One of my favorite writing series I’ve seen is The Player’s Tribune’s “Letter to My Younger Self” where professional athletes, well, they write letters to themselves in the past. I think it’s a fascinating way to reflect and adds a heartwarming sort of mentorship sheen to a personal narrative piece. So, for this piece, I’m writing a letter to myself, in the early days of adulthood: the summer between my senior year of high school and college.
To incoming college freshman Tré,
Hey kid, you better brace yourself. The next six years of your life are not going to go the way you’re expecting right now. I know right now you think that at twenty-four, you’ll be halfway done with medical school, after studying chemistry and biology at Kansas University. I just read some of the notes you posted on Facebook – about Nonno, life with CF, and college – and man, you’re going to go through some shit that’s going to make you reconsider those feelings quite a bit.
You’re going to grow more cynical about the world around you. I know, I know – how could you let this happen? Being idealistic and and optimistic is one of the traits you pride yourself on, so becoming jaded by life’s experiences probably sounds like defeat right now. And since I know you so well, I know you want to argue with me about all of this, about how you’re not going to change that much – after all, I’m sure 24-year-old Tré would argue with 30-year-old Tré about stuff, so I don’t think I’ve changed that much in that regard. I’m still idealistic and optimistic, but just a little more jaded to protect myself now.
Your freshman year of college will be transformative. You’re going to struggle. You’re going to have the most pervasive feelings of self-doubt that you’ve ever had, and there are going to be lots of lonely nights, where you’re going to sulk about how much everybody else seems like they’re enjoying college more, especially your Kansas and Kentucky peers. To be honest, you’re probably going to obsess so much about your home friends that you never really give Kansas the shot it deserves. And in a strange series of events, you’ll remain close to both groups of guys for the next six years.
It’s going to take you far too long to realize the importance of family. Unfortunately, some things you’ll realize too late. You’re going to become so preoccupied with college and relationships with other people that you aren’t going to be as there for your family as you should be, especially when they’re a thousand miles away. I’m not going to lecture too much on this because you’re still a dumb kid in a lot of ways (sorry, it’s true).
You need to be there for your sister. You don’t realize it now but she admires you far more than you think. She wears a tough exterior because she’s concealing a lot of her inner turmoil to be strong for you, mom, and dad. You’ll be strong in the months she starts getting sick; you will commute to Kansas City several times a week to visit her at the hospital. You’ll receive one of the hardest phone calls of your life, in between making the decision to transfer to Kentucky and just before finishing up with freshman year of college, where you hear the news that “there are no remaining options for Lyss.” Somehow, and buddy, I still can’t believe you manage to do this, but you won’t take any time off of school during these turbulent months. You’ll find a way to make time for everything, sacrificing sleep and a social life. But through all of this, you will carry the immense guilt of knowing that you made the decision to transfer back to Kentucky while your family is headed to Houston, where your sister is going to wait for a double lung transplant. And here’s another thing you won’t realize until years later: your family never makes you feel shitty about that decision, when they would have been completely justified in being upset with you (maybe they were, I still don’t know).
All of that happens in the next year of your life, so yeah, your future is pretty crazy.
I’m going to spare you some details. After all, if I ruin everything, then life will become boring. Life is a lot of things, but one thing it’s certainly not is boring.
What I want to tell you is that you just have to keep doing you, kid. You have a bright future ahead, just not by the standards that you think define “success” right now. That’s okay, your standards of success will change and you’ll be better because of it.
Life has a funny way of teaching things you need to learn in the moment without knowing you need to be taught those things. Ride those waves of life and learn from them. You love school right now and eventually, you’ll learn how to utilize the art of learning to approach life in that way.
If you need to know things will be okay, I’ll tell you this: I’m writing this piece at the Florence, Kentucky Starbucks for my blog, with four tattoos, one of which is commemorating Alyssa’s passing. I’m now a scientist at Cincinnati Children’s, working alongside the very people that took care of you not too long ago. I’m more scarred than I would have imagined when I was you. I’ve weathered a painful six years and I now get jittery when I drink coffee (oh yeah, by the way, you’re going to start drinking coffee). And for one more thing that you won’t believe: I have blonde hair now.
Life feels okay. After writing this letter to you, knowing what happens in the next six years, I’m confident things will be okay for future me.