Our 2nd in the ‘Letter to My Younger Self’ series is from Rita O’Brien. I met Rita through a writing course in Lucan Library, South Dublin. You’ll see some of Rita’s fun and poignant work on the Lucan Writers blog. She’s also on Twitter @ritaobri
Over to her…
Ah, Rita, look at you sitting there – surrounded, God love you, by mini-mountains of books and copies and jotters piled up on the dining room table. I’d feel more pity for you, though, if you hadn’t got Radio Caroline blasting out of that little PYE transistor radio beside you. You can’t seriously be studying, now, can you? If you were, you’d never, ever have managed to learn every single word of every song in last week’s Top 10, which you obviously did, judging by your impression of Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and The Hollies while your Mam is gone to the shops.
Less than a week away from the Inter Cert and you’re surprisingly calm and relaxed in yourself. For some unknown reason, you’ve always enjoyed doing exams, though the Mocks weren’t exactly what you’d call a walk in the park! Well, just wait till you face the real test in two years time. It’ll be some help having only 11 other girls staying on in your class to do the Leaving Cert, but apart from the stress of trying to get as many Honours as you can, there’ll be the huge emotional upheaval you’re going to experience afterwards, when yourself and your schoolpals part company after 13 years together. It’s not as if you can all keep in touch by phone because most of those girls’ families would go hungry if they were to try to save up the three hundred pounds installation fee, let alone afford the monthly rental. And you can forget about meeting up regularly with them, too, unless you’re going to get two buses, at least, to take you over to the other side of the city where your Mam sent you to school. When you’ve got a family of your own, that’s something you’ll look back on as part of her legacy to you. Your children will be sent to the local mixed school where most of the neighbours’ kids – boys as well as girls!! – will be going, end of story.
At the moment, you’re imagining yourself, at 18, going off to do charity work in some Godforsaken part of the Third World, but I’d give that one a miss, if I was you, until you’ve at least survived a week-long mosquito attack, coupled with heatstroke and food-poisoning, in Majorca or Fuengirola. You’d love to get into hairdressing, either, except that your Dad won’t hear a word of it – ‘That’s only for girls who haven’t the brains to do anything else’, so he says, with the result that you’ll end up doing the round of entrance exams to get a job in the Civil Service or in a bank or insurance company, and you’ll take the first place that you’re offered. That ear-to-ear smile when you get the Civil Service Commission letter will soon be wiped off your face when you start work in the Tax Office. Talk about a culture shock! As the only Dubliner in an entire department full of people from outside the Pale whose sisters or brothers will come further down the panel than you, you’d better not expect to be welcomed with open arms. You’ll hate it but you’ll stick it until something better comes along.
You’re under the impression now that, between school, home and your neighbourhood, you’ve already encountered all the personality types you’re ever going to meet. Well, you’ve seen nothing yet, girl! When you go to work, you’ll be lucky to find lifelong friends and the odd date, but you’ll also meet people at all levels who will be driven by their own agendas, needs, ambitions and priorities. They’ll manipulate, inspire, exploit, influence, upset, mentor, frustrate, impress, torment, support, infuriate and bore you beyond belief. Whether they will realise it or not, though, you’ll learn from every one of them. It’ll take time, but you’ll eventually understand that learning what not to do will be every bit as valuable to you in life as learning the opposite. You’ll have no problem standing up for yourself, and for others, if they need you to – a year or two in a trade union head office will instil that in you, amongst other things.
The years ahead will bring you lots of joy and surprises as well as sadness and disappointments, but I’ll guarantee you this much: decades from now, you’ll look back with an amazing sense of pride and fulfilment at how you handled the setbacks and even used them to your advantage at times. Naturally, you’ll take the greatest pleasure from the happier events in your life, particularly the ones – and there will be a few, believe me – that will creep up on you unexpectedly. You’ll come to your own realisation that the best things in life are, indeed, free. If you’re in any doubt, just get yourself and your two daughters (now, there’s a surprise for you!) down to Glendalough for a walk around the lakes, or take a spin to Rosslare to sit for hours overlooking the harbour, have an hour-long chat with your sister on the phone or invite your pals around for a laugh and some group therapy washed down with a glass of wine or a cup of decaf.
Right now, you’re wishing that you could have a crystal ball to see what the future may hold for you, but what would be the point in that? For starters, the surprises would be well and truly ruined. And, because you’re always underestimating your abilities, you’d never for a single minute believe that you’ll possess the inner strength and determination to overcome the few knocks and shocks along the way. It’d be like telling you that you’ll soon find yourself in Arnott’s front window, that you’ll get to meet a woman President of Ireland, face-to-face, in the Aras or see the Pope in Parkgate Street, that your Ma will be two-timing when she’s 73, or that you’ll still be going to Cliff Richard concerts when you’re 60 (which would make him, yes, 73!!).
Throughout the future, you’ll make choices and decisions where your heart won’t even let your head get a look-in and only time will tell whether you were right or not. You’ll be contented with whatever you have, wherever you live, because the most important part of your future will have nothing to do with material things. From the day that you give them life, your daughters will be the centre of your universe. Every major step you’ll take forever after will be driven by their needs and hopes. Nobody else on Earth will ever make you as loving, as happy, as loved or as proud as they will. And you’ll be delighted to hear that, unlike yourself, they’ll be blessed with the company and friendship of loads of cousins, so you’ll have plenty of family hooleys to look forward to. Having your Ma around until she’s 82 will be the icing on the cake. You’ll miss her stories and laughs and advice so much after she passes on, but you’ll never, ever be able to remember her without smiling. And in no time at all, what do you know but your first grandchild will bless your already charmed life? ‘God’, I bet you’re saying to yourself, ‘I haven’t had as much as a kiss yet and she’s going on about me being a Granny’!
Even now, I can’t tell you everything you’re bound to want to know, but be sure of this one thing: you will, one day, find it in your heart to forgive Maxi, Dick and Twink for ruining your chances of celebrity stardom when they gate-crashed your Opportunity Knocks audition in front of Hughie Green in Parnell Square last year. ‘Maxi, Dick and WHO?’, says you!!
If you want advice for the future, the voice of experience would tell you to have fun, to enjoy the twists and turns along the road ahead of you, to have no regrets, and to get back to studying your French grammar, because you are just going to love Paris more than anywhere else in the world!
Your older and, hopefully, wiser self. xxxxx