Sep 4, 2008
I blinked hard, feeling the sweat beginning to bead in my armpits. “God, please don’t let me get sweat stains!” I pleaded silently. My face felt flushed. I stared at the computer screen a moment longer, composing myself.
“Huh?” I asked, summoning all my dusty third grade acting skills, and pretending I hadn’t heard the question. Swiveling my chair to face him, I finally met his gaze as he leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands on top of his head. Looking into those grey-blue eyes, I felt the heat rise into my cheeks again.
“Are you, like, super religious, and sheltered, and stuff?” he repeated. It was really more of a statement than a question, because we both knew the answer. The chair squeaked lightly beneath his weight as he swiveled back and forth, regarding me with a look of cool insincerity.
Suddenly, it seemed like the most important thing in the universe that he consider me the complete opposite of “sheltered” and “religious.” This boy, two years my junior, and the most cocky, arrogant bastard I’d ever met, was also my boss, on whom I nursed an enormous crush. This boy, who worked tirelessly to create an airtight veneer of confidence, yet was completely lost, confused, and afraid, like all of us post-college drifters.
Somehow, even back then, in my more naïve, fresher-faced days, I could sense the insecurity hiding beneath his casual attempts at conversation. But I saw what I wanted to see: a slim, tall, broad-shouldered guy with a great sense of humor, and a great deal of composure. I admired his work ethic (which seems laughable, when you consider that a few months after this conversation, he crashed his brand new Infiniti into a parked car, stole all of the money from the petty cash box, and was never heard from again), and I stood in awe of his easy manner. He seemed so sure of himself, and I fell for it hard.
After a brief hesitation, I unloaded story after story about the time I drank tequila in my dorm room, skinny-dipped in the moonlight with some guy friends, and I recounted a slew of ex-boyfriends. Tossing pearls before swine, I wasted precious nuggets of very personal truth — tales of the milestones that carried me further along the path to who I later became — on a person with no internal ability to appreciate them. I divulged secrets not entirely mine to tell, struggling to prove to this disinterested boy that I understood the harsh realities of life, that I was by no means “sheltered, and stuff.” Mostly, I tried to convince myself, and him, that I had grit. I could use the F-word in casual conversation. I could handle myself in the wide world.
And afterward, all I felt was ashamed.
Dear Joey and June,
Your dad and I talk a lot about how to keep you sheltered from… everything. If I could, I’d keep you warmly cocooned in my womb until you’re at least 30, sparing you the pain and discomfort that pave the road to “growing up.”
I wish for you to get only the best parts of your father and me — my drive to overachieve in school, my nerdy addiction to spelling bees, and Lord of the Rings, and my casual disregard for the social and sexual realities of middle and high school. I also hope you’ll inherit your dad’s affinity for shirking arbitrary rules, cutting loose, and living according to your own standards, not anybody else’s.
Maybe we’ll get miraculously lucky, and you’ll both sail through school with your noses in books, making friends with kids who play violin, participate in math decathlons, and argue the finer points of Dungeons and Dragons. But, at some point, your horizons will inevitably expand, and you’ll glimpse the darker, more painful parts of the world.
Your dad and I didn’t have cell phones, or Facebook. We had to deal with issues like three-way and prank calls made on actual land lines, mean words scrawled on notebook paper and passed around the class, and an occasional party where the cool kids might pass around a Zima or two. For you, the social landscape will be different. You’ll encounter things like “sexting,” prescription drugs, and every single social slip-up plastered across social media.
Whatever the challenges you may face, don’t make the same mistake I did — don’t fall for the illusion that partying hard, having sex with a bunch of people you barely know, or saying “f*ck” a lot makes you mature.
You don’t automatically become tough, or wise, when you choose to do something you aren’t comfortable with, and trust me, it won’t guarantee your entry into the Cool Kids Club. You’ll find that it isn’t what you choose to do, or not do, that makes you cool. The real, authentic confidence that comes from making your own decisions, in your own time, when you’re ready — that’s cool. None of the other sh*t matters, trust me.
I want you to know that being labeled “sheltered,” or “religious,” or any other lame term isn’t a bad thing. At 22, this “sheltered” Christian white girl maintained a certain precious innocence that a bored, shattered 20-year-old couldn’t fathom. My sexual and social inexperience embarrassed me, but let me tell you something — they were a gift.
Someday, you’ll both likely be given some arbitrary label.
Folks who don’t completely understand your gifts, or value them, will instead make fun of them. Don’t you ever let some a*shole make you feel less-than. You’ll realize later in life that the ridiculous labels others assign to you aren’t, in fact, about you. Just wear them proudly, and don’t ever be ashamed.
All my love,