Dear 16-Year-Old Robert,
I am writing to you from 2016, a little more than 21 years into the future. To be completely accurate, I know you aren’t exactly 16 just yet, but you will be next month.
You’re anxious to turn 16 anyway, so I’m sure you don’t mind me putting you a little bit ahead like that. You can’t wait to get older. But it’s true what all those adults keep telling you. You’ll definitely reach a point where you won’t be in that much of a hurry to go up in years.
There’s a LOT I have to tell you about, but I’ll try not to ramble on forever. Even though you’re very curious about life and you’re willing to listen to it all, I’ll do my best to keep things short.
For starters, you began working at Wendy’s last month. It’s great to have a job for the first time, isn’t it? You have your own money and you can do just about whatever you want. Since that’s your first time working, though, make sure you take it very seriously. It will only get more difficult from here, because very soon, you’ll have to start paying bills. Enjoy it right now, but keep that in mind.
And you know that Army sign you keep seeing down the street from the job as you walk to work? I know…no way in the world you feel you belong in the Army, especially since your older brother, Michael, is a lot stronger than you are and seems to be more built for something like that. He’ll ship out in a few months. Then imagine telling anyone that you’re joining. I don’t blame you for worrying about people laughing at you, because sadly, they will. Your friends, a few teachers and unfortunately, even some of your family. But a recruiter WILL call you sometime next year. Just do me a favor…take a little time and listen to what he has to tell you. I promise, you won’t be sorry.
Speaking of Michael, this coming school year will be the first time you will be at Parkville High and not be in his shadow. You are known by so many people as “Michael’s little brother” and some will still just call you “Michael.” You were always in the same building. But now, it will be just you. It’s going to feel a little different. But it’s time that you broke free and became your own person. Since he’s leaving for the Army soon, you won’t have him around to continue to try and emulate. I understand that it will be a little tough. But remember that as you get older, you have to learn how to handle situations in your own ways. Hang in there; you’ll figure it out.
As tough as it is right now, pay attention to what’s going on between you and Mom. Things are a mess; I understand. Dad is in and out of the picture and it’s cool that you want to still give him a chance, but you’re also finding out some truth about him. No, Mom isn’t perfect, either. But do your best to try and get along with Mom. She won’t always be right and she will make mistakes, including a very big one that will be hard to forgive and will hurt you for a long time. But she is very proud of you. It’ll take her a while before she says it, but trust me; she is.
And as for Dad, don’t grow up to hate him once you find out more truth about him. He will not be around as long as you expect and while it will be disappointing once you accept this truth from him, it will not do you any good to hate him for it. He’s doing his best. Everyone’s “best” isn’t the same, but he’s trying as best as he knows how.
I know it feels a lot better that you aren’t being bullied as much as you used to be, but it still happens from time to time. You may not like this, but I’m going to tell you to keep doing what you’re doing. You’re getting good grades in school. Don’t change that. Adults have told you that you’re very smart and intelligent for your age. That’s great, isn’t it? Even for all those who make fun of you, that makes it worth it. But don’t change. That is who you are. As you get older, that will allow you to make some wonderful friends and meet some amazing people, even though there are those who will still have a problem with how you carry yourself. Those people only hate how you are because they wish they could be brave enough to be themselves and it bothers them that you are.
The people in our community have always told you that you’re supposed to act certain ways. They’ve teased you for having white friends. They call you names like “Uncle Tom” and “sellout.” I hate to tell you this, but it won’t get any better. But two things to remember; not everyone in the black community feels this way, so no matter how often it happens, don’t get to hating everyone because of it. Also, you are not wrong, no matter what anyone says. Being the way you are will help you tremendously as you get older.
And last, but not least…you began writing poetry a few years ago and you also started keeping a journal. You’ve loved to write for a lot of years now. Do me a favor. STICK WITH THAT.
I know. You still aren’t comfortable showing your poetry to people. You’re very shy still. You’re definitely not ready to share your deeper thoughts with anyone. No one will understand. You want to write a book, but you don’t think anyone would ever want to read it. You don’t feel like you would be good enough.
But please trust me…writing is going to take you to some AMAZING places, including another type of writing that you won’t discover until later on. All I’m going to say now is just to enjoy the ride. Don’t resist. Take all the writing courses you can. Keep writing every chance you get. It may be hard to believe right now, but you will eventually become comfortable enough to show your work to people. Everyone will NOT like it, but brace yourself, because a lot of people actually WILL, including some very professional folks you will grow to admire very much. I know you can’t see that right now. But believe me…it will happen. Just keep writing and looking to get better. Every day if you can.
So, you just got finished attending Mike’s high school graduation. Time to let you get back to your life. Remember all I said here. I know a lot of it is tough to see and in many ways, you don’t want to continue things as they are, because you aren’t always happy. It’s not easy trying to become your own person. You’re not a very popular person and most simply don’t know who you are. Don’t ache for that popularity. That will keep you very humble. Eventually, you’ll garner the same attention you’re craving now, but as you get older, you’ll stay grounded because of how things are now. You’ll see what I mean later on.
Hang in there. You don’t see it, but things will get better. Ride until the wheels fall off. Take care.
Robert from 2016