(Inspired by TraciLee.)

Hey Mandy version 1998,

Congratulations – you made it through freshman year of high school, and you’re about to be a sophomore. This year’s a good one academically; in thirteen years, when you’re 29, you’re still going to remember stuff you learned in Mrs. Steinbach’s English class. For some reason, you’ll also remember reading Of Mice and Men in class and learning what “bastard” means.

I'm 11 in this picture. I had to look up the release date for Super Mario Brothers 2 to figure that out.

Sanders, Steinbach, Caudill, Davis: your four English teachers are the reason I write the way I do today. I know you don’t know what you want to do career-wise, and you won’t until way after college, but you’re really good at geography. That comes into play when you start traveling the world in a decade or so. Your writing skills come in handy, too.

When you become me, you’re going to look back on your high school years and realize you were more yourself with your teachers. You were kind, funny, and you didn’t worry about them liking or not liking you (except for Mr. Maclaskey) because you were yourself. That’s why, at your high school graduation, going through the receiving line of teachers after getting your diploma is going to take a long time. You’re going to hug and chat with many of your former teachers, and you’re actually going to need to rush to sit before the final students are called. Your high school teachers see you and your potential before you ever do.

The first of many hugs. High school graduation in May 2001

So yeah, hi. I’m you in thirteen more years. Right now you’re self-conscious and painfully naive. You won’t recognize your naivete for a very long time, and once you do, it’s going to completely blow your mind. Don’t worry about it, though. You’re surrounded by your friends, and you’re happy, and your naivete will become a source of humorous anecdotes in a decade or so.

Ah, marching band. We had a lot of fun.

Despite your nearly cultish beliefs thanks to band Bible study (not kissing until marriage?), you turn out pretty decently. You’re not a painfully underconfident, awkward teenager anymore.

Right now you look at RK as a competitor. No one really knows that you do, but as much as you enjoy being friends with her, all you want to do is beat her at something. Let me tell you – in high school, she wins. She’ll always have a higher class ranking than you do, she becomes drum major, the boy you like likes her, and she’s friends with all the cool people. This will be a major source of bitterness for a while.

You're still friends with Randall after all these years. And you're still a ham if there's a camera around. Junior year of high school (1999-2000)

Believe it or not, it ends up making you better. Your grades, your popularity, your crushes: all these ways you found yourself lacking landed you where I am today. If anything had been different, I would be different, and I don’t think I’d be okay with that. I had to be where you are to become me.

You’re going to hit a bout of depression your sophomore year of college. You’ll go through some rough stuff family-wise. Your weight is going to skyrocket, and you’ll look back at pictures and videos and wonder how you never saw just how chubby you were. Your makeup is a nightmare until halfway through college. It takes you way too long to muster the courage to pluck your eyebrows, and once you do, you go a wee bit overboard.

Thanksgiving 2003. Life was pretty difficult, but everyone survived. And you eventually stop looking like a beady-eyed marshmallow.

You’re going to start figuring things out. You’ll find out who you are. You’ll stop trying so hard to be everyone else, and you’ll just be you, and you’ll see that people like you. That’s a few years down the line, but you’ll get there.

Eventually you’ll trip into feelings you’ve never felt before. You won’t know it at the time, but it’s love. It’s going to come flying out of nowhere. You’re going to have friendships with incredible people, and those friendships are going to fill your life with joy. Your sister’s going to be your best friend – after so many hard years, she’s going to be better than okay, and she’s going to be a lot prettier than you.

The awkward girl in the Thanksgiving 2003 picture is a statuesque blonde in 2005 or so. Yup, that's your sister. She figures out fashion and makeup a long time before you do.

Mad is going to be the most important person on your planet, and that planet will alternately feel very, very big and very, very small.

By the way, you move to Taiwan in 12 years. No, it’s not by India. That’s Sri Lanka. I said you’re pretty good at geography – not a genius.

Keep chugging along. I don’t have it all figured out, but I like myself. You’ll get here, but you have to go through all the other stuff first.

-and yes, the acne starts going away in college. Drink more water and use facewash with benzoyl peroxide – that’s going to be your secret weapon.

Mandy version 2011

I'm wearing a Super Mario hoodie in my classroom in Taiwan. I couldn't have tied this whole post together any better if I'd planned it. (Winter 2010)