How I learned to love my teenage self

When I was seventeen, I took every single diary I’d saved since elementary school and ripped all of the pages out.

Just looking at the books with their fuzzy pink covers and gel-penned insides made my stomach hurt. Trapped in my own angst, I could see was how hard it had been to be young, and to be a teenager. Nothing seemed easy, or fair. My own responses to the world, written as they were in curly green letters, were nauseating; I’d always been too dramatic, too tearful about silly things, too easily hurt by the cruelties of bullies and thoughtless friends. It was hard to see my own pain written down.

Sometimes, it’s a gutting feeling to look back.

But now, 23, I cherish the parts of a younger me that still I have left. I still have shoeboxes under my childhood bed that survived my attempt to destroy this version of me. The shoeboxes that are stuffed with notes I passed in class with my best friends. The tape keeping them shut (they are truly stuffed) is crumpled and hardly sticky anymore because of how often I open the boxes when I visit the home I grew up in. I always stumble upon these boxes when I’m trying to clean out my childhood bedroom so my mom can tidy up. I fill up a few bags with giveaway clothes, and then I remember the boxes and am distracted for the next few hours — I can’t bring myself to part with them.

I spend those moments surrounded by the things I loved a decade ago and I read the quick and messy scrawls, documenting how my friends and I felt then — lost and nervous and always wondering what life would be like when we were grown ups.

Now, as an adult, I actually miss those diaries. I wonder what I would have seen looking back. Would I still feel a pang of hurt rereading about that time the boy I liked chose someone else? Would I still be just as horrified by three-way phone calls and inappropriate jokes and embarrassing moments? Would I still laugh at the quizzes my best friend and I pasted inside of the journals we used to exchange, wondering which member of which boy band was right for us, or which haircut or eyeshadow color would totally transform our lives?

My younger self wasn’t someone to be ashamed of. She was just new to all of this. She didn’t know how to do life, and, to be honest, I don’t really know now, either. She had some things that I’ve lost along the way as I’ve aged, like a confidence that never flickered even as she rocked glittering graphic tees and half blue/half green eyeshadow (thanks, beauty quizzes). She was better at putting herself out there than I was. More willing to make a fool of herself. And still softer, somehow.

But as anyone who spends loads of time reminiscing and trying to solve the mystery of past selves knows, this softer me isn’t gone just because I’m older. She still speaks up from time to time, batting thickly-coated lashes and waving to cute boys in the hallways. And I’m glad she’s still around.