During a visit this past summer, my mom brought a big box of “things” from my middle and high school years. She thought I’d like to look through it. She also thought I could go ahead and store it in my own basement from now on. The box was full of magazine scraps galore, pictures, notes, warped cassette tapes, odd, miscellaneous items I’m sure once were symbols of inside jokes I can no longer remember, and even my first, now-moldy pair of Air Jordan’s, circa 1992.
Seeing those old things, things that at one time I thought were worth saving, didn’t fill me with nostalgia or bring on a flood of joyful memories. There was a little of that, a bit, but mostly, I felt embarrassed and kind of ashamed. Of the silly little notes, the declarations of “I Love _____,” where _____ was a one boy’s name after another scratched out so they formed a column going down the page. A column! My hair, my clothes, my various orthodontic appliances on full display. I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed at the time. I was comfortable with myself then, and I’m pretty comfortable with myself now, but current me is apparently very uncomfortable with younger me. This is something I don’t really understand or know how to justify.
It’s not just the stuff in the box. Looking back, there are stretches of my youth clear through college I wish I could go back and wipe clean. A few times in particular I wish current me could jump on young me, pin her down, and smack her repeatedly in the face until she stopped and listened and thought just one minute about what she was about to do or say.
What was I thinking?
I’ve wondered this year after year about some of my more cringe-worthy youthful escapades. What was I thinking? For shame. The answer is pretty obvious to current me. For the most part, I wasn’t thinking. Not clearly. Not well. Maybe not even once at any point between the ages of 13 and 20.
Maybe that’s what bothers me when I look back at that young girl who was always so sure she had everything figured out. She was SO SURE. You can see it on her face and in her posture, everywhere, except for those “I love _____” columns. Obviously, she wasn’t so sure about those. But otherwise, she was sure and she was so wrong so often! Idiot!
I always thought I was way more mature than I actually was. I craved action and experience. Movement. Something new. Understanding. In a small town with very limited resources, there weren’t a lot of outlets for this energy. I grew up with group of pretty great people. We made our own fun and trouble. It wasn’t all bad. We had a lot of good times, and out of those came a few big regrets.
At my worst, I was stubborn and mouthy and wild and thoughtless and reckless, in word and deed, with myself and others. I didn’t begin to understand this until I was about, oh, I don’t know, 25. Since, I’ve tried to work on maturing where it’s needed the most. I’m also making an effort to figure out what parts of that silly, wild girl I should never change or lose sight of. Like all things, this is an ongoing work in progress. The results are mixed.
I guess this is growing up in those damn, tiny, painful increments we humans can manage. As is coming to terms with the regrets of our pasts, and those mistakes that, if we’re lucky, help bring us closer to the person we hope to be.
I’ve stewed off and on about these regrets too often for my liking. I don’t know why some of these things have bothered me, and I don’t know why I’ve been harder on this girl, this younger me, than I ever am on anyone else about anything else ever.
Here’s what I should have done. Why didn’t I know better? Why wouldn’t I listen?
It’s probably a little more than she deserves. It’s out of step with how I try to approach life in general. It’s exhausting. It’s a waste of time, and I think it’s costing me some of the good memories. Too often when I think back now, the first recollections are the low moments I’ve twisted over. The good memories, the laughs, the real fun, the friends, the true friends who loved me in spite of these many faults and flaws, they’re harder to find in the haze than they used to be, and that’s not fair to any of us.
After much thought and writing this, I think I’ve managed to forgive myself and lighten up on that young, wild thing. She was book smart, but ignorant in so many ways, naive and thoughtless, and she had no self or social awareness to speak of. I mean ZERO. Absolutely. Zero. But she wasn’t all bad. She was, after all, a kid. She was a hard-worker with a decent heart, and she was pretty fun to be around most of the time, I think.
The mistakes I count as my worst, I only made those once, and I learned who I was NOT at a pretty young age. In hindsight, this helped a lot of other aspects of my life fall into place earlier and easier than I could have hoped otherwise. I’m happy with the person I’ve become, the person I’m still trying to become, and I couldn’t be happier with this pretty amazing, blessed life I live today.
Those mistakes also helped me be more accepting and less judgmental of my fellow humans, which means they did help me in a pretty important way after all.
My one true lingering regret? I’m sorry to those I loved that I hurt with my thoughtlessness. Careless words or deeds. I ask for their forgiveness, and hope they’re able to let go of regrets and remember the past fondly, for all our sakes.
Anyone else struggled to come to terms with their younger selves? Did you manage? When? How? What is it that makes some of us so hard on our young selves? What damage do we cause to our present and past with this behavior, do you think?
Image Credit: Sheepish smile https://flic.kr/p/aZaxq by Alison Oddy license link https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/