I grew up beside two neighborhood girls.
I grew up beside Kimber; summer freckles, a small, prominent nose, and hair the shade of dirty sand resting quietly on her shoulders. She lived in the pink house next-door. Kimber grew up beneath big-sister Kellie. Kellie was blonde and sassy and opinionated. Her eyes intently focused on her cell phone as she absentmindedly discussed boys and "Color-Guard" drama with us. I use the term "discussed" loosely, sometimes I wondered if she might keep talking if we quietly slipped away to finish our jump-rope. Sometimes we'd lay on the lawn, our dolls forgotten momentarily, and watch as she flipped her hair and her pole around the perimeter of the yard, throwing and catching and dropping and throwing.
I grew up beside Michelle; honest, auburn hair, and eyes that took in the world for what it was. She lived in the yellow house down the block and through the fence. Michelle grew up beneath big-sister Jessica. Jessica was sophisticated and animated and constantly moving in and out and out and in. She was distant and untouchable and I think all the neighborhood girls silently resolved to be her one day; prom-dresses and Chap Stick and heels. The whole nine yards. Once she went on a trip, and Michelle and I wore her clothes to school. I walked through the halls that day feeling like a million billion dollars.
I am Rachael. I lived in the white house on the corner of 1400 north. I didn't grow up beneath a sister. I grew up beneath two older brothers. They spit watermelon seeds and recruited for football and night-games. Our fingers were orange from the cheese of Nacho Doritos and our legs ached from attempting back-flips in the front-yard. I was competent in Pokémon, Nintendo 64, and Game-Boy Color. I could hold my own in a game of steal the flag.
If I could write a letter to the little sister, to the girl in the white house, to the watermelon spitter and steal-the-flag runner, if I could write a letter to my eleven year old-self, this would be it:
Dear eleven year old self,
1. One of your friends is about to walk up to you on the playground today, and shatter your previously unshakable childhood confidence. There you were playing "team tag", hiding behind the trailer, minding your own business, when her sixth grade self decides to walk up to you and explain; "Flare jeans are totally stupid. You need to buy different jeans." Well guess what, sixth grader, it's twenty sixteen and apparently flare jeans are back in style. (Wait, really though is anyone else repulsed by the thought of putting a pair of flairs back on?? Hahaha, I was walking in the mall the other day and I was like; what!? I seriously can't believe it. Get your flare on people.)
2. Do not stand up in the middle of class and argue with your teacher about whether or not a negative number is possible. "But... if you have a negative orange, that means you have ZERO oranges, NOT negative one orange! If you have negative that means you don't have any, there is nothing there!" Just assume that you're wrong and Mrs. Adamson is right. Trust me on this one, having negative amounts of money is totally possible, you'll understand that later in life.
3. You're about to write a little short story titled "My town, American Fork." It's going to be relatively mediocre, but because everyone else scribbled something down so they could get out to recess, you're going to win your elementary school a new playground and you're going to win yourself seventy five dollars. Now stop right there. I know this is the greatest amount of money you have thus far seen in your life but do not, I REPEAT, do not spend the entire check on Wal-Mart stretchy cheetah leggings and cotton t's. They look terrible and those leggings will suffer a terrible stain from a melty cherry popsicle. Go buy a pet iguana or something, I know you've always wanted one.
If I could write a letter to my eleven year old self I would tell her to forget every word I just said and to remember one thing; slow down.
I would just tell her to slow down.
Take a little longer to lace up those muddy sneakers, watch the clouds as they lazily drift across the blue of the summer sky, eat a melting popsicle. Sit on the rocking chair next to Mom, ask her about the chrysanthemums, orchids, tulips, and snapdragons. Slip your goggles back on, and spend a little extra time perfecting your underwater cartwheel. Don't be embarrassed about attending the 'Yule Ball' in the yellow streetlight of your front-yard, and for heaven’s sake let Josh have your Charzard card; (he'll use his collection to buy Chelsea's ring later.) Hug your Nanna Betty once more before you leave, take an Andes mint out of one of those dainty glass jars. Warm your hands against that wood-burning fireplace--you won't have it for long, remember the smell of vanilla on Mom's wool sweaters and the sound of Dad's voice singing bed-time songs. Gut pumpkins and dunk for apples, color hand-turkeys and learn to throw a football. Stay awake just a little longer to see the twinkling Christmas lights, watch as the shadows dance across your bedroom wall. Let Georgie hold your hand as you walk across the street, and feel the sunshine freckle your nose as you finish the last bite of that snow-cone.
I would tell her that I know that life can get a little difficult sometimes. Mrs. Hadfield will have you in for lunch on multiple occasions for detention (in my defense, I didn't mean for the gum to actually stick in his hair), math can be frustrating and difficult, and your brother's Autism is beginning to affect, well, just about everything.
But then I would explain that Mrs. Hadfield will teach you everything you need to know in life, math will always be frustrating and difficult, and your little brother's Autism will shape you into the woman you are today. I would tell her that although the cheetah leggings are horrific, she'll never forget that afternoon shopping with Mom. I would tell her that she was right about the negative numbers; the world probably needs a little less of those. I would tell her that the sixth grader actually ends up becoming one of her life-long best friends.
I would tell her that life is too quick and too fast and too short to worry about flare jeans, and for now, just for today, all she needs to worry about is squeezing her Nanna one last time, and holding Georgie's hand across that crosswalk.