Letter To My Younger Self by Heidi Vanderbilt

Kid, some advice.
Don’t pretend things are okay when they’re not. Watch your temper. You look sweet, ringlets, ankle socks, but you can hang on in a fight until the other guy chews his leg off. That makes you think you can stand anything, but you can’t. You won’t forget your parents slamming doors. He slams. She slams. The full length mirror shatters to the floor. You cut your foot. Your bi-polar mother throws her best friend out of the car to walk home. Your mother throws you out of the car to walk home. Her lovers. His lovers.
Don’t find the worst thing ever and invite it in, marry it. Ditch the guy with fists. Lose the stoner, singing’s not enough. Wait. 
Don’t believe you’ve got life licked, got it worked out, that you’ve arrived. You will never arrive, trust me. You’ll never feel comfortable for long, no matter how much you want it. You’ll never feel safe. You’re someone who waits at stations, misses planes, sleeps rough in stables. You smile at the hobos that live beside the tracks at the foot of the hill. Through campfire smoke, they smile back.
At twelve you run away, take a bus to to Penn Station, sit on a bench all night then walk home in time for breakfast, broke. At thirteen you’re auditioning for shows. At fourteen you‘re on tour, playing the younger sister in a loving family. The cast, drinks between shows, runs wild through a cemetery, vomits on gravestones, sleeps with each other in twin beds, four to a room, on the couch, the floor. All night, the Kingston Trio repeats itself: Lemon Tree; Five Hundred Miles. You can hear the whistle blow. You steal his undershirt to keep his smell close to you. Back home when the tour’s over, you kick your way through Central Park barefoot. Strangers yell at you. “You’ll cut you feet  without shoes! Stupid girl! Where do you live? Where are your parents?” By sixteen you live alone in lower Manhattan,a special kind of lonely. Deadbolts, incinerators, switchblades. At night you climb to the building’s roof, bend back over the parapet, turn the sky upside down. 
Don’t fall. 
I wish I could help you, tell you that the feel of the park path on your soles, rough, hard, dry, or wet with sooty rain and dog piss, will carry you through the rest of your life. I wish I could tell you while you’re still a kid that when you’re old—and you will live to be older than I am now—it won’t be the sulfurous urban night sky you’ll recall as you drift off, nor your view dangling from rooftops, aimed at the street. Instead, you’ll draw stars up through gnarled feet, through the misstep into dog shit, skidding off rocks in the Rambles between mating men, horse drawn carriages, and cops. 
Wade into the boat pond, Heidi. One day you and your husband will teach your son to sail.

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