Hello, Wade. I am you.
I am sending you this letter from far in the future; never mind how I did it. You probably found the envelope on your dresser with your name written in longhand on it. You may not recognize your handwriting because it has changed a bit over the years. So, to prove that it is really you I will tell you a couple of things that only you know.
First, remember when you were five and cut the bottom of your left foot? It took several stitches and left a long scar, remember? Only you know that you stomped on that broken Pepsi bottle on purpose. You wondered what it would feel like when you saw it sticking up out of the dirt at the end of the driveway. No one else could possibly know that because you never told. But you remember. You will always remember it. You will remember it all these years later.
Here’s another thing: Remember when you were twelve and you found your uncle’s stash of naughty books behind that flap of wallpaper in his bedroom? And how, whenever he was not around you would take one from the bottom and read it, then put it back? You never told anyone about that either. But you know, which means I know.
I hope that now you believe me, though I know that will be hard to do. I also hope that you will read all of this letter and follow it carefully. Since it’s you who’s sending it, it’s advice intended for “our” own benefit.
I’m only going to tell you in general what I think you should do. I won’t tell you specifics about where you will live, what occupations you may have, or whether you were successful or not. I won’t mention family members or what may become of them. It is not my intention to instill fear or worry, and I would never want you to hesitate because of fear. Fear is the great intimidator. Fear and procrastination will hold you back your entire life if you let it.
But I will advise you on a number of things, and leave you to figure out how you will accomplish them—or not. The first is this: floss daily. Oh, I know you have a nice set of teeth now. You were lucky that you never needed braces—that all your teeth came in smooth and neat. And you’ve had a health class at school where they taught you to brush twice daily. That’s good advice, so be sure to keep it up. But flossing will also help.
In a couple of years you will begin college. In fact, you are already thinking about how to go about it. Go with your gut when choosing your major. Don’t listen to well-meaning, but misguided guidance councilors. You know better than they what you should study. Study what you love, not what “makes money.” Also, there may come a time when things get rough for you in college, when you are sorely tempted to drop out. Don’t. Whatever else you may have to do, please don’t drop out of school.
Stay out of the sun. Oh, I know that everyone does it. Heading to Kentucky Lake in the spring is a ritual at area colleges. You will want to lie and fry, and though I can’t tell you to never enjoy beach camaraderie with your friends, find some sunscreen and put it on. And don’t be afraid of the shade.
You will face peer pressure to drink alcohol. Lots of pressure. Eventually, you may give in. I would ask you to think of your family and how alcohol has ruined so many of its members. You are not immune. The same goes for drugs. Just say no to them, and yes to your future.
I would also ask that you never smoke that first cigarette. You will ignore them for a long time, but one night a few years from now you will be at a party and someone you love will offer you a cigarette. Don’t take it. You may find it hard to believe now, but cigarettes and alcohol will play a much bigger part in your life than you ever intended. And most of it will be bad.
Choose your friends carefully. Make sure they have noble aspirations and good character. You’ve always loved to read and study, and to do well in school. Surround yourself with friends who do the same. I know it’s the 1970’s and temptation will come at you from every direction, but hold fast to your core beliefs. You’ll get through this decade in much better shape if you do. And the 1970’s will set the stage for so much that follows.
Keep in touch with your family, and spend quality time with them. A few years from now Grandma Hammons will ask you to write down the story of her life. You will promise to do that, and you’ll have the best intentions. I’m asking you now to follow through with that request. Take the time to sit down with your tape recorder and let her speak. There will come a day when those memories—and her voice—will be more precious than gold. (And get recipes from both your grandmothers.)
As you mature you will have many relationships. Be kind to people. Remember that words are like weapons and can hurt. Sometimes words can’t be taken back once they are spoken. You can apologize, but the hurt feelings remain. Think before you speak. And practice the Golden Rule, so that one day you aren’t haunted by the way you treated someone once close to you. People die, and sometimes it’s unexpected. Then it’s too late to correct bad behavior.
Save more money. Save until it hurts, then dig deeper and save even more. Take all the money you would have spent on cigarettes and booze, in lavish restaurants or in bars, on clothes or cars you don’t need, and buy stocks with it. In a few short years you will concoct a perfectly good plan to buy real estate. It’s a good plan. Follow through with it.
Keep your bicycle. In fact, always keep a bicycle. Ride it to your heart’s content. Ride it when you are depressed. Ride it when you are bored. Ride it when your heart is breaking. Just ride. Your bike will always be there for you and it will make your heart and lungs strong. It will keep you thin and healthy, and it will take you places, literally, that you never dreamt of. There’s a reason why you’ve always felt at home on your bike.
Watch less TV. You will never at any point in your later years look back and say to yourself, “I wish I had watched more television.” Television will eat your time, and time is the most valuable commodity of all. Don’t squander it. Go roller skating, or bowling, or antiquing—anything besides sitting in front of that tube.
And that’s about it. I know a lot of this advice sounds ominous, but I don’t want to dwell on the negative. I’ll go out on a limb here and tell you also that you will have a full and rewarding life. You will travel a lot and see our great country. You will do some pretty amazing things. You will meet interesting people, some of them very rich and very famous. Many of them are already famous when you are sixteen. But I’ll leave you to be pleasantly surprised as to when all of that happens.
That’s pretty much all I wanted to say. Good-bye, Wade, and good luck, especially since good-luck to you is good luck to me. Take care. I love you.
What would you say to your sixteen year-old self?
© Wade Kingston