Dear Teenage Hyacinth,
As a writing prompt for bloganuary, WordPress asked me what advice I’d give you.
If I could go back in time and meet you, we could go to a Starbucks and I’d buy a decaf coffee. I know, I know, you’d be mad at me for not buying you “the real thing,” but caffeine isn’t what we need, and we both know it. We’d find a table in a corner. If the place was too busy, we’d go outside, even if it was really cold.
I’d sip a London Fog and you’d grudgingly taste your DECAF white chocolate mocha and declair you could taste the lack of caffeine through all the sugar and white chocolate syrup and espresso flavor. I’d smile and watch you polish it off and agree to buy you a second one if you sipped it more slowly so we could talk.
After the new coffee was on a table (or in your hands if we were outside), you’d look at me nervously and ask, “Why are we here? Is it because of that WordPress thing you mentioned on the phone?”
“Partly, but mostly because they asked a good question, and I’m here to answer it.”
You might squirm around, look everywhere but at the adult version of yourself, and maybe even rummage in your bag, pretending you needed a Kleenex rather than acknowledge that you maybe kind of sort of wouldn’t mind to hear just a teeny tiny microscopic little piece of advice.
A man passes us, either looking for a table if we’re inside or carrying his coffee to his car if we’re outside.
I wait for him to pass before I say, in a low voice so she’ll have to work a little in order to hear me, “Learn everything you can. It will stand you in good stead when you grow up and become me.”
She looks at me with no attitude and bursts into tears.
“What’s bugging you?” I ask, keeping my tone calm and level.
“I can’t,” she manages to say.
I dig in my purse and fish out a package of Kleenex. She takes it, wipes her eyes, and takes a sip of her drink. I take a sip of mine.
“I can’t concentrate at school.”
“Because of all that stupid caffeine,” I say.
She nods and says, “I know, but it’s so hard to get up and out the door if I don’t. Besides, it tastes good.”
“Okay. Try to get up at the same time every day. Yes, even on weekends.”
She stares at me like I’m crazy and says, “But I don’t get up until noon on Saturdays. I mean, there’s like, nothing to do in the morning. Everybody else is sleeping.”
“Mom isn’t. Dad isn’t. Okay, he might sleep until nine, but Mom gets up around seven most of the time, but why am I telling you that? You know. Reward yourself with a coffee if you get up at eight on Saturdays and Sundays.”
I pause, not wanting to talk too much and have her zone out.
We sip our drinks for a bit.
“Is there more?”
“Yes. Go to bed at the same time every night.”
“But Emma’s always texting me.”
“That’s okay. Say goodnight and turn on Do Not Disturb. You can set it for certain hours. Wait, we didn’t have cell phones when you were my age.”
“You’re right, but I think it should be when you were my age. I mean, Emma calls me at about nine and we talk until midnight sometimes. You remember Emma, right?”
“Of course. She’s doing great, but this conversation’s about us. So give her a time, say 9:30, and then say goodnight. You can talk to her at other times.”
“But we’re always so busy.”
“Slow down, Hyacinth. Huh, it’s strange calling you by my own name. Anyway, take a breath, relax. Study on Saturday mornings instead of sleeping. Learn as much as you can before you become me. I want to become a well-known author, and I can’t do that if you’re sleeping until three and staying up until midnight talking on the phone. I also can’t do that if you’re drinking so much coffee that you can’t concentrate. Life’s all about moderation with a few exciting and scary parts, just like a novel, except life’s real, and we only get one shot at doing things right. You can rewrite a bad sentence, but you can’t remake a bad decision. I’m not,” and I shake my head vehemently, “saying don’t have fun. I’d never deny myself that. I’m just saying learn as much as you can, and if you can’t concentrate at school, there’s something wrong and you have to look at things instead of forging ahead hoping it’ll all get better with time.”
I look at her. I’ve said too much. She’s somewhere else, and hasn’t heard me. I touch her arm.
“Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, that’s all I was saying.”
The word is spoken doubtfully, as if I’m a child asking Mom to start a big project when she already has a million things to do and knows the kid won’t help much.
“I’m serious,” I say. Please try it for a month. If it doesn’t work, you can always laugh at my bad advice and do things your way.” I polish off my drink. “I’d better go. This time travel business is complicated, and I don’t want to get in trouble with the Happiness Engineer who promised me a couple hours talking to you but said the system was slow, due to high demand. Before I go, promise me you’ll try. No, promise us.”
“I’d better not promise anything,” she says.
“You can promise to try. If it doesn’t work, you won’t have broken any promises. Try it for a month. Please.”
She smiles at me, drinks the last of her coffee, and says “Thanks.”
It’s not a promise to try, but I’ll just have to hope that I’ve learned enough to become the person I want to be. Besides, it’s never too late to learn. I’ll stop learning when I stop breathing. I must still be that young woman, sitting there in that café, so sure that her hair will never turn the color of my last name, and so determined to live life in the now, instead of in the when or then. I am her, and I can be her, but not give up what I’ve learned since.
Now, as I consider the advice my younger self might not have taken, I can take it, and it’s almost never too late to change things. All I can do is to keep writing, revising, and publishing my stories.
P.S. I love writing prompts. They take me places I didn’t know existed in my imagination. Thank you, bloganuary.