UPDATE 9/2023: GBR has returned from a long hiatus and is reopen for submissions of fiction and nonfiction.
Letters to Myself
By Abby Alten Schwartz
To 14-year-old me: Here’s a secret most young people don’t discuss. Most of us feel awkward and unsure. You are normal. You are beautiful. You will mistake attention from boys for acceptance. These are not the same things. It’s okay to flirt. Just remember your value.
To 17-year-old me: This summer you will date that boy from camp you always thought was cute. You will be surprised at how well you connect. You will fall in love for the first time. You will cry when it’s time to leave for college. You didn’t expect to feel so attached. It will be okay. Enjoy how incredible it feels, even the painful longing when you are apart. In a few years, you will wonder if you made a mistake tying yourself to one boy at such a young age. It’s okay to question this. Know that you made the right decision and that the two of you will grow to build a beautiful life together. You were one of the lucky ones who found your person early.
To 22-year-old me: You will mistake attention from men for recognition. These are not the same things. Trust your brain and your talent. You will find your voice and your confidence with experience. You will learn that self-worth comes from within. Always remember your value.
To 31-year-old me: You are not crazy. You are right to trust your intuition—that voice in your head that whispered these words: Life can turn on a dime. That feeling of dread came from a higher place of knowing. You will receive news that cleaves your world into two parts: before and now. The now is unbearably painful. You will be plunged into a world you never wanted any part of. But. She will survive this. All three of you will. Feel all the feelings. Cry and scream. Know that people will be put in your path to help you through. Soon you will meet a woman in the same situation and the two of you will become as close as sisters. You are not alone. Know this too: the cavalry is coming. You will hear that promise from the head of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation years in the future. Sweetheart, it’s true. It will take 20 years, but a new drug is coming that will change the course of your daughter’s life. Until then…trust. Be protective when you must. Be vigilant. Stay the course. And take care of yourself.
To 44-year-old me: I know. It’s hard to form a sentence right now or a coherent thought. There is no getting past how godawful and fucked up this is. You feel confused. Where did he go? How does a person just no longer exist? You will see people at his funeral that you knew when you worked together and you will think, I have to call Dad and tell him who I saw. Then you will remember whose funeral it is. I won’t sugarcoat it. This first year will be rough. You will get by but you will observe yourself, detached, and think: Will I ever feel happy again? You will. Eventually. When you pull up in front of the condo at the shore for the first time, and he is not standing there in his red windbreaker waiting to greet you, it will feel like a kick in the stomach. Your grief will take your breath away. Push through this because it will get better. You will be able to talk about Dad without crying (as I cry writing this). You will be able to laugh about the funny things he said. Years later, when Mom starts to get confused and angry, you will think, Thank God this isn’t Dad. He is safely on the other side and you will never have to see him decline. Strangely, this thought will bring you comfort.
To 53-year-old me: You can get through this quarantine. Remember yourself at 31 and 44. You survived all of that and are still here. It’s going to be okay. The cavalry is coming.
Abby Alten Schwartz is a Philadelphia-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Hobart, Brevity and elsewhere. She moonlights as a healthcare copywriter and marketing consultant and once had a column about hooping. The hula kind. Abby is currently writing a memoir about her journey from hypervigilance to trust. Find her on Twitter @abbys480 or visit abbyaltenschwartz.com.