I recently entered my first writing competition, with high hopes. I didn’t win. That’s ok. I’m still proud of what I wrote. I’d like to share here. Please note, it is a work of fiction, and not my usual honest story. Here is the prompt:
Write an essay to yourself on your 100th birthday. What would you say to yourself at that age? What would your 100-year-old self tell you back? Would it be a conversation of praise and/or regret? Perhaps praise for the achievements in your career, but regrets about a lost family? Or warnings about the mistakes you made in your projected future or in your past; pitfalls you happened to be dragged into, temptations you could not resist; or celebrations for the good character you were able to display and sustain over a life; a precious life wasted or a life lived as it was meant to be.
This was my submission:
To my 100-year-old self,
Growing up, I never really saw myself past college. Through that point, everything was planned for me. Each step was clear to completion. I would graduate high school, be accepted to some university, and get a degree in whatever seemed most suitable. After that was a blank in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I assumed I would die young.
I drifted. I worked jobs that seemed professional. I paid my bills. I dated boys who had no promise just to feel connected. For a time I put my hope in Dean. It was safe to pine for someone I knew never wanted me. When that crumpled I felt lost again.
Then Cameron came along. We were both adrift. We knew our core selves, but lacked direction. We met at a party in Monterey that neither of us were invited to. Do you still remember that night?
It was a mustache and wig party, which was very much in vogue in 2011. Cameron had a mullet wig and a drawn-on handlebar mustache. He chain-smoked and drank Cobra malt liquor from a paper bag. You wanted nothing to do with him. Not only was he mildly repellent, but he was also a naval officer, and those were off-limits.
God he was persistent. He called, texted, emailed and showed up at the office to make sure I’d go out with him. It worked. Less than a year later we were married, and we have changed around each other and are both better for it. Today he is my heart and hopes.
With Cameron and his career, I’m not lost. I have a path that will take us through the next dozen years before he can retire. But again I find that I don’t see anything beyond what the Navy throws at him with me in tow. Perhaps that’s why I’m not entirely certain what to say to myself at a wizened old age.
Today, the oldest man I know is Mr. Byrd. I’m sure that by 100 the time I spent working in his office will be an insignificant blip, but to me today, it is encompassing.
Mr. Byrd is 86, 14 years younger than you, and to me he is ancient. I cannot fathom myself at his age or beyond. He walks with a cane and it looks like all of his heft has settled low on is torso, as if his skin was a cloth bag where all of the contents drifted down to the bottom in lumps. Every morning I ask how he is and he consistently responds “still here- still alive.” Then chuckles to himself as I giggle uncomfortably. His frame may be old, but his wit hasn’t ebbed.
Will I be like that one day? With papery thin skin that breaks and bruises with little provocation? Will I maintain my mind even as my body ages and fails me? Or will I be like mom’s mom, Grandmae, and slowly lose my purchase on reality until I no longer recognize my own grandchildren? I’ll admit both prospects frighten me.
What frightens me most though is the idea that I’ll never truly become anything. I want to be a mother. I want to be a writer. I want to be able to climb out of my depths when I fall. I want to define myself outside of the life of an officer’s wife.
I assume we’ll have children. I ache for them. But I am so afraid I won’t be able to. If we do, I’m so scared that I’ll do something wrong. I want to be a good mother. Even though I have great parents, I have no idea what to do. Will I be alright? Will I even be able?
What will I regret the most? What will fill me with the most joy? Will I survive Cameron’s deployments? Will he? We’ve never had to deal with the uncertainty of months apart and I’m terrified that it will break me, or us.
I hope by 100 I’ll have everything figured out. I hope to accomplish the things I have set forth for myself to feel fulfilled. I hope Cameron is still with me at a cantankerous 103. I hope to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to carry on in my passing. I hope to be unafraid. I hope to still be me.
With that, I’ll sign off. I hope to meet you one day.
-Me (28 years, 4 months, 29 days)
To my younger self,
At 28 we were living in Hawaii- weren’t we? In the course of Cameron’s career, we moved 8 times in 14 years. I recall Mr. Byrd though, and he was in the Hawaii days.
I’d forgotten how afraid and anxious I was back then. Everything seemed up to chance and I agonized over every decision, trying to see every way that it might impact my future. If there’s one thing I’d like you to know now, it’s not to worry so much. It never did any good.
Jobs will come and go. A stable career wasn’t exactly possible with Cameron in service. You’ll freelance write and teach music classes around the world. It will fill your time and make you feel useful.
Deployments will be hard. Cameron’s longest deployment was 11 months and 3 days, and I missed him the whole time. There will be temptations for you both. I can’t say you’ll be flawless. You’ll drink too much and one especially lonely night you’ll kiss another man.
That mistake will haunt you. Many women will have full-blown affairs and never feel an ounce of guilt. One kiss was enough to spiral into shame and never feel tempted again. Cameron forgave you in an instant, but it took longer for you to forgive yourself. Be careful with your heart.
There will be hardships. Nothing will shake you to your bones more than dad’s death. There are tales from antiquity of wailing women beating their breasts in grief. The modern age doesn’t allow for these demonstrations; grief is supposed to be kept impersonal. A post to your online profiles (there will be many) and insincere nods to condolences are all that’s expected. But you’ll know the primal urge to cry out to the universe and shout to the injustice that rips away someone you love.
Dad will be the first to strike you down, unexpected and earlier than you’d dreamed, but mom will follow in years, then others you’ll learn love along the way. People will say that time will heal the void, but it won’t. In time you’ll mold yourself around these gaps and learn to survive the loss. The wounds will never leave.
You’ll only ever try it once, and it was a feeble attempt. Barely more than a nick below the heel of your hand that won’t even pierce the vein. The pearl of crimson will be enough to break the spell of despair and make you crave life again.
A miscarriage triggered the attempt. It was before we knew if we would have children, and not long after dad. Cameron was deployed. It was a perfect storm of hopelessness that left you teetering between numbness and a tear in the soul. I thought there was no way to soldier on. But we did.
Sometimes, all you need is a good dog. Even when you can’t take care of yourself and grow gaunt in despair, you won’t be able to keep from caring for a dog. And a dog will comfort and care for you when you feel alone. Rico, the Portuguese Water Dog, kept you going through that dark time, and within 2 years you were ripe with motherhood.
There will be moments of supreme joy. You will conceive, carry and birth a child. It will be the most terrifying action of your existence, but it will be worth it. You will get splendidly fat and happy in pregnancy. You will feel full to breaking with glee when you first see our child’s face. It will be covered in blood and birth, and even so you will hold her tight and smother her with kisses.
You will not be perfect. No parent is. Every cut, bruise, break or hardship she feels will cause you more anguish than her. You’ll blame yourself for every pain she ever meets, but know that it won’t be your fault. You can’t save her from living and if you could, it wouldn’t be worth having her.
Cameron will blossom in fatherhood. He will allow our girl to put clips in his short hair and drink countless cups of imaginary tea. You will fall more in love with him as he forgets all self-consciousness in order to make her happy. Those years when she is young will be the happiest and hardest you’ll ever know.
When Cameron goes, part of you will too. He was basically deaf at the end, and cancer had plagued him for years. I know it was a mercy. I know he hurt, but my selfish heart wanted him to stay with me for always. You’ll know by now that it wasn’t always rosy. We bickered constantly. But we only ever fought because we cared, and that caring won’t die with him.
Through it all, you became yourself. In our youth, we felt the need for titles, for acceptance and for validation from others. We fought doing anything for simple pleasure. We fought turning inward to see what in life would make us happy. We tried to always do what was within some outside view of what we thought the world intended for us. None of that really matters.
The world will continue to be beautiful yet hideous, exciting but mundane, frantic and still. It will continue to change beyond recognition, but stay constant. The same is true in us.
-Still Me (100 years and a day