Yep, there you are on the choir page in the yearbook. Junior year. Choir attendant. Tea-length lavender dress, matching shoes with bows that you bought with money from your part-time job at the donut shop. There’s a curling iron burn on your forehead under those spectacular bangs. You tried to trim them yourself, but you cut them crooked, so you had to straighten them up, and they kept getting shorter and shorter and shorter.
Since this picture was taken, a lot has gone right: you’ve revised your world view, married the guy who is still your best friend, had 3 sweet babies, taught high school English, coached basketball, earned 4 degrees, published some stuff, moved to CO, and become a professor.
A lot has gone wrong, too, depending on how you define the word wrong. People say that everything happens for a reason, but you don’t really believe that anymore; what you believe is that the saying helps other people feel better, as if it’s some sort of talisman that will ward off any pending doom in their own lives. What you do believe is that after long, long periods of healing, anger, grief (all the so-called bad emotions, that are actually intelligent ones), you ultimately decide what your purpose will be moving forward to the extent that you can, and that sometimes moving forward means walking away.
If you were my student (and I suppose you have been), I would say, “Lighten up on yourself, lovey. Learn how to breathe sooner. Learn how to be here in this beautiful, terrible world instead of looking forward to what might be better or paralyzing yourself when you think of what could go wrong.”
What do you have to tell me, younger Cindy? What do you wish I could regain from my youth?
You won’t become who you told Ms. Rhoads, your junior English teacher, you would be. (The band you and Cara were going to form just didn’t work out with her turning into a lawyer and all.) You will become what you told Mr. Ford, your senior English, that you never would be: a teacher. You will become someone who’s basically okay in the world–with who you are, with what you’re doing, and with the people in your circle who you so dearly love.
My advice for you, older Cindy is this: Believe that things can still happen, that the present is bright for the most part and all it’s cracked up to be. You should live there more than you live in the past or the future. You should laugh more and write more poetry and be, really be, with your friends. It will be okay.