On July 7, 1977, 77 WABC radio in New York was a music station that played an endless round of Top 20 hits. I was a 20-year-old driving my parents’ blue Chevy Impala to pick up my 14-year-old sister Lucy, who was helping out at a dusty riding stables not far from our house in Rockland County, NY. Because the date was 7/7/77, 77 WABC had been giving out prizes of 77 dollars throughout the day to callers who answered questions I can no longer remember. It was a beautiful day, and the wild, tall, orange tiger lilies that grew abundantly in every roadside ditch in Rockland County were particularly lovely in the late afternoon sun.
I’d probably been driving to pick up my sister many times that summer, but I don’t have a marker for any other day than July 7, 1977. I remember the dog/perfume/hot-plastic-seat smell of the car, the texture of the steering wheel, swathes of tiger lilies on my right. I had already finished two years at Sarah Lawrence College, and was going to Paris (Paris!) in September for my junior year abroad. I was stupidly in love with a boy called John. I knew all the refrains to the songs on the radio. I had probably been working that day at the college mail center, really abusing their mail trucks because I didn’t know any better, because in those days of economic crisis, it was the only summer job I could get. I was happy.
Almost every year since, I’ve vaguely noted July 7, and how many years have slipped in between then and now. Whenever I see tiger lilies in bloom, or even photos of them, I can feel myself being that 20-year-old, singing in a hot car.
Well, suddenly that was 40 years ago.
There’s been a fashion recently in the media for famous people to address their young selves. It’s a pretty pointless exercise, I think, because only young people could possibly benefit from it, but they certainly don’t listen. I wouldn’t have done, driving along South Pasack Road toward the Diamond E stables, toward the future.
There’s no point in fortune-telling. My tiger-lily self wouldn’t have believed that my father would soon be dead, that I would fall totally out of love with John, that I would leave the U.S. and never return, that the meanest time of my future nights would torture me with the memory of Lucy in her coffin, that my hair would eventually turn gray, and that I would like it.
I probably wouldn’t have heeded the practical advice: buy shares in Apple! Stop going on diets! Learn how to write computer code!
And my tiger-lily self wouldn’t have understood the most important advice I can offer now, either. That is, to try to understand, and bite your tongue. I would tell my young self that you can make dreadful mistakes of all kinds that will sooner or later right themselves, but you will never stop regretting the pain you cause with words. I’d say, don’t snap in judgment, in envy, in fear, in spite, in anger, and out of pride. My young self was too uncomplicated to understand all that, or to foresee how often she might wound. Imagine a life where you’ve never said anything you regret! To never have to reproach yourself for the expressions of hurt or disappointment you cause.
When I “graduated” from 6th grade, at about 12 years old, and went on to junior high school, the thing was to have a little autograph book for friends to write stuff in. Most people wrote “Luv ya!” or similar, but my mother, who thought that sort of thing was sentimental rubbish, wrote “The future lies before you like a field of driven snow, be careful how you tread it, for every mark will show.”
Boy, how right was she? I guess, with that, advice from the future had already been given to me, and I just thought it was very curious indeed.