To the ten year old in Thriftway in 1989

I can remember my tenth birthday… walking through the Thriftway grocery store as Mom and Dad did the food shopping and thinking about how cool it was that I was a whole decade old.

I’ve lived almost three more of that girl’s lifetimes since then. I wonder whether I’ve been through too much, or not enough. What do I say to that girl about where she’s going to wind up?

“Stop being such a goody-goody. Don’t take shit from classmates you’ll have forgotten in a few years anyway. Scream and cry as necessary, but don’t forget to laugh. You don’t have to overanalyze everything – in fact, you shouldn’t – because you will miss out on things you’d be better off getting over with.

“Take criticism with a grain of salt. Understand that other people can be insecure, too. It’s ok not to have any answers, but it’s also ok to search for the ones that fit. Never settle – search until you think you’ve found whatever it is you’re looking for.

“The opinions of strangers mean nothing. Censoring yourself for people you’ll probably never see again only hinders the task of being who you’re meant to be. Going along with ‘friends’ because you fear otherwise only tells them that what they’re doing is ok. You’re lying to them and to yourself, and the latter is worse.

“The only person you have to answer to is you. Don’t waste time trying to change minds – especially your own. Do it for the sake of your well-being.”

I don’t know if these words would make her path to here and now any easier than mine. Maybe she doesn’t deserve that. The obstacles and sadness that helped me get to this moment weren’t in vain. Nothing is without meaning. I know that it’s all required. But I will always wonder where the other forks in the road led. A little thinner, a little happier, a little healthier. Self-assurance. Peace of mind. But what of the silent voices in my head? They’re part of this wild, crazy journey, too. They don’t want me telling the ten-year old to do things differently. They exist because she didn’t.

I’ve often pictured my muse but that picture faded sometime in the past decade or so. She is no longer tangible, but I believe she is always there, quiet when she needs to be, even when I beg and plead, but there when she wants to be, and it’s those moments that count. The words come forth faster than I can write them down and sometimes I grasp to understand them.

This essay was originally written in February, 2006. It is published here with minor edits.

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