There is a Ticking Coming From Inside My Body
A Letter To My Former Self
There is a ticking clock inside of you, even though you may not hear it yet. Now, the steady beating of time is dull and inconsequential. You are too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as Mom would say, to feel the weight of this invisible timer.
You are young and so sweet, playing with your Barbie dolls. Cutting their hair off, dying their scalps black with thick sharpie markers, and hanging their decapitated heads from your bedroom ceiling — you’ve always been so avant-garde.
You’re not thinking of body image, or drugs and alcohol. You’re not thinking of boys or how your parents don’t understand you. The pain of inadequacy has not yet begun to weigh you down. These worries are dandelions feathers awaiting liftoff.
At twelve, the most popular girl in school says that you cannot attend her birthday party because you’ll eat her out of house and home. Twenty other kids hear her loudly proclaim this. It is buckshot through the heart, slow and impossible to run away from.
A few years later, you’re thrown against a concrete wall by the school bully because she doesn’t like the hairstyle you are wearing. Luckily this does not dissuade you. Instead, you learn to avoid those who might disapprove of your eccentric ways.
Embarrassing doesn’t begin to explain how it feels when Ms. K sits you on her lap in front of the class as she tells you and the other 26 kids in the room that you’ve received a failing mark on that morning's maths test. You cry, and everyone stares at you awkwardly. “Not all people can be smart, sweetie,” Ms. K says.
Billy calls you Loser Lindsay, and you laugh but then ask to use the washroom and sob in a stall for half an hour until the teacher tells you it’s time to get back to class.
Grandpa Gary forgets your name. He’s just had a few too many beers, Mom says. But it still makes you wonder if you’re really that insignificant.
Stepping onto a new school bus and having the pretty grade ten girls in the back seats shout, “Look, here comes the trailer trash!”
You drop out of school at sixteen. You run away from home. Maybe Ms. K was right. Not all people can be smart. Perhaps you can’t stand the bullying any longer. But at this age, the reason doesn’t matter.
For the next three years, life is a long slog of working at a Kentucky Fried Chicken chain-store to make rent. You see things that a sixteen, seventeen, eighteen-year-old shouldn’t have to see. Loved ones leave. You lose a baby. Rumours spread. You learn what it means to shrink.
Right now, you imagine me as confident.
Self-actualized in the way that only the old can be. You think I will be able to accomplish anything one day. You are so free in your daydreaming about the future, an enviable quality.
It’s a curious thing thinking about what may come. What may come is always imagined more grandiose than it turns out to be.
I want you to know that despite my failure to become what you once imagined me, your life will be remarkable. You will love unconditionally. You will always be the first to laugh at a bad joke. You will find romance, even if sometimes it’s in the wrong places. You manage to rummage up happiness at every turn. There will be ups and downs and many hard times. But you are resilient.
Many years later, you will be going through one of those hard times. You wonder how you’ve managed to squander your ambitions away. You will look around, and although your life is filled with the wealth of a loving husband, beautiful children and friends, these splendours will be hard to see.
There is a ticking clock in your chest, and you know that any day an alarm will shrill, telling you it’s too late. You’re too old, too fragile, too set in your ways to accomplish anything more.
You quietly try to ward off that faint ticking with projects. Manic fretfulness consumes the part of your brain that is searching for meaning. The clock becomes a part of your daily life. Whispering then screaming that you must push harder, learn more, be better because if you don’t, your dreams — those freedom fantasies from long ago — will have been for nothing. Because despite your happiness, something is missing.
It occurs to you that the only way to uncover this riddle is to expose yourself. So, on a rainy Sunday morning, after you’ve walked the dog and fed the children their breakfast, you sit down at your computer and write a letter.
It’s an apology letter. A confessional giving insight into why you’ve made the choices you have. This letter is a life relived, the hurtful moments you’ve hidden from finally aired. It is an admission of acceptance. Laying flat the humiliation of years past and admitting the necessity for self-acceptance.
This letter, you write, is a tool demonstrating that your strength, this tenacity to learn and grow, comes from the experiences that you’ve been lucky enough or unlucky enough to bear.
As you breathe relief onto the keyboard, you realize that the ticking clock you’ve been so afraid of is not a clock at all. It is the constant tallying of moments spent becoming you.