Dear 20-year-old Karen,
Wow. You’ve really got yourself into a bit of a jam, haven’t you?
I’m not going to tell you how to get out of it, because I know you’re too damn stubborn to listen to advice from your elders, plus you need to figure out for yourself that you can get through this, but I can offer you some words of encouragement. Honey, you’re going to need them over the next four or five years.
First, yes, you’re right, the guy you just married is a dork. We won’t get into why you agreed to this whole ridiculous thing in the first place, because I know you already feel pretty crappy about that, but I just want to reassure you that when he says you’re stupid, ugly, and possibly crazy, he’s talking out his ass. You’re none of those things. He’s telling you this because he feels small and worthless inside, and he needs you to feel the same way, so he can feel bigger and more powerful. It’ll be hard, but try not to listen to him.
Second, you won’t live in Dartmouth forever. Yes, it’s a bit of a rat-hole, and you live in a particularly rough part of it, and I know that when you’re 20 everything feels like it’ll last for the rest of your life, but it won’t. Okay, that’s kind of vague. Let me be a bit more specific: you might have to move to an even less attractive town first, but eventually you’ll find your way out, your life will turn around, and you’ll find yourself among people who love and value you. It’s going to take a while, but it’ll happen.
Third, you remember that guy Mitchell you dated back in Ottawa, before you told Ferret Face you’d marry him? Keep answering his letters, okay? I can’t tell you why, but it’s important. He’s a good friend who really cares about what happens to you. And over the next few years you’re going to need all the good friends you can get.
And fourth, you’re stronger than you think you are. You’re a survivor, and just because you made this one (admittedly pretty humongous) mistake doesn’t mean your life is over. You can turn this around. You will turn this around. It’ll take time, and you’ll have to make some hard choices, but it’ll happen. And when you get here, I’ll be waiting for you.
Your 55-year-old self
p.s. Your hair is long, thick, and straight as a broomstick. You need to accept this. Do not under any circumstances get it permed. I don’t care what your hairdresser says. Friends don’t let friends get perms. Got it? Oh, never mind. You’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you?
Dear Awesome 20-year-old Wendy,
I’m writing from the future. Freaky, eh? Let’s face it, you never thought you’d reach 30, let along 50, but here I am, writing to you, from beyond…the…um, future.
You didn’t have an easy childhood. Your teenage years were a blend of dreadful and fulfilling. In short, you lived a life not so different from many of your generation. By the time you turned 20, you were discovering the fun and enjoyment of being an adult and to be honest, there’s no advice I’d like to pass your way because I think you were doing just fine on your own.
Except this one thing:
Go to university. You had really good grades in high school. You enjoy learning and your goal through much of your youth was to be the Best Teacher’s Pet Ever. Do not turn your back on school, fool! You can blame your decision to go straight into the workforce from Grade 12 on your parents, but let’s face it, they didn’t hold a gun to your head and say, “No school for you, missy!” It might have felt that way, but it was always up to you and you just didn’t know it.
In the years that follow, you will meet many women who are better educated than you—they will have old school ties and be able to join clubs you’ll never be a part of—think how much that’ll annoy you, when you realise you’re no less intelligent than they, you just don’t have a degree to back up your claims. So get your ass into school! Whoosh, whoosh, go!
Of course, this might delay your wedding and the birth of your first child, but only by a year or two. Your life will still be waiting for you to enjoy, once you graduate. Consider me your biggest supporter, I only have your best interests at heart, so don’t delay – go to school today!
Whatever you do, though, don’t become a poet—your ability to rhyme really sucks.
Your 50-year-old self