What would you say to your younger self if you could?
A letter to my younger self… This is an exercise in brevity. I’m inspired by Alix Olson’s poem “Dear 16 Year Old Me”, where she is full of hope speaking to her 16-year old self.
Dear 18 year old me,
First of all, I see you. You’re valid. No one is telling you this right now, but you are. You feel alone and don’t think you’ll make it past your 20s. But I wish I could tell you that the view from 31 is an adventure more beautiful than your little hometown from high up on the Look-Out and the Star. It’s a beautiful chaos. It’s stunning. It’s full of life and love and loss and music. You’ve just survived a lifetime of abuse and you’ve made it to college. You escaped that hell and are on your way to becoming a damn fine musician. That’s no small feat! But you’re kidding yourself short thinking that this is the end.
I wish I could warn you of what’s next. Like some of your heroes sing, you’ll take some wrong turns, but they’ll all bring you here — to 31.
Strap in, let’s go for a ride.
The next few months will be hard. No, he won’t get locked up and you’re going to end up by the River once more, but I know that you will make the right decision. Don’t worry, I’ve still not told anyone who found you there. I forgive you, finally, for that night by the Steel. Tempus fugit….
Psych hospitals will become less scary, I promise. You’re going to get shunned into silence about what you were wearing when your body decided that it wasn’t legitimate enough to shut things down. But this isn’t the reason you will have your first stay. People will make you believe it is, but we both know that’s not true. Dysphoria’s a lovely thing, isn’t it? But not as lovely as the pain of fearing being alive. I’m hurting for you thinking it was the only way, but how could you have ever known? I’m no longer ashamed.
I hate to say it, but taking yourself off that medication was also wise. Your doctor got your diagnosis completely wrong… but you will learn to forgive him with time (be gentle!) — he’s only human. I wouldn’t recommend this down the line. Medication will play an important role in your life, and that’s ok. You will find a doctor you trust and he will change your life.
You will have many more of those ups and downs. With each passing peak and valley of the rollercoaster, you will get worse. You’re still valid! Oh how I wish I could tell you how sick you are. Sometimes, I still deny it myself. I know you look forward to those weeks of euphoria — and so do your friends — but this is you at your most ill. It’s scary sometimes, even from up here…at 31.
You will fall in love. She will destroy your heart and you will return to cocaine. But you’ll still love her. Enjoy her company and your family with her deeply. I just wish it never ended… but we could never go back to before.
You will face homelessness, psych hospitals, medications, fear, loneliness, food-insecurity, tragedy, abuse, more rape, assault, a few stalkers, violence. And it will break you. It will break you so deeply and you’ll want to end it all. Don’t give up. I’m counting on you. You will, somehow, get through.
Then there’s the pure joy measured in short moments. Measured in music. In jokes. In theatre. In marching down Pennsylvania Avenue on a cold January moment, openly and fearlessly queer with a piccolo in your hands, and a leader — a true president — who will tell you you’re valid as you’re sitting on a bus in front of the Pentagon. In being able to witness, and be a part of, history while doing the only thing you know how to do. You will meet a group of beautiful artists that will completely change your life and your professional aspirations by the pure… joy… they embrace with each performance. You will experience the world through music. Embrace it. Let music be your guiding light. She will never fail you. Hold on. Don’t let go.
And you will one day live authentically — as the man you’ve always known you are. From that moment sitting in Nitschmann Middle School as you noticed your best friend’s voice becoming a deep baritone and wishing with every inch of your being that your voice would as well. You will do that thing you’ve always done and take the longer and more treacherous way there, but you will get there eventually. And you will find your voice, as the bass you were always meant to be. Live for that hope. Your feelings about your voice are valid. And just because you’re singing in a voice we know is not yours, embrace it. Learn everything you can. Be powerful. Be fearless.
With my feet still dangling off this ledge, it’s somehow less scary. My — our — body is a canvas of scars and bruises and more scars… and memories. Memories that have shaped how this path is twisting and turning. Memories so vivid, they make the scars appear more faint. Even you are a memory. A memory of where I have been and what my tired eyes have seen. But this canvas is resilient and there’s still room to imprint it with something meaningful. There’s still room for music and adventures and love well beyond the confines of our tiny hometown and its rusted ruins of dreams from days long-past. There’s a world beyond that Steel and it’s beautiful.
If I could only show you this life! You will see it, in time.
Now, it’s definitely not all sunshines and rainbows. Far from it. But that’s ok! I wish I could cushion and protect you and guide you, but when you finally reach where I’m looking down from… the view will be nothing short of breathtaking. You will keep fighting. You will keep living through. You will see through that nowhere little town into a world full of life and possibility. You will take some…many.. wrong turns, but they’ll all bring you here. Our scars don’t define us, but they heal into something stronger. Your life has so much meaning. Possibility. Your story will not end by the River. It’s not over yet.
Yes, you’re a long way from home, but never more at peace. Definitely can’t say I regret any of it, but it’s a long way to go. And you will live. Breathe. And one day, soon, you will arrive to this epic view.
I’m counting on you, through good and bad.
-31-year old you
With love to Enter the Haggis and Alix Olson for inspiration. Their words and lyrics have grown since I was 18, as I’ve lived and learned. And they’ve gotten me through some really rough times over the years.