I met my nine year old self today. She was small and blonde, with brown eyes and a smile wide and her fingers still twitching. I wanted to take her hand in mine and run, run from her future and my past, like I’ve always done. I wanted to tell her it’ll all be okay and keep her small, keep her happy, keep her young.

Instead, I tell her: be strong. If you can’t be strong, be kind. Hold your friends close but let them go when you need to. You’ll stop being afraid of being locked in bathrooms. You won’t stop being afraid of spiders, or ending up alone.

I tell her, how could anyone do this? How could anyone look at you and not want to hold you so tightly it hurts? Who would want to hurt you? Who would want to take that smile and throw it to the curb, crush it under heel, and not hold it gently like a dying bird?

I tell her, it’s not going to be easy. Your parents will turn into people and your cousins into strangers. You’ll lose faith in adults, in friends, in yourself, sometimes. You’ll find new dreams and make new friends and lose them both. You grow up alone but you don’t grow up lonely.

I tell her, you don’t grow up pretty. I tell her you grow up sad, but that’s okay. You grow up happy too. You grow up smart, and you grow up kind. Most importantly, you grow up slowly. You’re not grown up yet.

I tell her, I know your thoughts feel like fire scorching against your eyelids. I know silence is a luxury you can’t afford. I tell her that one day you’ll be grateful, that one day your thoughts will be beautiful in their chaos. One day you’ll learn to love your differences.

I ask her, is there anything you want to say? And she looks at me with scorching eyes, hair still blonde and straight, a girl I remember but don’t recognise. A girl that I’ll one day have to leave behind and let grow up like me.

She says, even when you’re all grown up and would-be-lonely, don’t forget what you told me.

Image courtesy of Caleb Woods.

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