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A Letter to Chelsea

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You find the strangest things when you clean out your desk drawers.
I did this recently, and came across a letter. Letters are interesting to find, regardless of the date at the top, the nature of the letter itself, or who the recipient is. But this letter was special.

It was a letter I wrote to myself in 1997 – when I was 13 years old.

At my elementary school, it was custom for sixth grade students to write a letter to ourselves, which we would receive as seniors, on our last day of school. I received mine, and it detailed my lost love Nick, my woes of not being popular and not having breasts, and other basic qualms of being 13.

I read it again and, older and wiser, I wished I could write a letter back to my 13-year-old self. It would have been like this:

Dear Chelsea,

Forgive me if this is long-winded or overly sentimental. I’ve had a few glasses of White Zinfandel and I’m beginning to feel it. Don’t worry about what that is, even though I know you’ll discover binge drinking in another year or so.

If I may, I’d like to tell you, first and foremost, it’s okay to be smart. It sucks and people think you’re weird because of it now, but it’s not a bad thing. By the time you’re three years out of high school, those popular kids that are making fun of you are going to be working at the gas station with babies at home to feed. You’re going to get the last laugh.

I know a lot of kids are writing to themselves that they think I’m going to be the class valedictorian, and you’re modest and predicting someone else. Well, laugh’s on all of them, because your prediction is right. You’re going to regret being smart and you’re going to smoke a few too many blunts and drink a few too many beers in high school. You’re going to be told you’re a waste of potential, that you could have been something but never applied yourself. Ignore the critics and cynics because you will have the last laugh with a college degree. You’re better than that.

Actually, avoid the bad things like that in high school. You did D.A.R.E. — didn’t you learn anything?

Again, don’t hate yourself for being smart. It’s a good thing. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but I promise.

I know you’re going to spend a few months pretty crushed over being dumped by Nick Frederick, but it’ll be okay. You guys will be good friends the rest of your lives while his mom whimsically plans your never-gonna-happen wedding. You’re not even going to fall in love ’til college, so really, guys are pretty futile at this point.

Seriously. Just avoid men. None of the ones you’re going to encounter between now and college are going to be worth your time anyway. And even most of the ones in college are pretty worthless. Trust me on this.

Don’t worry about not having boobs. You’re 13. You don’t need boobs. All you care about is playing basketball, riding dirtbikes, and you wear baggy clothes all the time. Why do you even need boobs right now? The girls who have big boobs and make fun of you are going to have babies by the time they’re sophomores. You won’t even need to really worry about boobs ’til you’re about 16 anyway, and even then, they don’t even matter ’til college.

In college, all you need is a small B cup, the right Victoria’s Secret bra, and the right low-cut shirt, and guys will be too drunk to know the difference anyway. So actually, boobs are completely unnecessary. (But for what it’s worth, yours will be impressive by college, and the last laugh will again be yours.)

You’re going to beat yourself up for the next few years trying to fit in and the truth is, you’re just not supposed to fit in. You’re better than the people who will make fun of you. You’re better than the tears you’re going to cry every night as you try in vain to be cool.

God, you’re better than that.

You’re going to fry a lot of brain cells, squeeze yourself into too-tight of clothes, and spend time doing bad things with the wrong guys in your eternal pursuit to be cool. And it’s not worth it. You will eventually figure out that you’re not that bad to begin with.

But if I can offer you one word of advice, it’s to just not do it. Sure, it means you’ll be the weird kid in high school, but by the time you’re a senior you won’t give a shit anymore and you’ll make the best friends of your high school career just being the weird-ass you were meant to be. You are an incredible person as you are, and people will one day respect you and think you kick ass for it. You don’t have to do the things you’re about to in order to be cool. Being cool is overrated because after junior high and high school, none of it matters anyway.

(But PS, you will be prom queen. The bucket of blood malfunctioned, though, so at least there was no scary Carrie-like incidents.)

Like I said, you will one day have the last laugh. Just keep believing that and you’ll survive the next five years just fine.

Chelsea, 2006

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About Chelsea Smith

  • This is a pretty amazing epistle to oneself, Chelsea. The trick is (and it would be equally amazing) to actually have that 13 year old read it back then (time travel letters would be a nice invention). I think it would have made all the difference, but maybe not. Chelsea 2006 seems like she’s doing very well.

  • Man…I never thought of this. For so long I wanted to have a time machine to go back and kick the asses of kids who deserved it, set myself up with all the girls I was scared to talk to, and get myself better grades. If only I could just tell myself, “Hey. In 2006 you’ll have a fantastic editing job, a great fiancee, and a contract on a condo in Washington D.C. You won’t even remember the ‘cool’ people’s names.”

    Which is to say: inspiring, Ms. Snyder.

  • Dear 13-year-old Suss:

    Please, please please, think twice before saving up your money to buy that Virtual Boy. All right? Just trust me.

    –Older Suss

  • Shark

    This concept has/had VERY profound potential.

    I don’t think you met it.

    From the perspective of someone well beyond 20-something, I don’t think you even came close — but I do understand that there isn’t a lot of ‘distance’ between the contemporary you and a 13 yr old you — so what you focused on [understandably] sounds only a tad bit more mature than the perspective of your imaginary recipient.

    It will be interesting to see a letter written by a 40 or 50 year old “you” telling the 20 something ‘you’ what really meaningful things she could/should have focused on in ‘her’ letter to her teenaged self.


    To be “fair”, Shark goes out on a limb:

    FWIW: At this point in my life (I’m a grandfather) — I would probably tell my imaginary teenager:

    1) maintain your personal integrity at all costs
    2) pick your battles
    3) follow your dreams
    4) take risks
    5) the two most important things in life: work and love

  • Shark


    M. West’s post illustrates what I’m talking about; he’s young; his ‘concerns’ reflect yours.

    Interesting that at a 10 year high school reunion, it’s common for most attendees to show up with “….a fantastic editing job, a great fiancee, and a contract on a condo…” a new Rolex, a rented BMW, a Monte Blanc fountain pen… etc. etc.

    ie. Some subtle “revenge” against the Alpha Jocks and the Cheerleading Queens is usually on the menu.

    By the 30th or 40th year reunion, nobody gives a flying fuck what anybody else did with their lives and their CAREERS; they’re more interested in talking about their hobbies, their kids, and their grandkids:

    Personal Happiness has replaced Careers/Financial and/or Social Status as WHAT’S IMPORTANT.

    My Point:

    Meaningful fluctuates with age.


  • phil

    frankly i dont remember 13..thats when my life changed and brain cells started dying…40 yrs of hard partying…and you are quite profound there,shark

  • phil

    go steelers and condi rice looking hot for president

  • I take Shark’s point to heart: meaningful fluctuates with age. But I don’t place “great fiancee” in the world of “social status.” Or “fantastic editing job,” for that matter (editing a newsletter for a nonprofit ain’t exactly conquering worlds in Washington, D.C.); I’m doing something I love and I come home every night to a woman I love. If that’s not personal happiness I don’t know what is.

    The condo? Pure status.

    The other thing I would point out is that “in 35 years your life will be just fine” isn’t much consolation to a 13-year-old. Admittedly, 15 years isn’t much consolation either…but it’s a lot closer to the mark. My 13-year-old self would probably be at least a little contented to know he’d be happy at 27.

    On the other hand, I’m glad that 13-year-old me didn’t know that Jeff Reed, that motherfucker who used to bounce me off the sides of lockers for kicks, would play in the 2006 Superbowl as the starting kicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • You think THAT’S good, Mr. West? The girl my class voted “Most Likely to Succeed” my senior year now works at the 7-11 with two kids in the trailer park.

    Then again, in Hicksville, Ohio, that is pretty successful…

  • Well, you know, Ms. Snyder. You always have that to tell your past self. Unfortunately, 13-year-old Mike would no doubt search over the letter expectantly, saying, “What happens to Jeff Reed? He ends up working at a McDonald’s, right?” I can’t break little Mike’s heart like that.

  • At any age, I’m not sure I would have any real “words-of-wisdom” to inspire my 13 year old self. I know that sounds depressing, but … in reality, it isn’t.

    I believe that every step that you make brings you to a fork in the road of life. It is the choices you make that bring you to the next fork, and the next. Each decision builds on the last, creating the past that creates your future. ‘Now’ would be completely different if one single path had been changed along the way.