I wish I had trusted my adult self to be gentle and understanding


Written by Ali McClary

I remember you with a softness that belies the urgency of the original feeling. It was awkward and all consuming. We were too sharp then, all hips and elbows, both in possession of a body that couldn’t make its way cleanly through doors or around tables. Our young flesh was perpetually bruised as we made our clumsy way through life. The shyness between us was punctuated by brief moments of wild courage. An admission here, a declaration there. Always words and never touch.

The distance between that unblemished, innocent feeling and now feels vast. But when the sun broils and limbs stick to limbs and eyelids are too heavy, I remember. Isn’t it strange how the languid summer months coax those days to the surface? 

Those memories are as bright and thin as crepe paper. They are liable to tear if I work them over too much. But if I don’t sort through them I fear they will pass over to a dusty corner of my brain. A rarely-visited nook that houses, among other things: cigarettes twos-ed down to the filter, headphones tethering two listeners, bottom-of-the-class shame, cheap make-up over acne, notes passed in teeming corridors.

Those notes we gave each other, you and I. They were love letters of a kind. Why didn’t I keep them? I filled entire books of you and me and everything in between but they’re gone now, along with your letters. I was forever purging as a teenager. I was embarrassed of my own voice and I could never leave my written thoughts in the world too long. I was terrified of rereading and finding something unacceptable or ugly in them. I would burn whole notebooks, feeding my scrawling into a small fire in the kitchen sink. 

I wish I had trusted my adult self to be gentle and understanding. Now, I would give almost anything for that perfect time capsule of furtive words of teenage love and pain. A memory can be added to, shaped and buffed into something so far from the original but the written word captures those feelings and moments, in all of their unfiltered glory.

I find myself increasingly lurking in the in-between these days. Antidepressants keep me hovering over a darkness or a lightness, I can’t tell which. My memory seems more unreliable than ever and I yearn for those earnest documents from my teenage past that could tell me what I lived through. Perhaps they could act as a road map for me now.

A friend got in touch recently to send me photos of the notes, short stories and letters I’d given her back when we were 14 or 15 years old. Just like that, vignettes of my life were laid before me. All that we shared came back to me: the smell of lip gloss, the taste of forbidden Archers found in parents’ garages, daft art projects, hair-dyeing sessions in cramped bathrooms and love. Not the awkward crushes I poured into those notebooks but the fierce, enduring and silly love I felt, and still feel, for this friend. 

Not all of my love letters and scribblings are lost after all. Some sit half forgotten under childhood beds in shoeboxes, waiting to be found by a friend who loves me.

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