Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Thomas,
Hi, this is your nineteen-year-old self. How are you? I want to start this letter by saying that, yes, you still write embarrassing super personal blog posts three years from now. You do not write as much on your blog, because college keeps you busy, but you still do. Congratulations: no admissions officers take the time to Google your blog and reject you because of it, so keep writing.
So I guess I will start on the whole college thing: you get in. You really, really do. You get into William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and the University of Pennsylvania. All your hard work pays off. Almost three years ago, you wrote this post about optimism, about how you would not let a B- in Physics Honors keep you down. Guess what: not only do you end up with an A- in the class, but you graduate high school and enter the university of your dreams: William & Mary. This might blow your mind, so feel free to take a moment and listen to Lady Gaga (you later get super into Ariana Grande and her song “Break Free,” but that can wait) or read a book.
Even bigger news: you escape your mother. No, not 100%. You still have to go home and see her, you still have to put up with her mood swings over the phone. But for the most part, you leave. You highlight your hair, you wear whatever you want, you study all the subjects you care about, and you have your freedom. At college, you feel the happiest you have ever been.
But I want to tell you some bad news. It will not make sense yet, and you may not believe me, because how could these things happen to you, of all the people? You have overcome an abusive parent and an eating disorder, you have gotten your fill of undeserved karma from the universe. I have thought a lot about why I write to tell you this, even though it will not change a single thing. But that will come at the end. Take a deep breath.
Your first semester, you will someone whose name starts with J. Your friendship will start with a set of Facebook messages after you get into William & Mary, about random things like books and high school and getting ready for college. He will wave to you right after you move in, and you will get used to his pretentious taste in literature. You will live in the same freshman dorm, and one night, you will go on a walk together in colonial Williamsburg, where he will tell you about an insecurity that makes you want to help him. Over the next year and a half, you will get super close: you room with him, you do everything you can to make him happy, and you even share your deepest secrets with him. Even though you have your ups and downs, you always stay dedicated to working through things. You read short story collections with him, you Skype with him over breaks, and you even name one of your Pokemon after him. You love him.
On January 30, 2015, he breaks your heart. He tells you some horrible, awful things, and he walks out of the friendship without a second glance. You cry a lot, you spend days in a depressed haze, and you want to beat yourself up and cave into the world. You write a blog post about it. It hurts like hell, in a way different than your mom does.
Things get better and things get worse. You meet a couple of people who really help you, including a mentor at William & Mary who guides you out of a bathroom stall (yes, you still cry in bathroom stalls). But two of your closest friends – whose names both start with “S”- abandon you. I know, you never thought it would happen, but they do. Some days you feel on top of the world, and some days you want nothing more than to take a car and drive it to the other side of the country, so you can start over and forget about anyone and everyone, including yourself.
Sixteen-year-old Thomas: I am so, so sorry. If I could, I would stop you from going on that walk with J. I would scream at the top of my lungs for you to avoid befriending him, to never get close to him so he would never ever hurt you. If I could, I would tell you not to have any expectations of your “S” friends, because if you do, they will only disappoint you with their silence and lack of care. If I could, I would travel back in time and cover your heart with my own, so that your sensitivity and empathy would not have to go through the hell of your fourth college semester.
You will do great things, Thomas. You will maintain your blog, and you will receive quite a few compassionate messages from people you will never meet, every word of kindness filling your heart with joy. You will join a peer health education group and serve as the President of its Mental Health branch; you will develop an immense love and compassion for mental health, a topic that enthralls you in a deep and all-encompassing way. You will engage in English and Psychology courses that make you so happy and allow you to develop your voice and insight. Your sense of self will strengthen and sharpen, and you will hone your empathy and psychological knowledge.
Sixteen-year-old Thomas, I would give everything in the world to go back in time and throw myself in front of the train that will plow straight into your heart. I would sacrifice so much to protect you, because that is who you are, and that is who I am: someone who lives with the sole purpose of making other people’s lives better. But know that you will help so many people, Thomas, just in your first two years of college. And you will go onto heal more people too, including yourself, even if you do not know how just yet. As you always say to yourself, if you want it, take it. And you know you want to live with compassion, with an unending concern for others. So you will.
In the fall of 2014, tell your grandfather that you love him a lot. Also, always record what you write down on the sticky note apps of your laptop. Your laptop broke two weeks ago, and you lost all of those precious thoughts (you will find them again in time, but still, it sucks).
I love you,