If I Meet My Past Self

She checks her makeup one more time in her wardrobe mirror and smooths down her skirt. It doesn’t look that great, she sighs to herself. But whatever, I don’t have time to fix it. Scurrying around the bedroom, she grabs her phone and wallet before making her way down the stairs, half-walking, half-running. She was always slightly anxious whenever she had to speak to someone she didn’t know quite well. But this time, it was different. She had to speak to someone she knew well, almost too well, a person that haunted her present and neuroticized her future, adamant to never be forgotten, determined to never be jailed in the recesses of memory. The teenage girl locked the front door behind her and climbed into her car. She was driving all the way to meet her 11-year old self.

The little girl sat on the park bench, watching the birds swoop toward the lake embankment, waiting; perhaps a little impatiently. She was finally going to meet her 19-year old self soon. As someone who longed to break free from youth and enter the thrilling voyages of adulthood, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imply that she was, in essence, waiting for her messiah. Lost in her thoughts, she was startled upon hearing grass crackling next to her. She looked up, holding her breath, and met the eyes of an older girl: round-faced but not too round, short but not too short, a little out of breath, flushed, meek but earnest. Even if she hadn’t known at all who this was, she knew she was looking into her own eyes the moment they flitted downward for a fleeting second, the way they always do when she gets nervous.

“Hi, I’m sorry I’m late. Bad traffic,” the older girl smiled apologetically.

“It’s okay.” The young one responded. She smiled back. “You’re wearing makeup!”

The teenager laughed and took her backpack off before sitting down on the bench beside her younger companion.

“Yeah. My hair’s also shorter than yours. It used to be so long,” She said that last part with a subtle wistfulness.

The child glanced down at her hair in surprise. She didn’t expect the older girl to recall anything from her past with even a smidgen of warmth.

“Yeah, but it’s so frizzy. And I have so many baby hairs at the top. Sometimes I want to cut them all off, but Mom says that’ll make them stick up more. You should see the girls’ in class’ hair. One girl has smooth, straight hair and it’s kind of blonde but a little brown. It’s so pretty, and I wish my hair looked like hers and,” she peeked up at her elder self who was visibly trying to hold back laughter. Her sparkling eyes betrayed her amusement.

“Sorry. Was I rambling?” she asked, embarrassed.

“No, no, it’s fine. I ramble too. And anyway, it was cute.” She reached out to her budding self’s forehead, smiling, and gently poked at the baby hairs sticking out at the top. The teenager remembered trying everything to tame them: hairbands, hairspray, furiously tugging at them and glaring at the mirror. She stopped smiling. It seems like such a bizarre thing to fuss about now, but at the time she hated those baby hairs with every fiber of her little being. She also hated her chubby cheeks, and her nose. She really hated her nose.

The teenager shook the memories away and looked back at the little girl.

“So, am I what you expected me to be?” She asked her.

The child took some time to ponder this, eyeing her future self as though she were analyzing a map.

“Yup.” She smiled finally.

“…really?” the elder girl probed. “You fully expected yourself in eight years to look exactly like me?”

The little one bit her lip and glanced downwards. “Well…okay…not exactly like you. I thought you’d be taller. And, I don’t know, look a little older? But!” she exclaimed this last part with her hands in the air. “I still think you’re pretty.”

The elder girl laughed and replied with what she always replies with when given a compliment about her face.

“Thanks, but it’s the makeup.” She grinned.

The child stared at her older self.

“So…you don’t think we’re pretty?”

“No, no! I do, just like, I don’t know, the makeup helps. You know what I mean,”

“So, if you took the makeup off right now, would you still call yourself pretty?” the child pushed.

The teenager looked uncomfortable but nodded.

“Yeah…yeah, I would.” She looked like she was trying to convince herself.

It didn’t work.

“I thought my future self would be more confident.” The little girl said quietly, looking down. Tension blew past the two in an icy breeze.

The teenager’s discomfort slowly shifted to irritation.

“I’m confident, okay? At least more confident than y-,” She stopped herself.

The young one looked up and glared at her aged reflection.

“You’re a liar. A big liar! And your nose is too big!” At this, the child held her breath, eyes wide, and then burst into tears.

The older girl watched her younger self’s face crumple as she cried, frozen with mortification. Suddenly, she couldn’t hear anything anymore. The wind stopped blowing, and the birds ceased to sing. All she could do was watch the child she had neglected for eight years shoulder the same burden she was still shouldering today. She pulled the little girl into an embrace, and the child wept in her arms. The teenager’s own face was streaked with tears.

“I’m ugly,” The child sobbed.

“I’m ugly, too,” The teenager whispered.

The child lifted her head from her older self’s shoulder and looked up at her. The grown girl released the growing one from her hug. “I think I’m better with makeup. Like because I look better, I just am better,”

The teenager wiped at her cheeks and looked down at the smear of black on her fingertips. She smiled bitterly, then looked back at the child.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to come see you.”

“But you said there was bad traffic,” The child sniffled, unknowingly.

The grown one shook her head.

“The road was clear.”

The little girl took these words in, gazing at the tear-streaked face of her future.

“You’re different from what I thought you’d be,” She mused. “But I like you,” she smiled bashfully.

Her future self was taken aback, and her heart swelled with the bitter sweetness of guilt and love.

“If you like me, then that means you like yourself too. Even a little bit. Because,” The adult reached out to the youthful girl’s head and tugged gently at a single baby hair before doing the very same thing to herself. “We’re not that different.”

The child giggled.      

“You know, your makeup is all messed up now. But even without it, I don’t think you’re ugly.”

“Then you’re not ugly.”

The child huffed. “Why can’t you just accept a compliment!”

“Why can’t you?” The grown one challenged. 

“Stop copying me!”

The bloomed laughed and looked at the blooming fondly. It was in this moment, amid her happiness, that she looked the loveliest; vanquished makeup and all. It was in this moment that she realized she didn’t really feel ugly. The realization didn’t come so much as a surprise, but more a gentle reminder. 

“You know…” She began, looking to the side contemplatively. “I always thought I had moved on from being you. That I was more confident now. I didn’t want to remember…well…being you. Being someone who constantly wanted to be someone else. That’s why it took me so long to come and speak with you.” She looked up at the little girl, eyes dewy like the petals of a sunflower in spring. 

The child nodded quietly. 

“But when I finally met you again, I realized in many ways I was still insecure. I don’t feel as pretty without makeup, I already told you that. And sometimes I’d still look in the mirror and think, ‘jeez, my nose is so big,’” She exchanged a small smile with her younger self. “But I think I was wrong before. I’m not ugly.” The teenager said this determinedly. “And neither are you.”

The child tilted her head to the side. “Why not?”

“Because. When we’re happy those cheeks of ours get all rosy. And we have all these laugh lines on the side of our eyes. We have a birth mark on the side of our hairline that we think is cool. We have our mom’s smile.”

The child sat, captivated, listening.

“Without our nose, or our chubby cheeks or our baby hairs we wouldn’t be the same. And its when we’re happy that we realize we want to be the same. I don’t want to be someone else anymore.”

The teenager clasped the hands of the child in her own. 

“I’m happy I was you. I’m glad I was you. I’m still learning how to be more confident, and yes I do wear makeup, but I wear it because I like it. It’s all ruined now but I don’t feel ugly…I think it’s perfectly okay to wear it as long as you recognize you’re pretty without it. I might not be completely there yet but,”

She smiled radiantly at her past self. “I’m on my way.”

The child, filled with newfound hope, held out her hand and folded her fingers so only her pinkie remained.

“Pinkie promise me. That we’ll get there someday.”

The teenager held her gaze as she returned the vow. 

She smiled and appeared to be preparing to make her leave, when the child tugged at her shirt.

“One more promise! Before you go.”

The teenager smiled. “Go for it.”

“Promise you’ll come visit me again?”

The teenager tightly embraced her youthful self once more.

“I’ll visit so often you’ll get sick of me.”

Now it was the child who beamed luminously.

“No I won’t.”