To My Fifteen-Year-Old Self

Me at fifteen at a friend’s house

In honor of International Day of the Girl, CNN asked a dozen or so powerful, popular, impressive women what advice they would give their fifteen-year-old selves. Since a quarter of a century has passed since I turned fifteen (moment of silence to let me regain my composure on that one — scratch that; I’ll be back in an hour), I thought I’d take a turn and write something to myself at that age.

Dear fifteen-year-old Carla,

I’m forty-year-old Carla. I know! I surprised a few people when I told them I was turning forty. They thought I was in my early thirties — even late twenties. I attribute it to giving up on getting a tan, which you haven’t done yet.

Congrats on surviving your first two years as a teenager and your first year of high school! That Civics class was a bitch, huh? And so was the chick who “borrowed” your textbook and never gave it back. You’re about to spend your last summer freeloading off Mom and Dad; next summer, Mom is gonna drive you up to Eckerd and parade you in front of the manager, and you will enter the wonderful world of retail. Sorry about that.

Nothing I say in this letter will alter your future, and that fact is unfortunate — because you’re also going to experiment with lightening your hair this summer. This experimentation will lead you to use Sun-In, and you’ll start off with a sun-kissed look to your locks only to watch that color turn into an orange-y mess. To make matters worse, that stuff will take. For. Freakin’. Ever. to grow out. I’m not kidding; that atrocious color will still be hanging on the ends of your hair in your JUNIOR YEAR photo.

Luckily, you will learn your lesson and decide to keep your hair dark. Then it’s going to start turning gray in about ten years, and at 40, you’ll color it every five weeks to avoid people seeing that you’ve got more gray than Mom does. You see all the gray MaMa Grant and Nanny have now? Yeah, we were doomed from the start.

I’ll come right out and say that August 1987 will not be easy for you. Papa will pass away on a Sunday afternoon just hours after he and Nanny are at the house for lunch — massive heart attack. You’re going to be devastated at the death of your first close relative; there’s no getting around it. You’re going to cry and be bitter and take that sadness out on some people, but it’s just your way of handling that particular death. You’re fifteen, and it’s going to take you a while to master dealing with and expressing  your emotions.

Something will come out of this loss, though. Someone will discover a poem in Papa’s Bible — surprising the whole family because we never knew him to write — and then you’ll find another in one of his Bibles that Mom has. Everything will click: You’ll realize that the ability to compose all these poems you’ve been writing —which, I’m sorry honey, are super cheesy right now but you will get better — was passed down to you. You’ll feel connected to him in a way you probably would have never realized.

Papa won’t be the only loved one you’ll lose in the next 25 years, but I’m not naming any more names — just gonna say that a couple of them will come out of left field and knock the breath out of you.

But you’ll make your way through — through a lot of things, actually. You’ll be the only person from your graduating class to go to Columbia College, knowing only one soul on that entire campus. Despite two bad experiences with roommates, you’ll end up with someone who will make your bed for you while you break down on the phone with Mom explaining how you had to move all your stuff in your new dorm room by yourself. Just stay strong; you’re gonna love it.

In ten years, you’ll find your soulmate. Yes, ten years. You’ve got a while to pine over that boy you’ve been crushing on for the past two years, and you’ll meet other guys that you hope are The One — but they’re not. You’re gonna live that cliché saying that when you least expect it, you’ll turn around and realize it’s the guy in the group of friends you’ve been hanging out with for two years. He’s a comic geek, but he’ll make you laugh all the time, and get this — he does dishes.

Some other things down the road: Mom and Dad ditch the well water and hook up to the city water system next summer, but they still don’t get cable until you’re in college. The Mauldin High football team finally makes the playoffs the year after you graduate (figures, doesn’t it?). Hope you like Dad’s Chevy Citation, because you’re gonna be driving it for five years. MTV quits playing videos but doesn’t change its name. George Michael comes out of the closet (no surprise there, I’m sure), but Michael Jackson gets married… then divorces… then has kids… then dies in an Elvis-like OD.

For you, overall, you’re gonna be okay — even when what you’re going through seems like the end of the world. When you look at the big picture — especially compared to what other girls your age are up against in other countries, even in my time — you are extremely lucky. You’ll have a roof over your head, a family that loves you, a good education, and so much more. Some girls all over the world have no idea what that’s like. They’re sold to a husband as a teenager, or they’re considered second-rate citizens who don’t deserve an education, or they experience so many other horrible fates than the broken hearts and limbs (enjoy that left ankle while it’s still perfect) you’ll experience.

You are growing up to be a smart, caring, funny, talented, and blessed woman. Never forget that.

Happy International Day of the Girl,

Forty-Year-Old Carla


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