Dear eleven-year old me,
At eleven, you are unchained, loud. I loved your long lectures on God and the beauty of spiders that you gave from the crook of the old apple tree on the hill behind the house, expounding to the sky and leaves. No audience. And the books you wrote created a whole bookcase of stapled-together stories with illustrated, construction-paper covers. No workshops, no instructions. You didn’t need a publisher, or an online presence. Let me return to follow the creek with you, that bordered our property, over the fence to the cow fields and a forested lot where the small stream curved into an oblivion you never pursued.
Soon enough you will realize that hand-me-downs from your cousins, no matter how well they fit, and how brilliant the colors of old hip-slung jeans were, they set you apart from those other girls who shopped for clothes, and had bedrooms fringed with puffy pink and posters of Davey Jones and Donny Osmond on the walls.
Cherish that old leather baseball glove that you share with your brothers, the one always behind the radiator, where you dig it out, grab a bat from the porch, and take off for Hoag’s field in late spring to play pick-up baseball with the older kids. Because you field well, and don’t flinch at pitches, you are always picked to play on one team or the other. At eleven, you take this for granted, and just play.
Stay eleven. Somehow. You can write poetry, love songs, and sing them to an audience of birds. And at eleven, you don’t know your father is an alcoholic; you don’t know that it will take twenty years for your parents to pay off your grandmother’s hospital bills; you don’t know that the gardens that always need weeding, grow the food that your parents will not have to spend money on at the grocery store, and you don’t know that you are poor, or that it matters.
At eleven, the days you spend at your Aunt Dot’s camp with your cousins is magic. There are inner tubes to float on, hotdogs and chips and potato salad and your Mimére’s chocolate cake. Later on you will hear your aunts and uncles say that your parents don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. All you know is that a clean pair of underwear and an undershirt is all you need to call a bathing suit, and the ability to dog paddle, and you, too, can run and leap off the dock trying to land as close to your thrown inner tube as possible.
At eleven you can be oblivious. The joy you feel is unadulterated and unselfconscious. You kept that for me. Bottled up like the glow worms that I know you collect in a jar, then let go all at once into the darkness. You did that for me. Thank you.