When you are 44, you will be the kind of woman who drives a fast, black car with manual transmission. You’ll have long hair, and you will still be wearing whatever you please and pulling it off. You will own a 110-year-old house that you bought with your husband (whom you will meet in just one short decade), but you won’t live there. The house you do live in will be clean on most days, but overall have the feeling of benign neglect. You will love your husband deeply, and fight with him often, and still want to treat him with respect and tenderness at the end of the day. He’ll return the favor. The two of you will have two sons who look everything and nothing like you both.
In 25 years, you will be on the tail end of the second arc of your journey with your mother, who took to hoarding cats instead of stained and moldy jeans. You will cry over her in the same way you cry right now, sitting on a rock in the woods with your soul gathered in your hands, over and over again. For a long time, she will be part of every facet of your life, and nothing will be resolved, but it will be OK. That part is actually OK. That’s where you’re going to learn the most about compassion and responsibility.
You are never, ever going to believe this now, but you aren’t going to be a actress, and you aren’t going to be a lawyer. You’re going to be a good scientist, and so will your husband. You aren’t going to graduate from high school, but you will graduate from one of the best colleges in the nation many years from now, and the wait will definitely be worth it. All of this will come with a price. You’ll have to lose a lot of your friends. You’ll be the brunt of a lot of jokes. You’re even going to be scorned.
Even when things start to look up, people are going to question you and your right to what you’ve earned. That will probably hurt more than anything else, but that, too, will be OK. It will force you to examine how much worth you carry… to yourself. You will make the changes that many people won’t or can’t, and you’ll get on with it. This will also come with a price, but one you can afford to pay.
It will take a long time, but eventually, you’ll find yourself in medical school with a full scholarship. For a moment, everything you ever went through will make sense, and for the first time in your life, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped. And then you will fail at your life’s ambition. That will be one of the hardest things you will ever go through. Worse than poverty, worse than mom, worse than foster care, worse than anything because it’s a long, long way to fall, and there is no safety net.
But falling that far takes a while, and in that time, you’ll learn to fly. You amazing creature, you’ll learn that you can withstand anything. You’ll learn how deeply loved you are, and how brave. But you’ll also see value in limits, and discover and honor those places where you’re fragile.
At 42, you’ll have the word FEARLESS tattooed on your back. You’ll take stock of what you have and find wealth. You’ll make plans to go after what you need. You won’t look back.
My darling, you don’t know this yet, but you are so strong that you can pull scared people up, and tear powerful people down. You can make beautiful things from absolutely nothing. You can’t keep your bedroom as clean as your kitchen, but you can work hard and stay true to yourself. You’ll learn to trust your own wisdom. That’s what you’re learning to do right now. You will wear mid-price suits to work, and sometimes you’ll wish you were poor again, because in some ways that was easier and healthier. You will do good work. You will be in transition for a good long while, and people will eventually ask you, (with that tone that says, I knew you couldn’t do it), “Aren’t you a doctor yet?” You’ll say no, and feel a little bit of shame, but not that much.
You’ll apply to medical school again when you’re good and ready, and what happens next will amaze you. When you are my age, you will not yet have had any work done – your boobs will still be small, your nose will be crooked – but you’ll still look pretty good, and your husband will still think you’re hot. Your sons will look at you in a way that makes all of that inconsequential for the first time in your life. Your sons will put the finishing touches on who you’ll probably become. All of the people whom you’ve longed to include you as part of their family will be turned away, to some extent. Many of the things that you did to “become whole,” “wanted,” or “worthwhile” will seem kind of silly. So will many of the things you thought about yourself, because you’ll finally start to feel what it means to be parented and loved as you parent and love your children, for whom all good things are wished for or provided.
I wouldn’t give advice, because I wouldn’t want to fuck up the time-space continuum. But I do wish that I could reach back sometimes, and touch your face, and give you faith.
I’m Shemena Campbell, a 44-year-old woman who, at 13, was moved back into her mentally ill mother’s house after 5 years of foster care. In that year, I had to get my first job, and I failed out of high school. I wish I could meet myself in a cafe somewhere, and have a cappuccino, and tell that girl who she really is. No amount of advice would have trumped knowing that everything was going to be ok, or having proof that I was smart, beautiful, worthy and a good person. I’ll soon be starting again as a medical school student, and I work teaching research at my old medical school. I have two little boys, 7 and 4. My 7 year old is intellectually gifted, and my 4 year old is autistic. I’ve been married for (almost) 20 years. I hope you enjoy this! Thanks for reading.