Welcome back to our Dear Gifted Me series. Today’s letter is from Deborah Beckwin. Take it away Deborah:
Dear Deborah from 1990,
Greetings from the year 2012! Let’s cut to the chase: how is 2012 like? Well, there are no flying cars yet—which is greatly disappointing. There are a lot of technological changes—like the internet is going to take over your life, more than that maze game you play on Prodigy. You cannot not have the internet. And lots of political things have happened that I don’t want to spoil—some that will leave you in a bar utterly depressed, others that will have you jumping
But from what I’ll tell you, know that you will grow up into a very resilient, determined strong woman, one you can be proud of. You will be astounded at how much you can withstand and, sadly, how cruel and thoughtless people can be. You’re a very sensitive soul and you’ll learn much later why you’re wired/weird that way.
So 6th grade…I remember that your journal is obsessed with the popular people at school—including dudes with mullets. There won’t be much about you. You wish you had a boyfriend and a best friend, and you’ll keep wishing for that boyfriend, honey(sorry!).
So junior high is supposed to be just godawful, but it hasn’t been that bad so far. The worst embarrassment you had was wearing that floral MC Hammer outfit, and that will be it. You’ll have your crew of friends—three preachers’ kids who definitely fit the stereotype but are really nice and funny. It’ll be really easy, a refuge from your home life–more on that later.
Ironically, high school will get progressively worse. Ninth grade will be a blast. No hazing from the seniors. In fact, they will love your freshman class. I can’t remember 10th grade. I lost my yearbook. I remember English class, my best guy friend Matt, and an abusive incident with our dad over a shoe polisher. Yes, a shoe polisher.
11th grade will be good, too, because after being a floater friend, you will find a group of artsy, diverse kids to hang out with. One of them will invite you to lunch and let you borrow her Weezer tape. But by senior year, these will mercilessly tease you because you are quiet and observant, but don’t add much to their conversation. It’s only because the conversation is inane and you’re 17 going on 30. By the time you graduate, you will feel like a prisoner being released.
But back to being 12: I know that this was the year that things started to fall apart for our family, in terms of Dad’s bipolar disorder starting to digs its hooks into them. But you don’t know that it’s bipolar yet. It’s just Dad being weird and unreliable now.
It’s also just the time when adolescence and your parents’ middle age collide—I learned this in an adolescent psychology course in college (we major in psychology!), which will give you a lot of needed context and clarity as a 20 something about what you will go through as a teenager. Michael, your younger brother, is starting to act out and destroy books. You and your mom don’t really get along (although astrologically, you really should). Is it competition? Envy? What is it? I still don’t know. We don’t talk that much. And I know you’re not shocked by that.
But that’s your future school life. Your high school youth group at church will be your new haven from madness at school and home. You will make new friends, have your own little clique, the Giggly Girls—who giggle through sermons while seating in 2nd row pews. You’ll always wish that you could hang out more with them, but you live far away. It’s not like they are all as close now. That’s what growing up does—it separates folks. You’ll go to summer church camp and meet Julie, who is still your best friend, even after being out of touch for about 14 years.
At this point, though, your family is in crisis. Your dad had grown increasingly paranoid and won’t give his IRS forms to your college (congrats on getting into U of C, you nerd!). You will be absolutely devastated and have your first bout of depression and lose 15 lbs. And girl, you are already skinny. But then somehow, he’ll change his mind and you will fly up with him to Chicago in the plane that was funded by your college fund.
And basically college will be great—so much learning from others!–but hard because another bout of depression because your parents, who are starting to split apart, and because of their financial difficulties. You’ll get kicked out at the end of your third year because you owe $5k. I’m mostly over this, but let’s just say this has left a scar. We have plenty of those. Battle scars of life—wear them proudly.
And how did we fare at love? Well, love is complicated. You’ll much later regret not dating your best friend because he is atheist and you’re a Bible thumper from the South. But he is kind of a jerk in the end. Oh well. But you will love him anyway, and he will love you and respect your religious beliefs. You will have great friends, one of them who will die in a car accident when he is 30, but you will find out almost two years later. You’ll regret not having told him that you loved him, too. Unfortunately, leaving before your senior year of high school will cause you to go into oblivion, although he was the one of the few friends who saw you after you had to leave school.
Throughout college, though, you will learn what you’re made of—which is of strong stuff. You’ll return to college after working admin jobs for three years at age 25 and graduate. This is a bloody miracle, Deborah. Your dad has gone to prison for selling narcotics prescriptions. You’ve lost your home that you’re living in right now. Your brother will have morphed into an angry young man. And yet, your school took pity on your horrible plight and forgave your debt. It’s one of your crowning achievements—graduating college eight years after being admitted. Taking the long way in life is our specialty.
That is quite a lot. But it helps you’re not in Birmingham for this. You should probably take a breath… I don’t know if this is helping you, but you probably knew things would get worse, right? Is this surprising? Shocking?
Oh wait—your love life. Right. You’ll casually date a few dudes and then you’ll seriously date two guys for the total amount of five months, and one you still cannot get over. And then you’ll kinda stop dating because you feel too weird and esoteric for your regular American male. You’ll realize after your friend’s death how lucky you were in college to be around super smart, attractive guys who were into you, but you were too busy being religious (but also your life was falling apart). You may have regrets about this, but then you were being yourself. You’re very good at that.
After college, you’ll help people like your dad, with severe mental health issues and a history of homelessness, and you will find that to be the best job you’ve ever had, even if it literally makes you sick. Then you will research about kids in child welfare, because you still were planning to be a child psychiatrist (ever since you were 14). And then you’ll really try to do that pre-med thing—a total of three times—and figure out that you’re not as science-minded as you were in high school.
And then, as there always have been, you’ll find writing again. You journaled like crazy, starting at this age, and I sadly can’t read them. They are so full of pathos and yearning and sadness. But it’s because you wanted more out of life. You will always be driven, always care too much about everything and everyone, feel too much, and perceive much more than others. That’s because you’re a gifted young woman. As in—remember elementary school in Nashville and in Birmingham? You were found to be intellectually gifted, but there’s so much more to being gifted.
You’ll feel like an outsider, and probably always will—yes, even around other gifted people (although you’ll see looking back that gifted folk tend to find each other, even if they don’t call each other gifted) because you see the world differently. You’ll start to think differently about Christianity—I know you’re so devoted to God right now–and rightfully so. If it weren’t for your faith, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. So thanks for that. But you will evolve. You’ll need to do it in order to become more like yourself.
So you can see there’s a lot of loss and pain in our life, and you’re just getting your first bitter tastes of it. At least our childhood was aces, right? So our 20s were fun but sometimes reckless—you’ll be safe, though, don’t worry. Depression was after college for a bit, but with a lot of therapy and antidepressants, we’re OK now.
I can at least say that at age 30, life does get better. Over beers, I had a friend talk about giftedness—she teaches gifted 4th graders and is close to getting her masters in gifted education—and I bought a textbook that she was reading called Living with Intensity. It changed my life and unrooted a hidden, deep dislike of myself. All that sensitivity is pre-wired. Your quirks are not blemishes. Your quirks are beautiful, love. It took over 30 years for me to start really understanding myself—and honestly that was just a fluke talking to my friend about her job and her students. I feel lucky. Your journaling is a start of that journey. And most people are going to try to make you feel “less than” because of that.
Do not listen to them.
Be yourself. Love yourself. Practice kindness and forgiveness towards yourself.
Remember our dream of being a writer? Well, I’m moving to Orlando (yes, humid, touristy Florida) at the end of the month to pursue that dream, to get an MFA in creative writing. I hope I can write about all you went through as a kid with your parents to get some understanding for myself. It’s also a compelling story: weird immigrant family living in the evangelical South with mental illness. Truth can be stranger than fiction.
I wish I had more fun, happy things to say about our life. There are some good moments, enough for us to keep going (and I think you deserve some good surprises, like your love of mac and cheese (yes dairy with pasta—crazy! And crazy good!!)). But you know us—we’re super critical and terminally pessimistic. Sometimes, it’s gonna feel just all too much, the feelings of doom, but hang in there. The trajectory of our life may have many lows, but our line of fit on this very treacherous curve is always upwards. We’re always trying to be a better self. And even if things haven’t been great yet, we can say that we lived with integrity, honor, and strength. It may even help others to do the same. We’re not the only ones astonished by how we’ve withstood so much.
I’ve gone on long enough, but do remember this: you’re meant for greater things. And yes, everyone says that about themselves—that’s good ole American egotism—but everyone does not live a life like you have and will have. These tears and disappointments and rejections that you have and will have sown will be reaped someday for deep joy and will help others not to give up in ridiculously difficult circumstances. I haven’t seen all of the harvest yet, but I have faith that eventually, we will have our own family to call our own, and we won’t feel so lonely in the world.
If to be great is to be misunderstood, well, then, we must be really freaking great.
Love from 2012,
WOW! What a fab letter. If you would like to share a letter to your younger self, drop me a line at christine (at)christinefonseca.com. I look forward to hearing from you.