“A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.”
– Ansel Adams
I found this old theatre photo of myself as I was digging through a box of photographs over the weekend. This is from the play “Fiddler on the Roof” and shows me pictured with my ‘stage-husband’ John. We were 22 and 20 at the time the photo was taken. I knew John would get a kick out of this as well, so I sent it to him. After the initial “wow, that takes me back” kind of comments, we both started to realize how much has changed since this photo was taken. Or rather, how much we have changed. And in the conversation that ensued, John said something that really made me think.
Looking at that younger version of himself in the photograph, he remarked, “There is SO much I want to tell that kid.”
Yeah. Me too.
So, I think I will.
Wow. Look at you. You look like such a little girl; and yet, you’re a 22-year-old married mother of two. How is that even possible!? You look so innocent and clueless. Oh yeah, now I remember.
You’re 22-years-old and you’re living in a life that you don’t even recognize. Just four short years earlier, you moved back to the small area where you were born, after having lived in a multitude of different places due to your military background. In fact, you had just moved here from a whole separate country. And you’re feeling just a little lost.
And wow – those past four years have been a whirlwind! At 18, you were declared to be in remission from the cancer you just battled. At 19, after finding out you were unexpectedly expecting, you delivered your first child – a beautiful redheaded baby boy. At 20, you got married, even though you knew it wasn’t the best thing for you to do at the time, but the pressure from family convinced you that you should. At 21, you delivered redhead #2 – a little girl this time. And now, here you are in this picture. 22 years old.
You’re confused. You’re rebelling. You’re unsure of yourself. In fact, I hope you don’t take offense to my saying this, but you’re pretty much a total mess. And you know it. But here’s what I want you to know.
Really. It’s ok. Holy crap, kiddo, you’re 22 years old and you’re an unhappily married mother of two kids already. And a cancer survivor to boot. No wonder you’re overwhelmed. No wonder you look for your escape in this world of theatre where you can be anyone you want to be. No wonder you’re a little bit lonely…there’s not many people your age who have these kinds of things on their shoulders. You’re different.
And I know you know that. It’s painfully obvious in all that surrounds you. But I wish you knew that being different is ok.
In fact, one day, being different is what you’re going to like best about yourself. You’re going to realize that all that you went through at such an early age made you grow up a little faster than most. You’re going to realize that you have a deep sense of responsibility because of it. That you have a deep empathy for others because of it. That you are drawn to the theatre because it’s filled with others who are just like you. Right now, you struggle with being involved with the theatre because people in your world tell you that it takes too much of your time. And that’s not going to change, I’m afraid. But one day – you won’t care. One day you’ll come to realize that the reason you’re drawn to this is because it makes you feel like you’ve found your way home. You’ve found your little island of misfits and it’s where you belong. No need to try to fight it just because others don’t understand.
And your marriage…oh, you poor girl. He is a good man, and you know he is. But he’s not the one you were supposed to marry. And unfortunately, you know this too. Yes, you do end up breaking his heart. But I promise you, he’s going to be ok. And you know something strange? Even though you’re getting ready to be divorced within the next year, the two of you will end up getting past all of this. And one day, years from now, I think you’re even going to consider each other friends. You’re going to work together to raise those little redheads and, even though you’re going to feel overwhelmed at times and feel like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, they are going to grow up to be some really awesome teenagers. And the two of you are going to work pretty well as a team in parenting them when the need arises. I know you don’t want to be so young and already divorced, but I promise you it’s the right thing to do. I wish you wouldn’t fight it so much. Sometimes things happen and those things are going to disappoint you. And sometimes you’re going to have to disappoint others. But it’s part of the life process, my dear.
You’re going to spend the next ten years or more trying to mold yourself into what you think some guy wants. And that’s sad. None of your relationships are going to work out because you’ll be so busy trying to be someone you’re not. Somewhere along the line in the midst of the unique way you grew up – moving from town to town – you somehow mistakenly learned that you have to mold and change yourself to fit your environment. And this has transferred itself over to your relationships. I wish you could stop that. No matter how much you try to fit that square peg into a round hole, it’s not going to work. You’re going to get your heart broken quite a few times because you’re just going to keep trying and trying to be what people want, rather than just be who you are. I wish I could stop you from that. It’s going to be turmoil, and it’s going to make you constantly feel like you’re not good enough. Oh, how I wish you could know what I know now.
It gets better.
One day, you’re going to finally figure out who the heck you are. And guess what? You’re going to realize that you kinda like what you discover. And you’re going to realize that the best relationships – the real relationships – are the ones with the people who like you. Not just the ones who love you (you’ll be loved a few times over the years, I promise), but with the ones who like you. The two don’t always go hand in hand, ya know. (That’s a very hard lesson to learn.) But when they do – oh, when they do – it’s nothing short of magical. Wait for it, sweet girl. Wait for it.
You’re going to be fine, kid. You think you won’t right now. But you will. You’re smart; you’re funny; you’re talented; and you’re determined. Those are some unbeatable qualities. Give yourself credit for them. They’re going to serve you well.
Now, get back on that stage and do what you love. Oh, and while you’re at it, give that kid beside you a big hug. Because even though you may not realize it right now, one day he’s going to be one of your closest friends. Because you know all of that turmoil that’s going on inside you now? He’s feeling it too. And one day, years down the road, the two of you are going to reconnect as adults. You’re going to realize that you were both going through similar processes way back then – both wading through a sea of outside influences and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. You’re both going to finally come to terms with and accept the ways that make you different from some of the others. And in accepting this, you will see that what makes you different is actually what makes the two of you the same. And the older you get, the more you’re going to realize that those kinds of connections are rare and precious. And they’re the only ones that matter.
Keep up the good work, kid. I’m proud of who you’re becoming.