38 isn’t old, but it’s a lot older than I ever thought we’d be. It’s not like we grew up in a time and place where statistics predicted your outcome, we just didn’t have a plan for 40. Or 38. 25 either. Right now you’re 18 and feeling like the world is yours; to this point, life has been as close to perfect as it can get. In a month, you’re going to go away to college, not where we planned originally, but after some thought it seemed to be the best place for you. I’ll let you in on it now, you’re both right and wrong. The reason you stayed close to home is because of Mommy, but you had no way of knowing it would happen so soon.
You’re going to move in a month from today and she’ll be gone a little over a week after that. It’s our first interaction with death, certainly not our last, but it’s going to hurt. Let it hurt, but don’t let the pain consume you. Get up, go to class, get food, go to sleep at night, tell those girls to go back to their rooms, continue to go to counseling. The level of grief you feel is going to cause you to make a lot of bad decisions in the next few years if you don’t get stronger. Death is a part of life. It hadn’t been before your 18th birthday, but it will be for the next twenty years. Trust me. You’re going to lose Kai, Stephen, Ronnie, Shaukar, Roshanna, Grandma and Grandaddy all before you turn 30. Perry, Aunt Nor, Reggie and Red (you don’t know her yet) will all follow.
Even more, Tupac is going to die two days after Mommy, Biggie a few months later. Rick James, Luther, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince are all going to go as well. You’re going to grow quite familiar with loss. I know that’s hard to imagine, because all you’ve done to this point is collect things. There’s those action figure in the blue bag in the closet, the baseball card, the magazines, the books, the friends, the memories. You’ve held on to so much that it’s going to be nearly impossible to let go.
We should’ve had this talk a few months ago; I would’ve told you it’s okay to let basketball go and to pursue other interests and dreams ahead of what you’ve loved as long as you can remember. The pounding your body is going to take will have an effect on you later. I wish you could see yourself getting out of bed in 2016. All of those loose balls you dove for and screens you ran into have taken a toll on your body. Don’t send that denial letter to NYU, accept it, despite the price tag and chase after those words you love. Shortly, you’re going to lose sight of everything you’ve ever wanted for yourself and spend years trying to remember your dreams.
You know this already, but that young woman whose bringing those brownies later is not going to last. Although there isn’t much distance between the two of you, your lives are going in separate directions and that’s okay. For the time, you guys were good for one another. The next few situations are going to be complicated. But, you have to be better with women. Listen to me. Better. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, it’s going to go left in a matter of weeks. You’re smart enough to not be so stupid in this area. Take the time to listen to them beyond what you want to hear, understand their struggles go deeper than yours and learn what the world looks like through their eyes a lot sooner than I have.
Be a better man than the men you see. Take the best of them all, mix with the best of you and be that. You don’t have to be one way all of the time. You’re so many different things to so many different people and that’s okay, it’s all you.
We’re still a couple years from our first drink, but you should probably wait a few more years before you have it. You’re going to spend too many years telling your secrets to the bottom of vodka bottles. There’s going to be a lot of money and time wasted on the things the liquor will ask you to do. Drinking is going to pull you further away from those dreams, prioritize the moments instead of the fun and speed past the years you never imagined having. It’s not worth it. At all.
You’ve got to believe again. Grandma spent too many years praying for you just to have you lose your faith. You don’t always have to understand, but you can’t carry anger with you for so long. You’ve only made it this far because of those prayers. Our mother had us at 14, we’re not supposed to be headed in any of the directions we’re going. If that ain’t God, I don’t know what to tell you.
It’s hard to imagine, but each year, you get to tell your 18-year-old self how to be better. You get to correct the mistakes you’ve made and challenge yourself in ways you didn’t the first time. You understand the fear that lies in potential, so the teenagers you work with are your chance to get it right. It’s hard to imagine, but you spend your time around young people who actually listen to what you have to say and your experiences will go a long way to helping shape theirs. Listen to them, find the spaces that need to be filled, notice yourself in them and you’re going to be just fine. It wasn’t your dream job, but what was? We never quite figured that part out. Well, we spent a lot of time dreaming, work wasn’t something we considered much until it hit us in the face.
There’s a lot of life between where you are and where I am, so live it. You know the world you live in, use your voice to speak for those who can’t find the words. You come from a family of fighters, channel that energy towards helping people get free. In a few years you’re going to tattoo “Freedom” on your arm, make it mean something for people other than yourself.
At 26 you’re going to meet the woman you’ll marry. It won’t happen for another six years, but you’re going to learn that love is possible. Sure, you’re going to experience love, but this time it will be different. Your life is going to change, those dreams will start to come back and she’s going to help you grow. Help you be better than you’ve ever been. Getting to know her and falling in love with her will help redirect you. In fact, if I were able to give you this letter, your life would go in a direction that may not allow you to ever meet her. So, forget just about everything I’ve told you, because she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you and I don’t want to chance waking up at 38 and she’s not next to me.