If you could write a letter to your sixteen year old self, what would you say? Yesterday, after receiving a message from someone who I really value telling me that all I’ve given him of late is empty promises, the last bit of resolve I’ve been clinging on to just came tumbling down. I’m. Just. So. Tired…of Everything. I. Can’t. Anymore! Tears flowed silently, leaving my eyes red, my face puffy and everything else about me feeling useless. I know I’m not the only one in this boat, but God knows, while I’m trying very hard to have faith and trust for my miracle, I’m not really sure how much longer I am going to last. I happened upon a FB post of a nurse who said that she is so tired of working herself to a standstill only to still be struggling financially that if there is any mad man out there willing to settle for an overworked, young woman with a few issues, they should get in touch with her. I feel her pain. The struggle is indeed real. Many people say cut costs – it’s easy when you have a number of luxuries to choose from, but when you are pretty much surviving on your salary to pay the rent, your medical aid (if you know me, you will know that I cannot be without it, having had to have 2 operations six-months within each other and another one pending when I can afford to take the time off to have it done), your car (because in our little sleepy hollow town, safe public transport doesn’t exist), the necessary insurance for said car and fuel (which seems to just go up every month) and utilities (to the point where you’d actually rather light a candle than put the light on), the only place you can cut is (and if you look carefully, this doesn’t even feature on my list) food. If it wasn’t for the goodness of my parents, some of my friends, and more recently, my neighbours visiting their holiday home, I would be going hungry. Every now and then, I really feel like a cup of coffee, so I’ll pop out to a friend (after considering if I can actually afford the fuel) for a cuppa, because the luxury of roasted beans and milk is something I can’t afford. I drink it so seldom that even if I could, it would probably end up going off. I dread hearing a knock at the door in case it is someone wanting to visit unannounced for fear of them finding out that I am the proverbial Mother Hubbard. And before you all think I work for a company that doesn’t look after its employees, I don’t. I work for one of the companies in our town that probably pays its people the best wage. I would probably still be living with my parents if I was working anywhere else. Some companies here expect their employees to work for R4000 (before tax) and not complain about it, be at work on time, and presentable to boot. It is a goddamn disgrace! Pikitup is picketing for R12000 a month, to remove the rubbish – how can anyone be expected to survive on R4000 a month – even more so if they are a single parent? But, with costs rising on the necessities, the outlook to simply stay afloat is grim; not just for me, I know. Accommodation in our town is hard to come by, and when you do, you pay through your ribs for it – that is why I stay where I am, because I won’t find the same kind of place, even smaller, for less, and if I do, I will most likely have to be out in December so the landlords can rent it to the unsuspecting holidaymakers, charging them what they make out of their tenants in eleven months in just one.
So, with that, and a few other things in mind, this is what I would tell my sixteen year old self:
Dear Sixteen Year Old, far-from-being-a Mid-Thirty-Misfit Self,
There are so many things I want to tell you, Child. Yes, you’re still a child. As much as you’d like to think otherwise, so if I jump back and forth in time, don’t lynch me for it. Try to understand that with age (apparently) comes wisdom, but it also brings a touch of forgetfulness.
You’re on the brink of leaving school. At 16! Your parents can’t afford your tuition anymore because your dad’s out of work, so they reluctantly agree to you wanting to quit school and find a job. As much as you want to join the adult ranks, your cousin Lola sees to it that you don’t and says that she will help your parents with the fees until your father is gainfully employed again. You silently curse her for this, but realize much later in life that even a Matric certificate isn’t worth the paper it’s written on anymore.
You’ve never had a problem sharing, despite being an only child, but your limits are going to be tested when Nadia comes to live with you and your parents in your Matric year. For the most part, it works out well, but there are days when you are going to be a bitch to her for no reason at all. She is going to fall in love with two of your cousins (not at the same time, thank goodness), but sadly, neither of those relationships are going to work out. While you’d love her as your cousin, you’ll have to settle for her as your friend – and she is one that, even though you don’t see or speak to her often later in your life, is someone you will always be able to count on.
Sharing your room prepares you, well kind of, for sharing your flat with a friend for a year when you’re older. You learn a lot about yourself and your inner domestic goddess during that time. Don’t scoff! You actually do reach the point in life where you appreciate clean dishes and a made bed when you share a space with someone else.
Get a holiday job! Don’t worry what it pays. Really, don’t! Do an internship for nothing if you must, if only to gain experience. Experience is something nobody can ever take from you, and sometimes, experience requires sacrifice. If you do earn something, save at least half of it, because come later on in your life, you’re going to want things or go places and fuel for the car you’ll be driving then is going to cost almost R14 a litre.
You’re going to fall in love. Three times. Each your mom is going to warn you, but you’re going to be headstrong. That stubborn streak you inherited from her is not always a good thing. The first two men will be more than a decade older than you are. The third one will be exactly nine months older than you, but regardless of the age different, every time the inevitable happens, you are going to be left heart-broken. Each time you are going to walk away feeling used and unloved, but you will eventually will face your demons, because you come to the realization that being bitter towards someone is like drinking poison but expecting the other person to die. You will own the abuse, resentment, feelings of inadequacy and come out stronger, I promise!
You’re going to finally get your smile sorted by having braces fitted at 26. It will be worth it, trust me! Those braces even save your face when you dive into the shallow end of a pool two years later, cracking open your skull, breaking your nose and tearing a piece of your lip. You will have a scar under your nose forever because you cut the loose piece of skin off with the scissors. You’re going to have 8 injections in your head and 18 stitches in all. You will walk away virtually unscathed – the only reminder you’ll have is a bit of discomfort every 4 years or so afterwards in your lower lumbar region. It is a miracle that you have no other spinal damage which could have left you paralyzed. As with many things, you’ll only comprehend the gravity of this much later in your life.
In your thirties, you’ll be told by your male friends (of which you have quite a few) that you’re too full of shit and that’s why you’re alone. That’s okay. You’re entitled to your standards and don’t need to drop them to settle for just anyone. Remember that not one of them knows some of the horrors you’ve endured. I’m not going to lie though, it will often be lonely. You’ll have random encounters with some of the men you meet, but none of them will fill the space in your heart. That’s fine too. You’ll even fall in love with a married man (okay so it’s four times, but who’s counting) and when he gets divorced, you will hope, only for him to rip your soul out a few weeks later when he gets engaged to someone else, a decade younger than you. You’ll take that heartbreak with devastation, but you will make friends with his ex-wife. Yes, believe it…and you’ll be close as sisters. You will learn a lot about forgiveness from her, so moving on won’t be as hard as the previous rounds. You might bump into him one day – I don’t know, because as I’m writing this to you, it hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t say if you will be able to forgive him or not. You probably will, because you need forgiveness yourself, but you’ll never speak to him again. That’s also acceptable – he was never meant to be in your life forever. He was merely put in your path to teach you a lesson in life.
You’re going to go through a phase where bread is a great evil, along with rice, pasta and potatoes. This phase will happen in 2010 when you start to gym (yes, you will actually love exercise) and lose 20 Kg. You will be in the best shape of your life, but due to injury, you won’t be able to do it for a long time. You will however faithfully continue to pay your membership, because it literally was the one thing that saved your life after your diagnosis of adrenal burnout. Yes girl, you almost suffer a nervous breakdown and contemplate ending your life. This won’t be the only time, either.
Due to circumstances beyond your control (you not having learned to save), you will have to cancel your membership. The day you make that decision you’ll cry. A lot… because you really discovered a side of yourself in the gym – the determined go-getter who even when she couldn’t do another set of reps, forged ahead and smashed it. You’ll even strengthen your legs to the point of being able to leg press 120 Kg (100 Kg more than the first time you did it months before). You’ll cry because you’re going to miss the friends you made there, wondering if, because that season in your life ended, you’ll see some of them again.
You’re going to buy your first car when you’re 20. It is going to be older than you are, and it is going to be a real fixer-upper. The seats are going to be beyond repair, so you’re just going to buy seat-covers to hide them, the same way you still hide things under your bed at that age, because you’re too lazy to simply just put them away. Dad is going to spray the rims silver and this little rattle-trap is going to take you to Cape Town every second weekend to be with your boyfriend (number 2) who lives there.
You’re going to have some memorable moments with that car: getting stuck alongside the N1 in the heat of summer or getting lost on the back roads to Knysna praying that you don’t run out of petrol because the gauge has never worked. You’re even going to shed a tear the day you hand over the keys when you upgrade to something better. You’ll never forget that car, Sminty, the little mint-green Golf LS that you bought from a colleague’s wife.
Your first job is going to be one where you are going to learn a great deal. You’re going to spend twelve years there before finally moving on. Not entirely because you want to or even because you’re reached the ceiling. You’re going to leave because of a personality clash with the new kid on the block, your Mentor’s youngest son. The two of you won’t see eye to eye. Don’t even bother trying. This is an instance where you will see that blood is thicker than water, but also learn of a father’s way of placating his son’s guilt for being the driver of the vehicle that ultimately killed his mother. Remember what I said about experience requiring sacrifice – this is one of those times. You’ll leave there with a heavy heart, and with gratitude too, because your Mentor has paid for you to study International Trade because your parents couldn’t afford to send you to college or university…
Just before you leave the employ of your first job, you’ll discover that you have a talent to write. At times it will consume you. You won’t want to leave your room. You will be so engrossed in your story that you won’t even notice the sun coming up. You’ll dream of becoming a bestselling novelist and to work towards that you’ll complete a Novel-Writing Course, with Distinction. You’ll want to continue, but for a long while, you will be stalled because life requires you to prioritize other things. Never…ever… lose sight of that dream! Keep at it – live your passion. Write about whatever you want to, or sometimes need to, but just don’t give up. Promise me that!
Another bizarre phase you’ll go through is a love of all things British. Why, I’m not entirely sure, but you will want to own everything you can lay your hands on that has a beefeater, London Tower, the Union Flag, a traditional red telephone booth or Doctor Who on it. Then it will New York – this I understand because part of your writing dream is to write in the Big Apple. You’re even going to enter the Green Card lottery. Yes, you’re going to, even though the outcome is unknown. Heaven knows the odds are better than the South African Ithuba Lottery.
After 25 years of not having contact with Shayla-Rae, you’re going to meet up again, and your friendship is going to be exactly as it is now while you’re at school together. Relaxed…easy…uncomplicated. You’re going to get to see the farm where she grew up, something you never did while at school, and you’re going to see it for the first time at her father’s wake. It is going to be a celebration of his life, so don’t be scared.
You’re going to learn about serious graft, girl. You’re going to work on a farm – in the packhouse, in the fields, with the people. You’re going to last a little over 18 months and then all your little pigs are going to go AWOL. That adrenal burnout thing the gym saves you from…this is it. You’re going to have to resign or face the possibility of being institutionalized. You’re going to wake up from almost 36 hours of medically induced sleep, only to see your father crying at your bedside because he worries about you so much. Your mom cries too, but behind closed doors. Only later in your life do you really get just how much those two people love you.
Your third job is going to be one that you really enjoy. Not because of the type of work specifically, but because of the people. You’re going to be nurtured into a better person and treated well. You’re going to have a sense of belonging. You’ll sometimes think about how you’re going to say goodbye to everyone should you win the Green Card Lottery, but you don’t dwell on those thoughts too long.
You’ll also start a sideline business, which for a while will be a great income booster, but besides the extra ching, you’re going to make lifelong friends, one of whom you’ll have a soft spot for since the first day you meet him and you’ll admit it to him too (well done on being confident enough to do it!), but he isn’t going to feel the same way. You’ll take a while to realize that you’re better as friends than you would be romantically. You know that if he sees you in the emotional and fiscally frazzled state you’re in, you’re going to cry and let’s face it, he doesn’t handle tears well.
Sometimes business is going to be tough and you’re going to struggle and consider tossing it all in, but you will hold out because it puts you out there, with people that can have a positive influence on your life.
Your favourite cousin, Malcolm, is going to die. At the age of 44, from pneumonia. It is going to be traumatic for you, because you shared so much when you were younger. You’re going to write a tribute to him; your way of saying goodbye. You’re going to be asked to read it at his memorial service, and be expected not to cry. You’ll get through it because you’re a brave woman by the time this is going to take place. You’re going to cry about the void he leaves behind, but also because your heart is breaking for Uncle Dick and Aunty Lou. You’ll think of him a lot – often when you’re at The Point and there are surfers in the water. Keep the happy memories alive! It’s important!
Oh, something you’re going to laugh about now…you’re going to roast your first chicken at the tender age of 36. And you’re going to phone Clarisse for help because you’re too embarrassed to admit to anyone else that you’ve never cooked a whole chicken in your life before. I’m shocked that it’s taken you so long, but then again, all you’ve ever cooked while living on your own is fish in a bag with steamed veggies, chicken steaklets, mixed veg frittata or you’ve just whipped up a tuna salad because you’ve been too broke to switch on the stove. You’ll still rather eat a cold meal on a winter’s night than have a cold shower in the morning. Some things will never change.
You’re going to invade a friend’s privacy. You’re going to be so conflicted about it. But it will turn out well in the end. Machiavelli was right when he said, ‘the end justifies the means’. In this instance anyway. She’s going to be really angry with you at first, and it is going to make you sad, but she’ll come around, sooner than you think and she’ll even thank you. You’ve still got a lot to learn about choosing your battles, but in this instance you chose well. I’m pleased for you.
You’re going to get treated like a lady by a guy friend of yours who ultimately is young enough to call you “Tannie”. It is going to surprise the hell out of you, because you’re not used to it. He’s going to pick you up one afternoon, under the ruse of coming to catch up over a cup of coffee (which you’ve now had to buy!) only to tell you to leave your phone, wallet and shoes at home. He’s going to take you down to the beach and surprise you with a bunch of lavender flowers, picked from his mother’s garden. Afterwards he’s going to treat you to fish ‘n chips on the local (London) bus. It is going to be an evening you’re going to remember – not because you’re hoping for more than friends, but because he’s made you forget about life for a while (now Piano Man is stuck in my head!)
You’ll be good with children, but the likelihood of you ever having one of your own is slim. By the time you’re going on 36, you’re still going to be single, and even if you did go through with your hair-brained scheme of banging a random bloke you meet in a bar so you can fall pregnant, you’ll most probably end up giving the child up for adoption because of your solid belief of a child needing both its parents. From your own experience you know what you don’t want for an innocent child, nor do you want your mother to be reminded of her own past. She tries hard to steer you away from making the same mistakes she did and while you comprehend this, it sometimes drives you fucking mad. Yes, you read right – as you grow older you realize that Fuck sometimes is the only word that really describes things well enough.
Your money worries and your inability to be there for your parents as they’ve been for you all your life distresses you; sometimes to the point of wishing you won’t wake up the next day. You’re there now and chances are it won’t be the last time before your candle is snuffed out. Scared, alone, sad and unsure of everything… Things just get too much for you. You want to do something simple like just go for a haircut, but you can’t because you don’t have the money to. Sadly, I hate to tell you that you’re not going to have money for it for a long time – the bank is banging at your door to repossess your car (for the second time in a year), your debts are mounting (because there simply isn’t money to pay them after you’ve covered the things you need to) and all you’re trying to do is put on a brave face for the world. That’s admirable. And stupid! But you finally come to the realization that you and only you can devise- and stick to the plan to stop the vicious circle. It’s not going to be easy, but you come from good stock. You will come out on top. Believe it!
One thing though that you learn and it overwhelms you, often to the brink of tears, is that as likeable as you are, and as many friends as you may think you have, you don’t. There are a few real ones that genuinely care when you’re on the brink of losing everything you own. They are the ones who, if close enough, will just knock on your door to see if you’re still okay, or hit your phone up to hear if they can help. You’ll say you are (or that there’s no need for help) of course, because you’re too proud to admit that you’re crying yourself to sleep most nights worrying about your fiscal woes and your aging parents too. You’re more aware too that the time you have with them is borrowed time. They’re growing old fast and the stress of retirement is taking its toll on them. You want to help, but you can’t. …but you’re not going to admit the situation to anyone because you don’t want people to think of you, the way you think of yourself: a failure. I am not going to try and convince you otherwise, because at this stage of the game, the chips are stacked against you… I mean honestly, let’s not pretend here.
All I’m going to say is do what you need to, to heal…to find yourself again, so you can find your way…and sleep. You’re emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted. At least you know you’re going to still be alive 20 years after your sixteenth birthday! And it’s with that thought that I am going to bid you farewell.
I love you, Sweet Girl!
Your Older Self, Mid-Thirty Misfit. xxx