I’ve been thinking about how to write this one. It would be easy to just list 10 things I would or should tell a younger me. The truth is my 16 year old self wouldn’t listen. I am trying to pinpoint that specific year, not 15, not 17, but 16 year old Debbie.
So here is my attempt to make Debbie listen to me.
Here I am, back at high school. It’s the fall of 1971 and I am about to have a meeting with my 16 year old self. I chose a Wednesday morning to talk to her. On Monday she would’ve been tired and Friday she would’ve had her mind on the weekend.
As she walks into the room I see the long brown hair parted in the middle. She’s wearing a tight striped T shirt and a pair of hip hugger big belled jeans. I remember these were my favorite pair. The style was to have them long and dragging so I had sewn on an extra couple inches of denim to the bottom of the bells. The ass had big red iron-on patches. I fell in love with them all over again.
She looks nervous as she doesn’t know who I am. Do I tell her or wait until she figures out that I am her, 42 years later. I introduce myself as Deb and ask her to sit down and tell me a few things about herself. She tells me her name and says she turned 16 in May. She has a boyfriend and her driver’s license and is a junior. She is blushing and I know she is uncomfortable talking to me. I ask her about her family and she says she is the oldest child and has 3 sisters and 3 brothers. I tell her that I am also the oldest child but that I have 7 younger than me. I ask her about her boyfriend. She says his name is Scott and they have been going together for a while and will probably get married someday. Does she have any dreams of going to college or traveling or anything more than getting married, I asked. No, not really, she says. She’s not smart enough to go to college. She likes to read but sometimes the school work is difficult and sometimes she just doesn’t feel like doing it. I ask her what she likes to do. Her response is, I like to party and be with my boyfriend. I tell her that she reminds me of someone else. She looks at me and asks who. I hadn’t expected the conversation to go this way so I had to make up a name quickly. Her name is Samantha, I say. They called her Sam for short. I knew she didn’t know any Samantha’s, so that name worked. I ask if she would like to hear about her. Sure, go ahead, she says. She slumps down in her chair and gets ready to listen.
I tell her Sam had a fun childhood, lots of friends and brothers and sisters. Then when she was a young teenager her father died. It was hard even though she wasn’t Daddy’s little girl. Her whole life was about to change. Her mother remarried and they moved away from the town she grew up in. She had to leave her lifelong neighborhood friends, her new school friends, a new boyfriend. This sucked for her as she was shy and making new friends just scared her. They made the move and surprisingly Sam found her place in a group of girls. They weren’t what you would call the popular girls, but they were definitely known around school. She was an average student and never stood out in any one subject. She liked math and loved to read. If she had a problem understanding what was taught to her, she never asked for more. She was happy to sit in the back and never be noticed. This continued in high school. The subject of college never came up and it never crossed her mind. She wasn’t smart enough. The only classes she got A’s in were 4 years of typing and a year of photography.
Sam had a boyfriend; he was a year older and got in trouble sometimes. She seemed to be drawn to those 2 things. They drank a lot and went to all the good parties. Drinking was their past time and with the drinking came arguments and jealousy and magnified all the insecurities she had. They broke up and got back together a few times. She was always heartbroken, he didn’t seem to care. She kissed his ass, they had sex and it was all good again. This went on until she was out of school. They got engaged and unengaged all in the same year. There were even a couple halfhearted attempts at suicide thrown in there and were probably more a plea for someone to pay attention.
She made a couple treks to the Florida Keys and one to the southwest. She drank too much and slept with too many guys. She used them and they used her. There were a couple guys that got too close and she broke their hearts when she walked away. She just didn’t care. She partied, had fun, but always felt alone and lost. She wasn’t comfortable anywhere.
Sam decided to join the Army after talking with people who were already there. She went in and was given a job as a truck driver at Fort Stewart, Georgia. It worked for her. She had somewhere to go and something to do every day. Most of the recruits were young and they all partied on the weekends.
In 1976 she started going out with a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division. He had a Corvette, money, parents who had a nice home in Virginia with a boat on the ocean they stayed in sometimes. He was nice, good looking and good to her. He got too close; she walked away when she met a “bad boy”. One more broken heart, she didn’t care.
She married the bad boy after dating for 6 months. Sam got pregnant and they were on their way to being civilians. He had a temper; she saw it before they even got married when he punched holes in the walls. It was always a temporary thing and he was so sorry when it was over. Her parents never fought, she never had to deal with family arguments or conflict. When conflicts happened in the past she would just walk away. No walking away now.
They got out of the Army and moved to California, where he was from. They lived in a shack up in the hills; she dealt with it and made it into a home. She had a beautiful baby boy and she should’ve been happy. Soon after baby was born, bad boy changed. Or had he, maybe it just finally came out. He hit her when he was mad, the great sex they had before baby, stopped, and he came home later and later after work. There were other women, drugs and emotional abuse. She was now the heartbroken one. He didn’t care, it just annoyed him.
Sam stayed in that marriage for 35 years. She tried to leave a few times but had no skills and did not want to run back home to her parents. She was always optimistic and thought she could make it work. She would change, she would be better, he would love her. There were a lot of happy times and a lot of sad times over all those years. In the end it was the lack of love and respect that made her leave for good. Sam is in her late 50s now and told me if she had 10 things she could tell her 16 year old self they would be:
- Talk to your Mom about your life and your feelings
- Go to church, get to know Jesus
- Do better in school, ask for help
- Find a mentor
- Go to college
- Read about everything, knowledge is power
- Don’t drink so much or wait until you’re old enough to handle it or don’t drink, you don’t need it
- Be nice to everyone including your siblings
- You do not need a man in your life to be complete
- You are worthy, you are important, you matter