Dear Me

  Jerome Shea       December 24, 2011      Weekend Wonk

There is a book just out entitled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self. The instigator, Joseph Galliano, invited many celebrities to do just that, to write such a letter. (To his credit, the profits will go not to Galliano but to a charity.) This letter business is not a new idea, but as a writing prompt it is certainly a cut above “My Pet Peeve.” It invites somber reflection, wiseacre humor, and much in between. More than one respondent wrote, “When an outfit called Microsoft [or Apple or Google or whatever] goes public, f’godsake buy in!” Stephen King, who should know, advises his sixteen-old-self to steer clear of recreational drugs or be prepared to lose a decade of his life.

Well, you can see where this is going, so…

Dear Me,

This is the older you, lad. I was going to email you, but of course the Sheas don’t even have a computer in 1958 (nobody does), let alone…well, it’s too complicated to explain. Sorry I mentioned it. Anyway, can I give you some advice?

You’re going to find your life a mixed bag (well, duh! as we say in 2011). That’s right, it’s the year 2011, the new millennium and we don’t have rocket cars, though we do have some pretty amazing stuff. But that’s for another time, another letter. Maybe. In this one, I want to talk about you, bucko, so listen up.

You already know, then, that you are going to live to be seventy, at least. And you will still be in good health. I assume that is good news for you. And guess what: in middle age you are going to start running marathons! How you like them apples? Oh, and eventually—on the second try—you will marry a good woman, a wonderful woman. You’re welcome. No, I guess I’M welcome. No, I’m deeply grateful. (And clearly confused, to use an oxymoron.) Will your seed flourish and endure, to put it biblically? Hey, you wouldn’t want me to let all the cats out of the bag, now would you?

Even at sixteen you know that life is often no picnic. Yes, Mom died last September. I know. And it was an awful death and Pop is so devastated that, although he will put up a damned good fight for a couple of years, he will eventually start to drink heavily and lose jobs. There will be screaming. There will be rage. So here’s the thing, Jerome: don’t try to suck it up and play the tough guy, because there has been deep damage done you. Get your ass to a shrink NOW, not ten years from now (as you will). Might not be a magic bullet, but at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with.

To put the icing on that sodden cake, you will marry for all the wrong reasons and make two people profoundly miserable and guilt-ridden for almost a decade (see above: shrink).

After that, fate will pretty much leave you alone and sometimes even smile upon you. What will your career be like? I’ll let you find that out, too.

As I look back at me (i.e., you) I am often chagrinned at what a high opinion you have of yourself. I don’t mean you’re a jerk or a narcissist, Jerome. Far from it; there’s a lot of good in you. But you often think you command the moral high ground when actually you’re just being a prig and a moral bystander. Sooner or later, as you make the mistakes that we all do, you will wince about that. And deserve it. Please try not to be so damned judgmental, ok? By the way, you will be well into your thirties before you can claim some maturity, and even then it will be touch and go for the rest of your life.

I guess that’s about it, lad. Is this where I’m supposed to say I love you? Well, I’ll say it, even if it is metaphysically suspect. I love you, young Jerome, and I’ll be waiting for you. I think you’ll recognize me. Oh, and for the next couple of decades especially, try to do your thinking with your brain, ok?

Old Jerome

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