A bunch of my friends have been sharing those side-by-sides of their first and current facebook photos. I pretty rarely participate in such things, but, admittedly, I did check to see what my first profile photo was. The very first was a photo that did not include me in it. But the second was this:
When I looked at it I remembered that moment in time so clearly. I could feel the way my short hair felt where it met my neck and the weight of the heavy red watch I wore everyday.
In this picture 2007 Hillary was 24. She had just started a PhD program and was thrilled to be leaving a job that she knew was had been going nowhere. She was planning a wedding, living in an apartment she loved, and about to start working on a charming but uninhabitable fixer-upper. She’d fallen in love with holding the perfect weight of her tiny infant nephew in her arms…and regularly thought of the two children she’d visualized for years: her older girl with curling dark hair and blue eyes, her younger son, blonde and brown-eyed.
She felt like her life was just starting.
But the blur of my hands in the photo–which were lifting up to fuss with my hair no doubt–brought my mind back to 2016. The contrails of motion whispered thoughts of Esmé…of the skidding lines her extremities leave in so many photographs. I immediately thought: “Oh honey, you have no idea what’s coming.” And my brain flooded with motherly love for 2007 Hillary–including a stream of conflicting advice, a desire to save this more innocent version of myself, and a deep anger at her naïveté. I had so much to tell her.
So, I thought I would:
Dear Hillary, 2007,
I love you. And also, just a bit, I hate you. Actually, it is possible I hate you a bit more than “just a bit.” But it is the kind of hate that you can only feel for someone you know all too well and love in that deep aching way that makes your stomach churn and your teeth clench. Part of it is jealousy, I suppose, because you have so much of the broadest kind of hope…the kind that makes you feel like anything can and will happen. Like you have the ability to make anything happen. By 2016 you will have traded in that broad hope for an exceedingly narrow hope…one that is surgical and obsessive…one that recognizes that no matter how capable you are, you are not going to be in control of anything more than your reactions to what happens.
This is going to be a pretty big shock, darling.
I’m not going to tell you to make big changes, sweetheart, because you got me here. Your tough spirit and your focused brain and your ridiculous ideas got me here. And I like it here. In fact, I’m pretty sure here is way better than if your plans of a successful academic career and two perfectly healthy children had panned out. You don’t know this yet, but nothing makes a person more miserable than having everything she ever wanted handed to her.
But I am going to tell you just a few things, ok?
Take a trip dear heart. Cut it out with the weekends in Vermont. Get in a plane and fly to a place you never thought you’d see. Drive across the country and get lost. Travel alone without a solid plan. Have an adventure with your girlfriends. I know you think you can’t afford it. You can’t. But do it anyway.
Stop taking yourself so seriously. I know it appears as though everyone else knows something you don’t know–and you can’t stop trying to figure it all out. You are going to go to academic conferences and people are going to try to talk to you using over-inflated language that you think means more than what you think it means. It doesn’t. At best it is shorthand–at worst is someone else’s way to hide their own insecurity by making you feel stupid. Either way, if you’re lost just ask. If they know, they’ll tell you. If they don’t it will be funny as hell.
Take up more room sweetpea. You don’t need to say “sorry” so often. You don’t need to move over to make space for people who will just keep filling in whatever space you give them. This is true on the subway as well as with the people you love. It doesn’t make you selfish to preserve your own space–it makes you strong.
But also, maybe, just shut up sometimes? You have a big mouth. Please don’t loudly proclaim that your kids won’t watch any television or will only play with wooden toys or won’t ever get ice cream before dinner. Once your fragile baby comes along you are going to listen to people who, while watching their healthy children running around, proclaim these same things. And you are going to have to restrain yourself from telling them exactly where they can stick their holier-than-thou parenting rules.
Wear shorts. I know you don’t think it is true, but your legs are lovely. And you’re a dummy to keep yourself sweltering in jeans when it is 90 out. Just stop.
Speaking of your body, it is a beautiful machine. Use it. Skinny dip. Go for a jog even though it makes your sides cramp and your lungs gasp. Try a new sport. Play basketball with your father. Let your brain turn off and your body work. I’m older than you. I’ve grown a human inside my body. I weigh ten pounds more than you. But I can kick your ass.
As I write this to you honey, I know that 2027 Hillary will have things to tell me too. She’ll want to know where her book deal is and why I never traveled the world tasting gins. Or she’ll ask why I never learned Italian. Or she’ll want to know why I didn’t make that adorable blonde haired boy appear in her arms against all the odds and all the fears. No doubt she’ll wonder why I learned to shut my mouth a bit but then wrote down the embarrassing contents of my brain and preserved it on the internet. Life is always full of what ifs and why nots. Because it cannot be any other way.
And with that in mind, I can say that you’ve done me proud 2007 Hillary.
I‘d like to think that you’d think well of me. That you’d be proud of my strong arms, my ridiculously long hair, and my ability to make a killer cocktail out of gin and stuff from my backyard. I’d like to think that you’d be impressed that I have continued writing honestly about difficult and emotional things…but that I finally got gutsy enough to do it in a public way.
I know you’d admire Esmé and wonder at how much she looks like the daughter you hold in your mind. I know you’d wonder where her brother is. I do to, even as his face seems less clear than ever.
I also know I have fallen short of the dreams you had for me. I’m sorry about that. Some of them were silly dreams. Some were wonderful but I am just a different person now. But some of them you were right about–the independence you wanted for me, the career, the broad hopes.
I promise you I’ll work on them.
I'm in tears. That was beautiful. It makes me think of the letter I would write to myself. It's painful and sweet the way life works. You captured it perfectly in this letter. I'll be sharing this everywhere.
Thank you so much Emily!
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