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growing up

I Found an Unanswered Love Letter to My Teenage Self. 20 Years Later, I Wrote Back.

loveletter

Dear Sam,

You wrote me a love letter 20-some years ago. Forgive me, but I don’t think I ever responded. What’s worse: I’m not entirely sure I remember you.

You see, my dad recently decided that he needed more space in my childhood home — er, his house. I can’t imagine why. I rolled my eyes at his request, just like I did when I last lived there 20 years ago. But then I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor of my old bedroom, surrounded by piles of remnants from my youth. Towers of yellowing school papers, heaps of ribbons from sporting events long past (how did I ever run a mile in less than seven minutes?), and stacks of pictures, some containing faces I could barely place and others whose grins I still relish in person. The memories swirled in my mind, mirroring the chaos of the room. They created a claustrophobic feeling — not entirely unpleasant — that was equal parts amusing and awkward. It felt like I was sifting through fragments of someone else’s life.

Then something caught my eye.

I know this is going to sound weird, but I have had the biggest crush on you since the first day.

Well, this just got juicy.

First day of what? The letter wasn’t dated. I didn’t recognize the handwriting. I must say though, Sam, your cursive was impressive. I read on: Apparently we worked together at a JCC summer camp. You were 16 and I was a year or two younger; you appreciated that I laughed at your jokes. I flipped the page to reveal your name. I’m ashamed to say it, but I still only had a hazy-at-best idea who you were.

That’s the thing about memory though, Sam: it can be a first-class jerk.

These days I can hardly remember if we have that raisin bread my kindergartner likes for sandwiches, or whether I washed the dinosaur t-shirt that my 4-year-old wears every other day, or if I scheduled my 2-year-old’s next checkup. I can barely remember — and this one really hurts — what it felt like to snuggle my children as newborns. All the sharp, mental pictures I’ve taken over the years — even more recent ones, like my wedding day, or when my youngest finally took his first steps — are all, to my huge dismay, becoming blurry.

So, it’s not a big shock that I don’t remember how I felt when adolescent me first read your letter — was I uninterested? scared? — or that I don’t recall my response. Unrequited love is a bitch, Sam, but I really hope I wasn’t one.

For some reason, though, maybe because your words dropped some coins in my confidence bank, I stuffed your letter in a drawer instead of the trash can. And that feeling — the while-I wasn’t-looking-someone-actually-noticed-me boost — is what stopped the mom-of-three in my tracks tracks on the floor of my childhood bedroom. You had me hooked, Sam.

As I kept reading, I started really thinking about your words — and my children. Here’s another punch to the gut: My young kids are closer to the age I was when I received your note than I am now. By a lot.

I’m sure that by now you’ve noticed that I am kind of shy. I hope that doesn’t bother you.

Do you know who else is shy, Sam? My 6-year-old daughter. I’m slowly understanding that I can’t be her voice, that she’ll learn to speak up when she wants, or needs, to be heard. You reminded me that shy doesn’t mean weak. After all, it took serious guts to write and deliver this letter. That boldness is something I strive to help my daughter realize, something that took me decades to accomplish (and, even now, I don’t know if I’ve actually mastered it).

I would not be writing to you if I did not see something special in you.

I try, I really do, to teach my kids to see the good in everyone. You saw it in me, even though I was just a fellow bumbling teen. My 4-year-old son talks to everyone. Everywhere. The cashier at the grocery store, the neighbor I only smile and wave at. At times I’ve been too reserved or focused on myself to stop and let others in. Your words are another poignant reminder, Sam, to help everyone in my family (myself included) harness my son’s inherent intrigue in others.

Please, please, please give me a chance.

OK, you got a little bit stalkerish here, but I appreciate your manners and persistence. That little word, please — repeatedly, determinedly — is the reason my minivan currently blasts the Trolls soundtrack wherever it goes. Between you and me, I might scream if I have to play Justin Timberlake one more time, but what can I do? I’m trying to teach, even to my 2-year-old, exactly what you exemplified (albeit a bit creepily) here: a blend of politeness and tenacity.

Sam, wherever (and whoever) you are, I bet you didn’t think your 16-year-old thoughts would speak to a 38-year-old woman so profoundly, but here we are.

Please accept my apologies, my long-overdue response, and my gratitude.

And please, please, please teach your children — the ones I hope you have, anyways — the long-lost art of letter writing.

Admiringly,

Jodie

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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