Growing Up

I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory. – Mitch Albom

It’s amazing how my childhood bedroom – which used to be my only sanctuary of semi-privacy, where I could be my absolute self – is suddenly a storage room for my dad’s guitars and watercolor paintings. It’s barely even a memorial to some kid who doesn’t exist anymore. The books that once changed my life are suddenly “cute.” I can’t decipher the metaphors in old folders of school assignments, I can’t comprehend why something as hideous as this lamp would dare to exist, I can’t remember what led me to attempt a mural made of pencil drawings on my bed frame. This room is a time capsule, a museum exhibit, a complete mess.

First task: eliminate any and all clothing that rings even the tiniest bit pubescent. I keep catching myself mulling over sweaters and being all, “Oh, this is still good! I got it during my freshman year of high school! That was only… five years ago.” Nope. Goodbye, tank tops with broken lace. Ciao, good-intentioned tops that look pretty on hangers but don’t cover my boobs. I’m forcing myself to toss anything emblazoned with an embroidered seagull or designed for someone awaiting her first period.

It bewilders me when people talk about how much they wish they could be five years old again, or seven, or nine, as if those were truly “simpler times” without stress and sadness. I don’t think I’m a particularly negative person, and yet many of my memories of elementary school are of nervousness and frustration and guilt. I specifically remember an incidence at the beginning of first grade, when the teacher told us to take out a sheet of paper and write down all the words we knew how to spell. This was my opportunity to prove myself. Just thinking about it, I can still bring back that feeling of all-consuming pressure. I was sweating and hot all over, and I was pressing so hard that my thick pencil lines were black and feathered. Do people just forget when they grow up? When they envision being six years old, do they only see sunshine and bike rides and sidewalk chalk?

It’s the same – only significantly worse – with middle school. Adults too easily cast those years off with a wave of the hand, throwing around cliches like, “Oh, it was awkward, but it’s over” and “It’ll go by faster than you know it.” Perhaps when you’re middle aged, and the past thirty years of your life have been relatively stagnant with regards to your career and living situation, middle school can just seem like three awkward years. But when you’ve only been alive for thirteen years, and you’ve only had an email address for one, and different teachers for two, and you wake up on a random morning to – surprise! – breasts, it’s not possible to simply grin and bear your metalshop teeth. Hearing that “this too shall pass” doesn’t help, because a minute is an extremely long time when you’re living it.

And then there’s high school. You mostly look like an adult. You can drive a car like an adult. You can buy cigarettes, you can vote, you can have all the babies your classmates can supply you. But you can’t go to the bathroom without written permission from some lady with a bad perm. Your friendships are transient and subject to change. You’re expected to make life-altering decisions, but you have to be home by eleven. Even for the good-looking, athletic valedictorians, being a teenager can be lonely and painful.

I have never had a difficult life. I’ve had the same close friends since before I could make phone calls, my family is supportive, I’m healthy and white and financially secure and American. Yet, I’ve still had long stretches of time in my life when getting into the shower was an excruciatingly difficult task. I’d find myself silently repeating all day at school, like a mantra, I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home, and then, when I’d get home, I’d think, I am home. Why do I still feel nothing?

It tormented me to hear people say that it would get better, but it does. The freedom of being an independent, autonomous adult is really under-appreciated. You’re a person, rather than a prop in other people’s lives. It’s a more complicated and thoughtful process, but it’s better.

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