First off, I need to tell you that life gets better.
A letter to one’s teen self often starts off with that tried and true sentiment, because it fits.
Writing 4 decades later, I know things improved, but you haven’t discovered that yet. It won’t be better all of the time; there will be both good days and bad days, awful times and great times, and all the shades of experience in between.
You’ll make it through. I’m you, writing to you from more than forty years in the future, so yeah, you survive it all. Not unscathed, scared for sure and possibly not quite intact, but you make it.
Ah. I’m getting ahead of myself.
The perils of hindsight.
It’s March 26th, 1976. A Friday. Exactly 43 years, 10 months and 24 days from when I am writing this to you. More specifically… 16,035 days ago.
You’re a sophomore at Oak Harbor High School, but there’s no school today. You skipped it today. A fake fever and a sore throat complaint made by you got you a pass from school today.
As you look through your window at the active Locust street traffic, you see that the first signs of Spring are making their way after a brutal frigid winter.
On the radio, WIOT-FM is giving away a free Michael Stanley Band LP to the first caller who can identify the U.S. city that was home to the first traffic light; you’ll listen until one caller shares, “CLEVELAND!” as the correct answer. You’ll wish you knew the right answer so you could win an album but be patient… something called the “internet” will be coming. You’ll have these things called computers that you’ll have all the information you ever needed to know at the reach of your fingertips. As a matter of fact, you’ll carry a phone in your pocket. It too is a computer. It will be used to take pictures and will have more technology than what they had when they sent man to the moon a few years ago.
But you’re not ready to hear those details because you won’t believe me until you experience it.
Once again… the perils of hindsight.
It’s a scary time all around you. Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and Governor from Georgia, will be your President. Don’t worry… Ronald Reagan will fix it.
You will be jockeyed around when it comes to politics… you won’t believe who will be your President in 2016. I won’t tell you because I want you to be as surprised as everyone else was. In 2020, the country is divided, and you’ll discover that all you can do is learn how to love those that you disagree with. As a heads up… learn to not argue about politics or Christianity… all it has done is cause division. Work on being a better person now… maybe you can change the history that I have laid down. Maybe you can change the footprints of the legacy I have left behind. History has a way of making us realize that we can’t change the past… but I hold on to the dream of it happening. That is the purpose of this letter to you (me).
You’re lonely. You’re 15. You’re supposed to feel alone, in spite of the presence of a family that loves you, and a smattering of friends with whom you share some good times. Is it teen drama? Is it clinical depression? Is it both, or neither? The vantage point of four decades gone has not clarified the answer in my head. Nor could anything I say now at 58 have any real meaning for you at 15. The twisted, uneven path before you remain only yours to tread. Tread carefully.
Don’t worry… I know you’re only 5′ 5″ tall and only weigh about 85 lbs. By next September you’ll be 6′ 2″… but as far as the weight goes… you’ll not weigh much more. At least not for about 30 years… you won’t believe me now but you’ll top the scales at 378 lbs. before you get serious about losing weight. Funny for you now but trust me it is as real as gets when it comes to losing weight. You’ll lose over 125 lbs. but the next 50 are the hardest.
You have your music, and it helps you.
The Temptations have etched an indelible mark on you and you will never shake the sounds of CKLW out of your DNA. You will always have a soft spot for Soul music and it starts with David Ruffin and The Temptations.
Your favorite group is The Beatles, and that will never really change. Your current affection for Elton John and Fleetwood Mac will abate somewhat over time, but you’ll remain a steadfast fan of The Monkees. But as a head’s up, keep that to yourself. Your burgeoning interest in Queen will grow stronger. You’ll still like the Bay City Rollers, though they won’t remain at the very top of your pops for long. And once again… keep the Bay City Roller thing to yourself.
But, within the next year or so, you’re going to hear two groups who will join The Beatles as your all-time favorites. You know Aerosmith, that group you’ve been reading about in Circus Magazine? Yeah, that’s right–the scary guys with the leather jackets, and the songs about girls and the challenge to Dream On. They frighten you now, but once you finally hear them, you’re gonna start calling them The American Beatles, the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me, young man! I know you… your hidden love for bubble gum pop music will fade but never leave you. Just wait. You’ll see. And then just over a year from now, you and your friend Bryan Blakely are going to see a band called Electric Light Orchestra, and you’re going to feel like you’ve just seen God.
You’re going to mature, but you’re not going to mature all that much. I wish you would or could in a better way than your future self. The music you’re listening to right now, all that Beatles and British Invasion stuff, plus the Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind and Fire and about a billion others, are going to dovetail with the disco you’ve been listening to, and it’s all going to come together as your music in this crucible of 1976. Pretty soon, you’re going to hear a band called The Cars, and you’ll think Heaven formed them just for you. You’ll hear Van Halen and think that your notion of what is and isn’t rock ‘n’ roll is due for redefinition. You’re going to forsake The Bay City Rollers and The Monkees, briefly, but you’ll come back to them almost immediately.
In later years, you’re going to develop an appreciation for some pop sounds that might not be relevant to you just yet. I know you don’t really care about The Who; you will. I know you like The Beach Boys, the Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and someday, you’ll regard The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as the greatest album of all time. Yeah, even more than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Believe it or not! You’re going to like David Bowie more than you do now. You’re going to like Bob Dylan less. If I recall the timeline, you’re almost ready to start loving The Eagles. You’ll privately sing along with John Denver but publicly dismiss his music. You’re going to discover Styx and The Steve Miller Band; you’re going to discover reggae; you’re going to discover rockabilly. And you’re going to discover that Michael Jackson will become the biggest popstar of all time. His album “Thriller” will sell more records than any other. Oh, and by the way, you’ll “listen” to Prince, but you won’t “hear” him until years later.
Before this year is done, you’re going to write your first real story about growing up in Oak Harbor. Like you have since you could write…you are going to write many, many, many more after that, over a span of 4 decades.
You’re going to bristle and complain whenever someone calls you a writer. I am going to warn you to reconsider throwing away all of those notebooks that contain all of your thoughts and stories. I know… you are wondering why you would throw them away. I can only say that there are things that you are going to experience, and I can’t play with history. Things will happen that you will not be able to control. Know this, as time passes these stories will fade and be sure that you know that your best writing was contained in those notebooks.
You will not marry Linda Ronstadt, nor will you hook up with Stevie Nicks.
But you will have girlfriends. In fact, a girl will get your attention, rather eagerly, in the not-too-distant future, and I don’t intend to spoil that surprise. This young woman with whom you’ll want to spend the rest of your life, and she’ll feel the same way about you. Don’t worry… you are going to go through a lot with this woman… but you’ll marry her in the end!!!
You’re going to keep on making mistakes. You’ll say things you regret; you’ll do things you regret, and I wish I could prevent all of that. But I can’t, and I shouldn’t. Because fixing even one of those bad, bad things could divert you from the path that leads to your greatest joy: like your sons. Your sons are something else, man, and just being their father will earn you more pride and fulfillment than anything else you will ever do in this life. You won’t even mind that they become better than you, because all of their accomplishments make you happier than you can even imagine now.
You will raise two girls as your own and will love them more than you can ever imagine. They will produce grandsons that will fill you with more love than a man is ever supposed to have in this life. You will hold them in your hands when they are babies and tears will fill your eyes as you look down on the beauty that is life. You watch them grow and you’ll realize that being called grandpa is the greatest and highest title you will ever attain. Wait and see.
And you will share a love of music with your son. You won’t like the same kinds of music–let’s not get crazy–but music will fill every fiber of his being, just as it fills yours now.
Keep listening to your music. Keep reading about new sounds. Keep faith in the sounds you already know and cherish. Keep writing. You’re gonna get published. You’ll write a book about the experiences you are having now. You’re never going to make much money at it, but you are going to find people interested in what you say, and in the way you say it. I know you lack confidence in yourself, but I know you believe in your writing. Others are going to believe in it, too.
Very soon now, you’re going to write a short story that reads like a suicide note. It’s just a story; I know. I know. There are people you know right now–at least two of them–who will choose to end their own lives, and will follow through with that fatal decision. You can’t save them. You will look back and wish you could. You will look back very often and wish you could have done…something. But it is within your power to save yourself. You can do it. I’ve already proven that you can do it. It will not be easy, but you will succeed.
You’ve been listening to Sgt. Pepper. You’ve been singing along; it’s getting better all the time. It will get better. You will have triumphs, perhaps modest ones, but you’ll feel that elation, nonetheless. You will also battle depression. I can’t promise you the paradise you crave, because it ain’t coming. But you’re going to have a good life, marred by disappointments, devastated by tragedies, yet still a life worth savoring, a life that will touch the lives of others in, I hope, mostly positive ways.
Please disregard the lecture you’ll receive in 1979 about you not being good enough or smart enough to go to college. You’ll go. As a matter of fact, I know you can’t envision this but by 1982 you will have traveled all over Africa and South America. I shouldn’t tell you this but by 1985 you’ll be a teacher and then a principal.
Oh. And you’re gonna get to see The Pretenders and Tom Petty. You’ll see Bob Seger and James Taylor, and you’ll cry along with a few thousand other men when Paul McCartney takes the stage. The best concert you’ll ever see will be The Beach Boys in 1980. You’re gonna get to see Jackson Browne, Kansas and The Who. You’ll see Ringo Starr and you’ll remember where you were when Elvis dies. There’s a lot of music ahead of you. Life will be better because of it.
Finally, I leave you with this. You are going to realize that your faith and belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven is the most important aspect of your life. You have spent too much time trying to hide it from your friends and those you hang around with. I am here to tell you that you will regret that. Be more open to share your faith. Your relationship with Jesus Christ is critical to who you are and more importantly who you will become.
This year is crucial. Everything starts for you in 1976. Keep your head held high. You won’t get the reference just yet, but keep your head held high.
Your life will be better because of your faith in Jesus Christ.
Much Older (Little Wiser) You (David)
PS: That hope to die before you get old? Stupid notion. Discard it now.