Dear 12-year-old Jennie,
In the drawer of your desk, there’s a small journal that you use to write short stories. They’re mostly stories involving your American Girl dolls, or your Polly Pockets with their rubber clothes. You create apartments out of shoeboxes, cut beds from the flimsy cardboard, use small slips of paper as sheets. You craft dresses out of pipe cleaners, “film” pretend cooking shows with your best friend and her menagerie of plastic food, and develop elaborate worlds as a form of escape, because you just don’t feel like you fit in. Scratch that, you KNOW you don’t fit in.
You’re sensitive, and people pick on you because of that. Your value is solely determined by how many friends you have, how many sleepovers you’ve been invited to. You spend so much time molding yourself into this version of someone who’s popular. All of your energy is going into being someone you’re not.
You brood silently about your beautiful, smart, athletic, popular sister, and how everything comes easily to her. She gets straight A’s, she’s outgoing, she has a ton of friends - and boyfriends - and she has flawless hair and skin. Meanwhile, you’re sitting here with your first C on a math test because you’re just not “smart enough”, you’re lamenting your acne and the soft curves of your body, and you’re forcing yourself into social situations and pretending you love being the center of attention and the life of the party because you think that’s what’s expected of you.
Your effort to mold yourself into someone you’re not comes with an unintended consequence. At the base of your ribcage, there’s a pit, a heaviness. You think that’s normal. In a few years, the heaviness will grow into something a lot darker. You’ll tell your closest confidant, your grandma. She makes you feel like what you’re going through isn’t normal, your feelings aren’t felt by everyone, but that it’ll go away.
Eventually, it does.
Eventually, you leave your town where you feel like you just don’t fit in. You move to Buffalo and meet people who like you for you, who appreciate the fact that you’d write fan fiction and have a weird affinity for all things Canadian and love to explore, whether in a book or in person. Your perfect sister becomes your best friend. You find a career path that lines up with everything that makes you uniquely you, and you thrive. You can be everything you are and still, people will love you. Rather, people will love you because of your unique traits. Isn’t that something?
Best of all, you know how you keep saying you’ll never get married because you’re 12 and you’ve never been kissed? Well, guess what? You’re getting married! You found someone who sings silly songs with you, has read every word you’ve ever written, appreciates and values the parts of you that you always wanted to change. The bonus: He’s a real stud.
12-year-old Jennie, I want you to know that, above all, you are perfect the way you are.
It’s okay that you’re introverted and would prefer to stay on the sidelines or hide out on the computer updating your Livejournal. Those people bring you out of your shell, and show you that you’re not alone. You even meet them a few years later and they develop into your closest friends.
It’s okay that you dread going to Hebrew school because you have trouble memorizing the Torah portions required for your Bat Mitzvah. Your inability to memorize facts will never change, but you learn different tactics and recognize that this was nothing you could fix.
It’s okay that you’re “weird” and “different” and “live in your head”. Those traits allow you to see the world differently. In a few years, you go to high school where you thrive under the guidance of your favorite teacher, Mrs. Hopper, as an editor on the newspaper, and while on camera for your school’s monthly cable access show. Your interviewing skills and your ability to craft stories are key when you grow up, and you thank your lucky stars that you always lived in your head.
Jennie, above all, I want you to know that the battles you’re going through right now will make you into a wonderful human when you’re older. You know what it’s like to not live your authentic life. You know what it’s like to live at the lowest low. You try to treat everyone you meet with compassion and kindness and respect because you don’t know what battles they’re fighting, and you’ve fought plenty of battles.
Know that, in 16 years, when you look back at what you’re going through right now, you appreciate the struggle because it made you into the wonderful woman you are today.