fire. I can tell you now that we are the same. Present day me did not morph into some strange new creature, full of confidence and swagger. I’m still you. The only difference is that slowly, day by day, you learned to love yourself.
Erin Latimer was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. She now resides on the snowy plains of Grande Prairie, Alberta, where she spends most of her time hibernating. She is currently working on a YA steampunk series and is represented by Jason Yarn of Paradigm Talent Agency.
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Dear Teen Me: More Letters from Authors to their Teen SelvesTeen Fiction
We hope you'll be inspired, shocked, amused, and touched by this selection of letters from the DearTeenMe.com website. 'How awesome would it be if authors wrote letters to their teen selves?' A year and a half later, you can pick up DEAR TEEN ME fro...