Dear Little Brynnie,
It’s been a letter-y semester in my classes this fall as students try forms as a means of storytelling and essay-writing. I thought I’d give it a shot, too, because the truth is, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. Mom just turned seventy a couple of weeks ago, which meant I was sorting and compiling – pardon my French, honey, and the slang – a crap-ton of old photos. Suddenly there were scanned images of our family all over the screen: Dear God, the haircuts! The polyester! The collars! And there you were, that tiny past version of me: mop-topped, squirrel-cheeked, round-tummied, gazing solemnly, squinting, grinning. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but we are old now, a lifetime removed from the story that inspired that “little” nickname, our family inside joke. I have known these pictures our whole life, but for some reason these days, I can’t stop staring.
I find myself wanting to tell you everything about what’s coming — as if I could prepare you, which of course I can’t. Our life has happened. There’s this trite saying, which you don’t know yet: You can’t change the past. More and more, Little Brynnie, I’m not sure. I’m starting to think we change it every time we see it again, every time we take the time to reconsider – to remember, to imagine, to re-see – what once was there. It can’t help but change, thanks to our infallible memories and our persistent desire to wonder. And so here I am.
In the interest of time and keeping your attention — we’re both going to need a nap soon — I won’t go into all of the gory details. To sum up: You are going to be an odd kid. An odd teenager. Introverted, smart, melancholy, dreamy, too empathic, worrisome. All those emotions ride right out there on your skin. This will coalesce into a niggling sense that you don’t fit in. That you are on the outside, even with your friends and family. Don’t worry, honey (although I know you will). It’s not all bad. The fact is, you will navigate that tumultuous stream of childhood and adolescence mostly intact, with much love and humor and sunshine in the mix. Some dark things lurk and will snare you, and I’m sorry for this. I cannot stop it.
The good news: you make it. The mixed news: You have transformed into… an odd adult. Well, let’s call it “quirky.” It’s hard for you to be “out there,” as a good friend put it once. Introversion creeps into reclusiveness. Though it may seem that childhood and adolescence are the hardest parts, it’s these later years when the real complications set in. We forge ourselves in this fire. This is where we become who we are.
The really bad news— well, I’ll just rip it off like a Band-Aid: We lose our father, when we are 24. Though we will lose other dear family, friends, and co-workers, and we will tumble through a kaleidoscope of romantic heartbreaks, this will be the thing that upends us, leaves us untethered. It is as though someone has replaced the crystalline lenses of our eyes. Everything is filtered through his absence: the world no longer contains him, but his presence persists at the corners of our vision. That contradiction will not cease.
I am leaving so much out, all of the extraordinary fine-grained details, which is ironic because that is how we have come to try to see the world. It’s one of the perks of being on the outside: you learn to see differently. You watch and listen and peer and squint, and you see nuances and strangeness that others miss. The good news: Some people in adult life actually encourage this. The great news: we are married to the loveliest of human beings who also sees this way, who understands and embraces our quirks, partly because he is an artist and writer, too.
I guess I didn’t mention: We are a writer. A teacher, yes, as I did note, which as a job in this country is more quantifiable, easier to explain. Sometimes I forget to mention the writer part. Sometimes I forget this part of us, because adulthood? It’s a busy, busy place, full of pressing obligations and mundane demands. Writing takes a lot of time. Believe it or not, just this rambling little letter has taken hours! We don’t always have that time, or the space in our minds for thinking up stories. At your age, you think of writers, if you think of them at all, as the people who make those wondrous books that Mom and Dad have read to you since infancy, the ones that you start reading yourself at age 3 or 4. Oh, how we loved reading stories. Making those stories – and trying to get them into a book form for other people to read – is another thing altogether. While it can be inspiring and joyous, it often makes us feel desperate, and alone, and no good.
Which brings me (I think) to why I’m writing to you in the first place. It’s about this writer part of us. Sometimes— well, often; well, all of the time— I wonder about the path that brought us here. All of the twisting ins and outs, the moments we could have decided to take a different route.
What I want to tell you, Little Brynnie — adorable child; overwrought, melancholy teen; sad, messed-up, harrowed young adult; fretful, frizzy-haired middle-age woman— is this path that we chose? Remember first that you chose it. Lately you have been trudging along, your eyes on your feet. Look up, honey. Look around. Remember why you chose it. Remember? It’s because you were once, and have always been, the odd little girl who dreamed in stories, who couldn’t stop going into her imagination. She couldn’t stop puzzling and wondering about the inner lives of her family and friends and neighbors and strangers. She couldn’t stop seeing the beauty and awfulness of the world and asking, what? why? how? She couldn’t stop trying to figure it out. She couldn’t stop. She just couldn’t.
Love to us both,