I’ve been meaning to write to you for a really long time now, years in fact – I just didn’t know where to start or how to do it.
There’s a photo on the fridge at Mom & Dad’s which I’ve been looking at a lot over the past two months. Gran is sitting on the couch looking as lovely as ever and holding Ash, who must only be a few weeks old. You’re sitting next to them smiling with your hair in that cute little blonde ponytail, having recently turned 3.
I look at your little face and can’t believe you’d only been alive for three years, because to me you already seem like you knew so much about the world. You’ll remember things from even before then. Like the very first time you ate fish, and couldn’t understand how because there was no ocean in Joburg. When you were left at home one afternoon and sat sobbing uncontrollably at the front door for what seemed like hours. The morning you cut your lip with a razor. Sitting in the car outside Greenpark Nursery learning how to whistle with Mom. The day Ash was born.
You already had a big and brilliant life for such a tiny person, and sometimes when I look at that photo, it breaks my heart to think that by the time you turn 5 that world will change forever. I want to wrap you in my arms and tell you that it’s all going to be okay.
I’m sorry that you were so small when Athol left, and that you felt it was your responsibility to take the weight of that on. Mom will be okay, so you don’t have to worry about her as much as you do. It wasn’t your fault, but you’ll eventually get to the point where you realise that everything happened exactly how it was supposed to. It might take you 21 years and many bad decisions you can’t quite explain before then, but you will get there.
You’ll be lucky enough to get a new dad, someone so much better and who Mom was supposed to be with all along. He will love you and he will never leave you – even when you’ll regretfully tell him during a fight that’s he’s not your “real” father, knowing that was a lie.
Unfortunately, the void that was created when our first one left will remain, and you won’t realise it immediately but it’ll keep getting bigger no matter how much you try to fill it.
As a teenager, you’ll be angry and confused about what’s happened. You’ll push the people closest to you away, especially your family. It’s going to be hard trying to understand why things worked out the way they did. Things always have a way of getting really bad before they get better – this is a lesson you will learn over and over again as you get older.
I used to dream sometimes about going back into the past and changing things for you. We’ve had many conversations in my head where I’ve taken your hand and convinced you to come with me in the other direction. I realised a few months ago that there was nothing I could’ve done to stop this, and that everything you’re going to go through will bring you to where I’m at now – and that’s okay.
You’ll develop anxious attachment issues while at times being emotionally unavailable, especially when someone will show you their vulnerability and tell you how they feel about you. In truth, you’ll be afraid of being truly loved and won’t be able to bear the thought of being abandoned again. You’ll go after toxic guys in your 20’s who don’t care about you, and you’ll self-sabotage. You either won’t even notice the good ones or you’ll push them away because deep down, you won’t believe you deserve them. You’ll be scared to ask for what you want, and your own needs will be abandoned for the sake of other people.
Your first boyfriend will cause more damage than a 16-year-old should have to deal with. He will manipulate you and brainwash you into thinking that he is the only person who “loves” you. He’ll alienate you, your family and your friends. The year you’ll spend together will force you to grow up faster than you should, but it will also make you strong enough to end it. There will be a day years later when you realise you don’t hate him any longer and feel so indifferent about that brief but turbulent period of your life. That’s a good place to be in, and it will lift an incredibly heavy weight off your shoulders.
You’ll have to work extremely hard to forgive yourself for what happened, especially for thinking at the time that it was the only thing you wanted at whatever cost. He’ll try to come back into your life a few years later, but you’ll see him coming. In very few words you’ll also tell him to get fucked – not exactly the revenge you’ll fantasise about leading up to that, but we both know that wouldn’t have ended well.
Your second boyfriend will love you unconditionally and be exactly what you need. He’ll appear out of nowhere and say hi to you as you’re leaving a house party, ask you where you’re going and tell you it was great to meet you even though it was brief. You’ll walk to your car, put the key in the door, look up at the sky and think “fuck it”. You’ll know right there that you have to go back inside, and you do. He’ll be kind and gentle with your heart, helping you heal and showing you that you do deserve to be loved. You’ll miss him when he moves with his family to another country, but you’ll be young and he wasn’t supposed to be with you forever. It’s okay to think of him as your first real love – because he was.
The one who appears between 2 and 3 won’t really be your boyfriend, even though he’ll call you his girlfriend when he’s high. You’ll settle for it because you’ll be hurting and he’ll be emotionally unavailable enough for you to cope, but at the same time, he’ll be passionate, crazy, fun, sing like Robbie Williams and make you forget. You’ll sneak out of the house at 1 am to dance with him in clubs, and you’ll sneak back in quite unsuccessfully when the sun will be on the verge of rising. You’ll also be doing what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re 20.
Your third boyfriend will test you. He’ll bring out madness in you which you never knew existed. You won’t ever be able to fix him or his many problems, and the gut feeling you ignored right from the very first night you two locked eyes, will turn out to be right. He’ll cheat on you, lie about it and she’ll invite you to have a drink so she can tell you how much they love one another and that he’s only using you.
He’ll beg you not to break up with him and you won’t because you’ll be too proud to admit defeat. What you won’t realise until later, is that it was never about you.
A year later you’ll end things with him, and he will beg you again for weeks to change your mind. You won’t flinch, you’ll move out, and you’ll get on with your life like you always have and will continue to do for years to come. He will almost immediately start seeing the girl he cheated on you with. You’ll finally know you were right all along and gain an incredible amount of power and peace from that – especially when she calls you months later in tears, begging you for advice on how to deal with him. You’ll tell her she knew exactly what she was getting herself into and tell her to never call you again because you just don’t care.
Your fourth boyfriend will eventually end up briefly becoming your husband, as much as you’ll know he isn’t right for you. You’ll live overseas together, you’ll learn a huge amount about yourselves as a couple and individually, and you will also eventually realise that you are so much bigger than how small he’ll manage to make you feel by pushing you down while he rises up. It’s going to take a couple of years, a lot of conflicts and a few very dark places, but one day you’ll get out of bed and know what you need to do. You’ll admit to one another that you don’t love each other anymore, you’ll tell him that you actually do want kids – just not with him. You won’t change your mind, you’ll pack your bags and you’ll bravely get on that flight back to South Africa to start over.
Your fifth boyfriend will be living proof that you will finally be able to level up. He’ll be kind, make you laugh, anchor you and change the course of your life. You won’t ever be able to tell him how much you love him, out of fear of him running away, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that will eventually take place. He will also make you feel unsure at times because of his own issues, and eventually, break your heart in a way that you’ve never experienced before.
You’re going to cry about him every single day for about a month, but you will soon start feeling whole again because of how hard you’ll work through it. You will begin understanding why it wouldn’t have lasted and why he wasn’t lying when he told you that he couldn’t be what you needed. He will set you free and be the person who makes you realise it’s time to face up to a few things which you’ve been ignoring, pushing you to level up again.
You’ll finally know what you want and what you deserve, and you will get it.