So what exactly does being a teenager entail? Being a teen means having your first kiss with a super cute guy who knows that you’re awkward and geeky but does not care. It means late summer nights at bonfires on the beach with rad friends and swell tunes. To be a teenager is to have a Cinderella moment and transition from awkward to beautiful in time for your young adult stage. At least according to every teen film ever made.
So yeah, I’m an extra in a lot of films. Pause during any classroom scene, you know where the pretty (unbeknownst to her) protagonist is making eyes at a guy who will neverrrr notice her. In fact, pick any of the extras in that scene. That’s me. I’m not being self deprecating when I say this; having been out of commission for many of my teenage years has made me feel like a ghost. I watch a lot of cinema and read a ton of books, so I know that by the time you are 20 you are supposed to be away at university acquiring a whole new set of life skills. I mean, even Andy in Toy Story is seen driving at the end of the third installment. So where does that leave me? I’ll be 20 in a few hours, I live at home while attending university, and I have yet to experience one of the aforementioned scenarios.
It leaves me trading one set of standard storylines that will never happen for another set of standard storylines that will never happen.
I live 25 minutes from Canada, so everyone looks forward to being able to legally drink when they’re 19. When you’re 21 you can legally drink in the States. “There’s nothing special about turning 20.” My friend told me once. I was shocked. To me, everything about my age represents who I am (I have no real examples, but that’s what I tell myself).
I ask my friends what’s it like to “be on the other side, to be 20?” once they hit that magic number. Everyone’s answer is similar: “not much different than being 19.” I don’t believe that. I might be the only person on Earth, but I genuinely feel different every birthday. There is this unspoken bond between you and society. With each year, you are supposed to emotionally grow. Now that does not mean everyone does, but regardless, it is expected.
I can’t tell you what it’s like right now because as I write this I am still 19, 3 hours to go. I really waited until the last minute to make this as authentic as possible… no, in all sincerity, as with most things in life, I procrastinated until the last second to do this. (Some things never change.)
When I picture a young woman in her early 20’s, I think of the HBO show Girls. Will my life be like that? Almost exactly, except I live in Michigan with my family, and okay, no, it’s nothing like Girls. My point being, I get these weird ideas in my head. These expectations, both good and bad. My teenage years were nothing like Freaks and Geeks, despite living in a suburban Michigan town. Isn’t it priority to have an exchange like the following, at least once with your parents? I feel like if you don’t, then you’re not a proper American kid, you know the one where they question you and you yell “I’m not a kid, you can’t tell me what to do!!”
Curse all the teen angst I had but never used.
So much of my identity seems wrapped up in my age. I spent youth being overestimated in years and now I’m at this weird point where people can’t tell if I’m 16 or 25.
Some of my favorite novels are about teens and I’m going to be older than them. That’s weird thing to think about. It’s like when Peter Pan sees Wendy all grown up. My favorite stories are timeless, but I’m not. This has taken an ominous tone, but that is not my intention. In my head, it’s more matter-of-fact. Legally you are a child until you turn 18, but seeing as I was very ill off and on for the last few years, I haven’t grown up at the rate I would like. The list of things I haven’t done is longer than the list of things I have.
My general lack of knowledge in regards to teenagers is probably because I spent most of those years pretty ill. What I know, I only know from what I watched or read. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but there’s always going to be a piece of me that compares what I’m doing to what I should be doing (according to Hollywood standards). I was always behind my peers, but with my lupus and arthritis at bay, I can spend this next era being right on par.
So what now?