When I was 17 I graduated from high school.
I was full of ideas for a life but no real plans. I wanted to go to college but had no idea where or why or what I'd study when I got there. I wanted to see the world but didn't have the money or the means or the nerve to simply jump out there. I wanted a lot of things but didn't know what those things were. The future was one big question mark.
I knew even less about myself than where I was going. Which, as I think about it, is probably why I had no idea where I was going. I could probably place the blame for all that lack of self awareness and direction squarely on my parents, I mean it isn't like they did what I saw other parents doing - pushing, encouraging, supporting, making connections, being involved in their children's lives and education, helping them plan, discover, see the possibilities in life - you know, what parents do. Mostly, I think because they lacked direction themselves, even then - so what could they really do for me? Each probably did the best they could with their own life experiences and what they had within themselves; I can't really fault them there.
My father, being so proud of me, would tell me I could do or be whatever I wanted. I know he meant it. I know he believed it. And if he had known how, he would have given me the world to do with as I wished. In my father's eyes, there was - and still is -very little I could do wrong.
My mother also told me I could do or be whatever I wanted. I think she meant it as well, and she probably believed it. She just wasn't going to help me make it happen. (No one had done it for her, right?) She had her own life to discover, although she was full of helpful advice - "You should...", "Why don't you...?", "Why didn't you....?" - but whatever it took to get wherever it was I was going, I'd have to get myself. (Good luck to ya, call me when you get there.)
So there I was. And here I am. I've traveled many miles in between the two points; if I could go back now to where I was then I'd have plenty to say. (Oh, my goodness, the things I'd say and explain!) I'd probably draw a map, wall-sized and color coded, with Xs for important spots and circles with lines through them for places to be avoided at all cost. I'd probably draw charts and diagrams illustrating the Good versus the No-So-Good Choices to be made. I might even make a giant poster with pictures of the people to pay special attention to (stressing those to hold dear) on one side and all the people to steer clear of (especially those to run screaming from) on the other - not unlike the FBI's Most Wanted list. More than anything I'd tell myself to tell my sister how much I love her as often as I can - to laugh with her, to sing with her, to just be with her - because her journey ends long before it's right or fair. I'd make a point of saying there will be many losses - some more painful than others - along the way but losing my sister will be the most grievous and haunting. In spite of the losses, though, there will be joy and happiness; I'd make a special point of urging her to live in those moments, to take them in and gather strength from them.
I could probably talk to my young self years longer than I'd actually lived to that point, but, to be honest, I doubt the me I would be speaking to would change much about her journey even after hearing all I have to say. And that's okay. Every mile of the journey between there and here made me the me I am now. It wasn't always a journey I enjoyed, and it certainly wasn't a journey I expected or even might have asked for, but it has been a real life. A life lived with genuine hope and despair, the deepest loves and the most painful losses, giant steps forward and serious backsliding. A life of weaknesses that have made me stronger and lessons that have made me wiser, often at great price. The twists, the turns, the bumps, the ditches, the rest stops and the historical sites along the way have been worth the price to arrive at this destination. It may not be perfect, and it probably wasn't perfectly lived, but it's perfectly mine.
And I'm okay with that.