A Letter to a Future Version of My Girlfriend’s Son

Dearest Z.,

Now that you’re older and maybe what the world calls “grown-up”, we can finally talk about what is really going on here, ie life, the real nuts and bolts of this whole charade.  I think we can all agree on one thing: it aint easy.

I hope things are clearing up for you now.  I know that, last summer, you were going through quite a few strains of some sort (as most of us do in our mid-twenties, and many folks do so forever) and I expect, like many another, you’ll spend your life oscillating between fierce relationships that become tunnel traps, and sudden escapes into wide freedom when the whole world seems to be just there for the taking.  Nobody’s solved it, at least not at your age.  You can solve it as you get older, when you’ve reached the point that you’ve tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things, and need certain things less, and you have a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.  Then sometimes you can solve the oscillation, but even still.  Life is extreme.  I met your mother when I was 36, but to me, 36 felt like both 80 and 18.  She was roughly the same age–as she still is today–and we felt like the oldest kids who’d ever lived.

That was a very curious remark you made to me in your last letter (where did you send it from, anyway?) about how you still felt, occasionally, very childish, in certain situations, how you are never sure how you are as an adult.  Z., don’t you know about people  this first and most crucial fact: every single one of us is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child.  To get beyond the age of about eight is not permitted to this primate–except in a very special way, which I’ll try to explain.  When I visited you this summer in Adelaide, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am.  And your self-reliance, your independence, your general boldness in expressing yourself to new people, is the sort of real maturity that not one in a thousand ever come near.  Your mother Karla has it, always has, which is why I can never look away from her when she is near.  You understand.  But in many other ways obviously you are still childish–how could you not be, you alone among mankind?  It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis, a sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master your own inner storms, your unexpected inner storms.  But not many people realize that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them.

Everyone tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with situations that threaten to overwhelm it.  So everybody develops a whole armor of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outside world, and the immense crush of circumstances we are forced to encounter.  And when we meet people this is what we usually meet: their armor that doesn’t know it is hiding a child.  And if this is the only part of them we meet, we’re likely to get a rough time from them, and end up making “no contact”.  But when you develop a fine divining sense for the child behind that armor, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that, in a sense, everybody becomes like your own child.  Have I perhaps talked you in a circle, Z.?  It’s a very intangible thing I am trying to say.  When you try to communicate with that child hiding inside other people, they, too, sense what it is you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, and you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.  All of the tremendous things I have been credited with and all the monstrous things I have been accused of during the course of my life have all been the result of me reaching inside my armor to my eight year old–or trying to talk to the one inside others’.

Usually that child is a wretchedly isolated underdeveloped being.  It’s been protected by efficient armor, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs.  It has never properly lived, just crouched inside while the waves battered  it.  That’s how it is for almost everybody.  And that little creature is just sitting there, behind the armor, peering through the slits.  Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self.  At every moment, behind the most efficient-seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging at the brim.

This is what I thought of during your troubles last summer, and as I read your most recent letter.  Of course you still feel like a child.  The oldest man in the world still does; he still is.  The key to dealing with it is to understand it and to communicate with yourself.  I’ll tell you a story, but I’m not sure what it means in this context: when I was very young–maybe 4 or 5–it had just recently snowed quite a bit.  This was when my family lived in the small town of Newville–remember Grandpa and I drove you past that ancient yellow house the April you got married–and the snow was piling up on our front sidewalk.  My mother got me suited up in a massive snowsuit and set me free to build things out of the fine powder.  We had a gnarly old gentle Dogwood out at the edge of our front sidewalk, and I built a big hill of snow up all around it.  I wanted to make a slide that I could zip down (away from the street and toward the house, of course).  I made the hill as slide-like as possible but it just wasn’t slippery enough.  I suddenly had the idea to pour water on it and turn it to ice!  I ran inside and asked my mom for some water.  Naturally she asked me what for.  When I told her my plan, she informed me that hot water would work better.  My mother wanted me to believe that hot water freezes faster!  Of course I didn’t believe her, so she bundled up and came outside with me, with one cup of cold water and one cup of hot water.  I am sure you already know she was correct.  I was baffled, but amazed!  What an odd, unexpected way for the world to work.  For many, many years, this was the most interesting fact I knew.  I don’t remember how my slide turned out (probably poorly, as most things built crudely from snow do).  Of course I now finally understand the mechanism at work there–it has to do with how quickly the molecules are moving and how susceptible they are to change.  Just about everything has to do with this.

I don’t know why that story should stand out to me so, except that as I wrote this letter, I kept going back to that moment.  Z., I suspect that is who I am–that exact boy, outside with the snow slide, learning rudimentary science.  Everything after that has been a construction of an armory around him.

Do not feel so alone, Z., and don’t worry about how old you act.  Your mother and I are here to understand you, even if we are children ourselves.  But to take the first steps, you must feel who you are inside, sense who is peering through the slits in your visor, and then try to find that little child in everyone you meet.  Only then will your experience be real.  And that’s how we measure our real respect and love for other people–by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate and enjoy.  Enjoy it, Z., enjoy it enjoy it enjoy it.

All my childish love,
Seth

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7 Responses to “A Letter to a Future Version of My Girlfriend’s Son”

  1. This is so special, my dearest.

  2. Cory Warchola Says:

    This is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written.

    • Cory Warchola Says:

      I’m highjacking my own comment because I wanted the above commemt to stand alone. This speaks volumes about how much you care for this child. That makes me so proud of who you’ve become as a man. Respect homie.

      Also, even if you didn’t intend it to be as such, this has got to be one of the most romantic love letters ever written. Karla, you hold on to this one!

  3. This beautiful piece shows exactly who you are! I have more admiration for you than ever!

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