You forgot to tell me how hard this grown-up thing would be.
I found all the letters you wrote me over the years in your tiny fairy cursive. Don’t worry, I’ve kept them safe in a heart-shaped box with all the other junky keepsakes that I wouldn’t let Mom throw away. Your tiny letters are too special to me. In a way, I think they’ve shaped me.
You started writing when I turned 7- or 8-years-old. My friend Kaitlynn had a fairy, Star Dust, whom I met at a sleepover, and then I learned that I had my own special fairy. So I wrote to you, asking you to come and be my friend.
You wrote back right away. You told me your name was Tillie.
We kept writing back and forth for years. I would leave you a note by my bed, then you would fly into my dark room while I was busy dancing in my dreams and you would leave me a little note in your tiny cursive. You came when I wrote with news of feeling happy, sad, angry, or confused. You came when I wrote to you, and you were never late. You left me little presents, like gold earrings for your “Golden Girl.”
You asked about my family like you already knew all about them. You taught me to keep my room clean, how wonderful it is to share, and why I should be kind to my little brother: “Try not to ever hate him. Having a brother is special.”
It turns out, you were right, Tillie, about the whole brother thing. I blinked and he grew into a man who is kind and smart and protective. He shaves and carries a briefcase and earns a paycheck. And the second I need him, he answers the phone and he hears me and he rescues me.
You were pretty sneaky, Tillie, teaching me to say sweet things to my parents: “It makes them happy! They work so hard for you.”
Over and over again, you wrote, “Remember to smile!” as if you could already see all my future tears.
“Don’t forget, keep smiling and the world will smile on you!”
I don’t know, Tillie. Sometimes the world just doesn’t smile. Maybe you left that part out on purpose.
The day came when you told me you had to leave, you had to fly on to the next little girl because I was too big for you, my precious little fairy. I hope that you are with a very special little girl who needs you there for all of her dark little nights. One time you told me that you were late because you were busy with sick little kids. I hope that, if that’s true today, you’re teaching all those sick little kids that they are never alone in this scary world.
You told me that girls usually only write at my age when they need to talk.
“Do you need some advice?”
Yes, Tillie, I need some advice.
“I’ve been looking around for you. Why and when did you move?”
I’m right here. I grew up, learned to drive a car, went to college, got a job, started paying bills, and moved far away from home. I’m sure it’s hard to find me, thousands of miles down the road from my family and my childhood years. But keep looking for me. I’m right here.
I grew up year by year, decision by decision. Why? I did it because you told me that’s what you do, you grow up and you learn how to smile.
Once or twice, you taught me how to show my friends that you were real, how to help them believe in something so tiny that you’re impossible to see. You told me to wear the locket that you gave me to show them, all the people who couldn’t believe, that you were real. You told me to keep your little notes, that all the little letters made beautiful little words that I could keep forever to remember all your little lessons.
I kept them safe, Tillie. They are beautiful little stories that I promise to tell the next little girl.
I’m writing to you now, even though you told me years ago that I was too old. I’m writing to you now, just to see if you’ll come. If you see my note, if you hear me, will you let me know? There have been other things, other people, along the years that didn’t respond as quickly as you always did. They didn’t always come when I cried.
This grown-up thing, well, it’s hard, Tillie. It’s harder than you ever told me.
And, Tillie, just one more thing…
I forgot to say thank you.
Even though you didn’t tell me how hard this big thing called life would be, I know that you tried — you really tried. You did the best that you could to prepare me for the winding and bumpy road. You were always there for me, you answered every tear-stained note, and you loved me in the tiniest yet biggest of ways.