Dear thirteen-year-old Cheryl,
This is one of the toughest letters I have ever had to write, because I know that right now you won't believe most of what I'm about to tell you. You're thirteen, and in your mind life kind of sucks. You're not happy; you're miserable. You hate the town you're living in. You hate being different, and in this town that means white and a military brat. You hate school because that's where the bad things happen—the bullying, teasing and embarrassment. You have nightmares of school, and I hate to tell you this, but you'll have recurring nightmares about school for most of your life. One day you'll laugh about that fact.
I know you're dealing with self-esteem issues. You're not one of the popular crowd. You're not considered one of the pretty girls. You're too shy, too introverted. The boys aren't hovering around you, even when you have a secret crush on one. Trust me, the one you think of most isn't for you—and his future self is not to be admired. He turns into what you'll call a "real dick." There is someone so much better waiting for you. And your life with him will be beyond wonderful. He will do anything for you. He'll encourage you to follow your dreams, and he'll support you so you can make that happen. One day, you'll see yourself as being very lucky.
I know you harbor resentment towards your parents for what you view as their failings. You have felt ignored, uncared for, bullied sometimes. You have felt unloved, especially by your father. Trust me, this is your perception; there's so much you don't know or understand. Yes, there have been times your parents have failed you. But what parent hasn't done that at some point? You'll understand when you're a parent. We sometimes fail our children. You will, at times, fail your own daughter. However, there are amazing rewards in store for you—including close relationships with both parents. One day you'll understand why your parents are the way they are. You'll learn to understand, forgive and let go. And once you do, you'll learn to value every moment with each of your parents. They helped make you who you are and they helped prepare you for your adult life.
Cheryl, there is no one else on earth like you. When you look in the mirror, you see a redheaded girl with freckles who is not very pretty and who is chubby. Believe me when I tell you, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not as "fat" as you think you are. You may hold a few extra pounds—and you'll always battle with this—but you won't let it hold you back from following your dreams. Others will see you as beautiful, even if you don't. And when you graduate and you're wearing a stunning emerald dress, you will be gorgeous. There is more to Cheryl than the shell of your body.
You have always had the power to inspire others. This has been one of your greatest gifts. At thirteen, you are "Dear Abby" to many friends, helping them with personal problems, even though you have your own. You are always generous this way. You don't like to see anyone in pain, and you can always sense when someone is hurting, even if they don't tell you. Your empathy will grow stronger as you mature. Sometimes it will cause you pain, but most times it will enable you to find the right words to help someone else. Trust that instinct. Always. Words are your greatest gift.
At thirteen, you live a life of fear. You're afraid of some of your classmates. You've been taunted and bullied and physically hurt by other girls. You're terrified of some of the boys. You're afraid to tell anyone, afraid of what these bullies might do. You don't understand this racial hatred around you, and you don't like how it makes you hate others. I know you think this will never end, that you can't handle it another day, that maybe you'd be better off dead. A part of me wishes you had told an adult, but you didn't. You endured.
You've contemplated suicide already—how sad for a young girl to have such thoughts. But I understand. Life can be so very tough at times. Yet believe me when I tell you, this shall pass. This will become a very brief part of your childhood, even though now it seems like an eternity of misery. You just have to hold on for one more day, then one more. When you're 50 years old and looking back at those days, you'll understand how miserable those bullies were. You'll see that some of them never went on to enjoy the happiness that you have. You'll pity them. You'll forgive them because they did the only thing they knew how to do at that time—they hated. You WILL survive this. And you'll help others survive this.
Believe me, I understand what you're going through, and I promise you this: you will survive, and you'll come out ahead of all adversities. And in doing so, you will one day be able to achieve your greatest dream, to become a writer. And not just any writer, but one that has the power to affect people emotionally. Your thirteen years of life will be compiled in your first novel and you'll draw upon all of your negative experiences, turning them into a radiant positive one. And this novel, WHALE SONG, will be so powerful it will literally change people's lives. Your words will mend relationships, bring people closer together and will even save the life of one woman. How powerful is that?
One day in the future, you'll realize you have changed so much that you've outgrown your shyness. People who know you will laugh when you tell them you were once a shy wallflower whom no one ever noticed. You'll find confidence and boldness, and it'll feel like you've always had them. You'll never be able to pinpoint exactly when things changed for you. Was it when you became the youngest salon owner in BC? Was it when you got married? Was it when your first book was published? Who knows. I don't.
Your future holds many surprises. You will face challenges. You will make some bad choices. You will witness death. And you will learn from it all. Your goal now is to make it through the tough years. You can do it! You will do it! You will learn from all your experiences, both negative and positive, and each one will help mold you into the adult you become. When you're an adult, you will know that your parents love you and are proud of you. In your future, you are confident, always ready to help another and you educate yourself continuously in your field. Your love of learning and courage in experimenting makes you a very successful author. Yes, Cheryl. In your future, your greatest wish comes true. You become a successful published author.
Your journey won't be an easy one, and you will be tested. You will come up against brick walls that seem impenetrable. You'll be told you can't do it. You'll be told so many negative things that you'll half-believe them. You'll feel like your dream will never come true. You may think you can't do it, and you may want to give up. But keep pushing on. You'll prove to yourself and others that you can achieve your dreams. You won't let anyone bully you. You'll prove them wrong. The rewards are there, and they are countless and beautiful. You'll connect with people who will stay in your life forever. And your writing will take you on amazing journeys. You'll even become a publisher, helping other authors achieve their dreams. How rewarding is that!
Thirteen…so young, so lost, but with a future filled with happiness. Yes, there will be sadness too, but that is life. Right now, your goal is to keep your integrity, stay hopeful and persevere. Soon you'll be fourteen. Then fifteen, sixteen… One day you'll be fifty, and you'll decide to write this letter to your thirteen-year-old self. And you'll write all the above, remembering the negative with none of the pain you once felt and knowing just how far you've come.
Shortly afterward, you're going shoot for a major dream—to make the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists with your thriller, SUBMERGED—and you'll gather a "SUBMERGED Army" to do it.
PS: You know that box of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch that you and Cathy bought with your allowances because neither of your parents would let you eat "junky cereal"? Don't eat the whole box! You'll regret it!
Cheryl, your future self