By Caitríona Murphy
If I could go back in time and talk to you, I’d talk to you at sixteen, an age where you think you are beginning to understand life. You don’t. In ten years’ time, you still won’t.
Okay, first of all, put down the romance novel. They aren’t good for you and reading three of them in one weekend isn’t something to brag about. Let’s start with some obvious advice; don’t cut your hair. You are so close to getting your first pair of hair straighteners and no lie, they will change your life. Just hold on. Tell Jack that one day his entire right arm will be covered in tattoos, just to see his reaction. Don’t worry too much about maths, yes, you will fail it in your final exams (shocking, I know) but the good news is that you will never use long division again. Tell Sue that she will get accepted to study medicine and Sarah that she is still creating art, which gets more breath-taking by the day. Tell Mam hi, she is doing great, still strong and smart and wonderful.
Now Cat, this part is important, don’t skim it. Hug your Granda extra tight, tell him you love him as often as you can and spend as much time as possible with him; one day he falls asleep and you don’t get a chance to say goodbye. There is heartbreak ahead, not silly upset caused by stupid boys, but real heartbreak. Listen to Dad; really listen, even when he is exasperating and giving out and annoying you, listen to him. There is a long battle ahead for him, one that he ultimately survives, but there are casualties of the battle nonetheless. One of those casualties is his voice. Cancer will take so much from him and even though you will know the joy, the indescribable joy, of his survival, of his triumph, you will also know what it is to wake in the middle of the night and cry, when you will grieve for the casual act of him humming a mindless tune or even muttering a smart remark. You will panic that you can’t remember his voice. So listen carefully, to all of it. Commit that voice to memory.
You are so sure nobody will ever love you or want you because you are overweight. Well, I’ve ten years on you and there’s good and bad news. The bad news is that you still haven’t developed an overactive thyroid that will make you drop weight really fast while still eating whatever you want. The good news is; it’s okay. There are people who will want you, who will think you’re fine just as you are. There are more good men than shallow ones and you will be lucky enough to meet some of them. Being thin will not make you happy, or your life perfect. There will still be pain and tears and suffering irrespective of what the scales say. There will also be joy and love and happiness.
Please, be careful with your openness, with who you trust. You are naïve and open and still think that treating everyone as an equal means putting up with remarks and suggestions that make you uncomfortable. People won’t think you’re a bitch if you disagree with them, or differ in your opinion. And anyway, is someone thinking you’re a bitch really the worst thing in the world? People, especially men, never have the right to make remarks that are personal or suggestive. Please, try and be a little more assertive.
A word on men. Be aware of boys who tell you how good they are, who use self-praise as self-promotion. Be aware of men who call you sweetheart and who use your insecurities to control you. Those who are truly kind, truly good, will not need to shout it to the world. I want to tell you to stay away from that guy you think is so nice, the one you think will make the perfect boyfriend. I want to tell you to run as far away from him as possible and spare yourself several years of mental abuse and torture. But the truth is, you come out of what he puts you through smarter and stronger. You come out of it a survivor and it helps you develop a sense of self-worth. You will relish freedom. You will learn that a woman does not need to be in a relationship to fulfilled, to be whole and happy.
In ten years, you will not have it “all”. You will still have insecurities and fears, you will still be wandering through life, making mistakes and questionable food choices. You aren’t even close to having your life together, but you will begin to revel in disorder. You have mastered liquid eyeliner. You have an incredible family you love more and more, friends so spectacular that they are more kin than not and your cat is alive and well.
You don’t have it all. But you have enough.
Stay strong. You are strange, you are a bit of a mess. But you survive.
Caitríona Murphy is a writer living in Dublin. She has had fiction published in RTE’s “100 Words, 100 Books” anthology. Her creative non-fiction has been published in British journals as well as The Eunoia Review. She contributed articles on Yeats for the 2015 International Literary Festival. She has also written for NAILED magazine and has a forthcoming piece of fiction in The Narrative Journal this winter. She can be found on twitter as @FarmyBoyFetchMe.