You must be six-years-old by now. Although I am pretty sure that you would not even know how the “E” of English sounds like, just try your best to follow.
Even though there is an eleven-years age gap between us, I do have something to say to you.
It will be those normal days where you would hop out of your school bus, hold um-ma’s hand, and skip your way home. With those pigtails, rosy cheeks, and shiny eyes, you would ask um-ma to get that new flavor of chips from the store. You would pull um-ma’s arm, insisting that it would be really tasty. You would sob and throw a tantrum because all of your classmates tried it, except for you.
And when refused, you would turn away. Head low, shoulders limp, tears warm.
You would cry that night, only to realize that it is just the mere beginning of a long journey ahead. The pretty little Barbie dolls, fancy little frocks, shiny new sneakers, sweet chocolates, colorful storybooks. Things will start to drift away from you. Further away than they ever did, with no hope of return. All of them will say their own goodbyes in time, despite your desperate prayers to God.
You will stop putting your head low.
Your shoulders would no longer be limp.
Your tears will dry.
You will learn not to desire.
In the summer when you turn eight, you will already be used to the “no desire, no expectations, no demand” system. But do not be too sad about this, because this will bring more joy.
In the days when you will be digging in the charity room of the church, pulling out clothes as if the room was your extended closet, you will find joy in finding fitting clothes. It will be fun. I assure you that. You, your siblings, and um-ma will have your own fashion show, starring yourselves. Blue, black, pink, and white. All of your favorite colors will be aligned before you, waiting for you to own them. Not many will fit, but it will be completely fine.
You will grow into it.
By the end of the summer, you will return back to India, only to find out on the night of your return that your family does not have a house. Turns out that the house owner does not want to receive any rent from your appa.
On the cold hard floor in your family friend’s house, your little brain will think. It will be a hard night, I assure you. Thoughts will rush in like waves, drowning and choking you under the storm. Thinking that this madness might get better if you go to um-ma, you will step out of the stuffy room and go to the living room, where the lights are on. This will be one of your biggest mistakes yet.
“But why does he not want us?” Um-ma will spit out those angry words in a hush.
“Our rent was not enough. He wants higher rates,” Appa will sigh as he says.
The second wave will devour you. This time, it is not your thoughts. It is your emotions. In that little heart of an 8-year-old, tears will fill up and stanch out from your eyes. You will go back to the room, trying to melt into the sheets so that your parents will not hear you. The storm will hit you harder than the previous one, forcing you to bend and break inside like a powerless reed in a hurricane, piercing your heart until it aches. Choking under your own breath, you will shudder in pain as you realize the power of money.
This will be the first death you feel. The death of your financial ignorance.
You will start to clench your hands tighter as you pray in desperation. Asking God for help. Asking him if he can help um-ma and appa. Asking him whether your family has hope. This will stop soon once you realize that your prayers are worthless.
By the time you are 10, you will start asking your mom to buy less, spend less, and save more. When she puts more vegetables in the cart, you will hold her hand with a firm gentleness and say, “Um-ma, don’t we have enough food at home?” You will stop going to malls, avoid going out for dinner despite your father’s invitation, and resist from sharpening your pencil to save up money.
After a couple of years of stacking and saving up, your parents will bring up some surprising news.
“Don’t worry about money anymore,” appa will say.
“We have leisure money with us now,” um-ma will say.
“Is that what you had to say?” you will ask.
“Don’t you worry,” they will say. But you wait for more. You know that it is not the truth. They stare right into you, trying to insist that you are fine. That you, your brother, and your sister are all going to be fine. That everything is going to be fine.
That very same night you will make another mistake. Choked under the dryness of a summer night, you will head towards the kitchen wanting to quench your thirst. Drowsy and dizzy, while you are trudging towards the bight kitchen absentmindedly, you will soon realize why the lights are on.
“I think we should sell our car,” appa will say.
“How will you go to work then?” Um-ma will ask.
“Don’t worry. There will be a way. Let’s pray to God. We will be fine”
With a sinking heart that will harden, you swear never to ask for anything. You swear to never trust their words. You swear never to feel financially secure. You will finally understand why Money is God.
Despite the fact that your aid for education will grow unsteady, you will learn how to compose yourself on a shaky surface. You will.
You have to.
While believing in education, you encounter a Woodstocker and hear about the scholarship program which gives aid to financially deprived students. This is when you will want to come to Woodstock. This is also when you will start studying crazy day and night, spending all of your time reading or memorizing one more word from the textbook. This will be the time when you will kill yourself just a little bit for a better cause.
This will be your second death. The death of the human inside to be reborn as a study machine.
In the year 2015, you will receive admission at Woodstock. You know that despite the scholarship which they are providing, this will still strain your family’s finances. You go for it anyway. Giving an excuse that this is that one thing you have demanded since you were six.
Fancy clothing and high-tech electronics, pretty dresses and accessories, huge bags filled with food and clothing, and most of all, whiny teenagers greeting you on the day you arrive. Encountering the scenery of everyone demanding more from their parents while ignoring what their hands are filled with, you feel uncomfortable. This will continue when you see people order clothes from Shein despite their overflowing closet. This will continue when you hear people scream at their parents because they are still using the iPhone model from last year.
Grim face and stern eyes, what troubles them? You will ask yourself. They have clothes. They have devices. They have food. They have the luxury which you secretly desire. They will have all that you ever wanted. But the expression on their faces will show no difference from yours. Discomfort will prick you again, and this time, a little harder. This will continue throughout Middle School and High School.
2 a.m., July 9, 2018. You will make your third big mistake. It will be about a week before you come back from summer break. In all excitement, it will be a sleepless night.
“We might need to sell our second car,” appa will say.
“Is it that serious?” Um-ma will ask.
“No. It’s just the fees. The scholarship really does not help. I was thinking of asking her to pack her clothes and come back,” appa will say.
This will be the third death you will feel. The absolute death of desire.
You will return to school. Things will be the same. People will have grown more mature by then, but nothing will really change. People will want more. People will want better. People will want the prettiest. The nicest. The most expensive. The best.
In the monsoon of 2018, you will realize the true form of the discomfort that follows you. That it was the truth trying to let itself be known,
Money is God.
But it is us, who worship it, unable to suppress our desires.
From your 17-year-old self,
Inspired by Quentin Richardson’s “Letter To My Younger Self.”
Victoria Lee is the 1st Person editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Rohan Menezes and Hyenjin Cho