I had a conversation recently about the importance of writing and keeping journals. My friend made a face of horror and said she would be afraid someone would find it. I told her to write and then destroy it. “What is the point?” she asked. The point is to write it down so one can manage whatever emotion is overpowering the situation. When I write – I gain control of the emotions and work through the situation. It’s the process of writing that heals – it is optional to keep what one has written.
I followed my own advice as I tried to deal with the emotions that surround my oldest son’s birthday. Every year I am haunted by the memory of his day of birth; it was filled with fear, anger and loneliness and I feel robbed every time the memory resurfaces. I decided this year I am going to deal with the emotions that surround this day by writing my younger self a letter – one she would find on that lonely sleepless night.
The process took several attempts. The first three letters were lists of what I did wrong, situations I should have handled better and a “heads up” for events that I should stop from happening. Do I blame her for my past? Do I want to convey to her – to my younger self on one of the toughest nights of her life -all the things she will do wrong? The image that haunts me is of a scared girl who feels completely alone and now responsible for a baby. I allow my imagination take flight and let it pull me back in time – back in the delivery room on the night after my son’s birth.
I find her in the hospital bed wide-awake. A man lounges in the recliner in the corner, head back snoring loudly. She is glaring at him; it is her anger that will not allow her to sleep. She has to go to the bathroom and rings for a nurse to help her. They both glare at the snoring man as the nurse helps her back into bed. The nurse whispers “Do you want me to wake him up and send him home?” The young girl shakes her head. “You must rest” the nurse adds and reaches for the overnight bag on a nearby chair. “Try reading to take your mind off things” she pulls out a book and a magazine from the bag and lays them on the hospital table. The nurse glares one last time at the snoring man and turns to walk out the door. The young mother reaches for her book and finds a white folded paper sticking out of it, like a bookmark. She pulls it out of the book and hesitates to unfold it. She glances at the sleeping man and wonders if he had written her an apology for not being home and being unreachable when she went into labor. A frantic call to the hospital and a kind nurse helped ease her fears as she waited for him to come home. He came home close to 3:00 am, in the middle of a contraction. She could only glare at him, tears in her eyes and a phone to her ear.
She unfolds the paper and gently irons out the creases. She holds it closer to the lamp and reads the salutation; Dear me. The frown deepens and she is momentarily disappointed that it was not from him; then her expression changes to confusion and then to wonder as she quickly reads the letter.
Tears well up and spill down her cheeks as she reads, how could this be? It is some kind of miracle or is it a joke? Who would write a letter like this? She reaches for a tissue from the box on the nearby table and dabs her eyes. She searches her tired brain for a clue on who would write such a letter. She has lost touch with most of her friends and her family would not write such a thing. Could it really be from her future self? A slight smile and a spark of hope shows in her eye. She raised the letter towards the light to read it again – and this time slowly – as if savoring it. Her mouth moves as she reads, muttering the words softly into the quiet room.
I started this letter on June 12, 2016 – 27 years in your future. I made several attempts at writing this letter and it has taken me a couple of weeks to find the words that would give you the hope you need. Every year on our son’s birthday, I am haunted by the image of you in a hospital bed, unable to sleep, completely alone and overwhelmingly afraid. I remember what you are feeling at this moment, exhausted from the labor and awake for over 24 hours, in pain from a complicated delivery requiring many stitches and infuriate at the baby’s father. I know you are enraged at yourself, for on what should be the happiest day of your life – you feel like crying; because the love you feel for that baby the instant you laid your eyes on him, will forever tie you to the sleeping man beside you. You will find it ironic; that the man you thought would save you from a life like our mother’s will actually cause you to follow in her footsteps.
You will make thousands of mistakes and you will feel completely inadequate for the next 27 years and probably beyond that. You will go to bed thinking you could have done things better and will wonder if the child would be better off without you. You will be uncomfortable with your new identity of a mother –for you cannot trust yourself to be in that role. I am not writing you to tell you all the things you did wrong or what you should do differently to change the course of our story; I do not have that kind of power to change the past. What I want you to know is that your story is perfect – although it was lived imperfectly.
Right now you are forming an illusion of what your story should look like. You will blame yourself when the illusion does not become a reality and you will be extremely disappointed in yourself. You will be faced with life changing events in your lifetime – and you will wonder how you will survive. You will survive and, may I dare say, are better because of it.
I embrace our history – our story and I am proud of who I am today. And I owe it to you, for stumbling through life, for making mistakes and getting back up and trying again. Right now you feel weak and afraid – but you will become strong and you will learn to be brave. It takes you along time to learn to fully trust anyone – but you do learn to trust yourself. And the illusion that you have right now of what a perfect life is – there is no such thing. Life is a struggle – but within that struggle there is beauty – much like the birth of a baby – all that labor and pain to deliver the most precious gift you will ever receive.
Thank you my 21-year-old self for not giving up – thank you for struggling to become who I am today.
Much love from your 48 year old self.
She folds the paper and places it in the book and hugs the book to her chest. It was all she needed, a small morsel of hope to help her sleep. She closes her eyes and falls into a deep sleep, still hugging the book and a small smile on her face.
This is the image that I will carry back to the present and one I will remember on all future birthdays. Writing is story telling – and sometimes I need to re-write the story to find the beauty in the struggle – to find the gift.