Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Feeling Old in your Youth

The first time you book a ticket, go to an airport, collect one boarding pass (yours), check a bag (yours), and fly to another city with just a sweatshirt over your shoulders and a backpack at your feet, you start to feel old. You use the term “mature” because now you are capable of travelling alone, and this brings you one step closer to being adultlike. You call yourself “independent” because God help you if anyone sees how young, and helpless, and trembly you feel inside.

When you old your first salaried paycheck, and you realize that the term “benefits” really means Price Tags That Make Regular Living Almost Affordable Instead of Impossible, you feel a little older. You realize that there is so much more your parents handled with while you were growing up, so much more that you didn’t know about or ever conceive of, that it seems astonishing anyone would ever decide to have a child. It disgusts you to realize how sheltered and protected you were in those moments when you felt so invincible, so self-sufficient, so autonomous. You smirk at teenagers with their all-knowing eye rolls and confident struts. Even in the vastness of your newly discovered ignorance, you feel so much smarter than them. So much older.

Then girls you went to high school with start posting Facebook pictures of their newborns, and you’re caught somewhere between feeling very old and very young: old because your peers are now mothers, will be wheeling strollers in a supermarket, will wash baby socks and spit-up bibs, will carry diaper bags instead of purses; young because you’re still browsing Facebook and because they bothered to put these pictures up there, right next to the ones of their ex-boyfriend shoving one ping-pong ball up each nostril in front of several other bleary-eyed boys laughing over the rims of their red plastic cups in the background. Still, you have officially joined the ranks of Women, because no one who gives birth to a baby can still be called a “girl,” can she?

And then your best friend tells you she’s engaged. And you start talking about reception venues and bridesmaid dresses and what old friends deserve invitations to the wedding. And that’s when you really feel old. Because she’s the first, and she won’t be the last, and even your sister is already nineteen and has been dating her boyfriend for over four years. It doesn’t matter that you have never had a boyfriend or that you can remember each and every date you have been on with utmost clarity; your friends and family members are going to be leaving this lifestyle of call-me-on-the-weekend-to-catch-up, getting married, having children, buying houses. You’re twenty-two, nearly twenty-three, and you can already see the unit called family morphing into this new being, and the definition of the word friendship changing to “maybe I’ll see you in six months when you come into town for my baby shower.” Is this what you envisioned when you were eight and dreamed of living the lives of your babysitters? Is this what you wanted back when you couldn’t wait to grow up?

You can vote. You can drink. You can watch all the R-rated movies you like; you can even watch X-rated movies, if that’s your thing. If you live in a city, you have no reason to rent a car, so that’s no milestone. The things you are waiting for now are things you would rather forget are going to happen: wrinkles, joint pain, memory loss, stock market investing. But you’re twenty-two! You have your whole life ahead of you! But that’s what they said when you were sixteen, and when you were eighteen…. When is it no longer your whole life and only a part of your life that’s left?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My dear,

You are only as old as you feel. Your friends who morph into the Cleavers will have the complete opposite thoughts from you. They will wish that they could pack one bag and go on a whim. They will long for the trips that didn't have to include potty stops for the boys and "where's the nearest McDonalds." I probably have had some of my clothing for over 23 years. i'm told that fashion comes back into style every 20 years or so. I think we're due up for parachute pants and Kangaroo's. We both have a habit of not giving ourselves enough credit.