On the last day of my freshman orientation week in August, I went to my first college party. I had to dress to impress; that’s what the invite said. Personally, I thought it was going to be a party with pizza, movies and board games, while going wild on grape juice. I don’t know what your idea of a wild party is, but I did not expect people to have so much fun in an abandoned warehouse, or to encounter people so drunk that they broke their heels from tripping.
The abandoned space my friends and I were in was pitch dark, except for the two multicolored rotating disco balls that projected weak lighting from the garden table that I assumed was supposed to be a second-rate DJ booth. The combination of the mist from the sweltering summer day and the poor lighting blurred my not-so 20/20 vision to a point where I kept trampling on people with my heels. The aroma of cheap perfume and warm alcohol consumed the air, making it almost hard to breathe.
The discomfort I felt at the party itched my skin like an old wool sweater. However, I tried my best not to show that I was bothered, as I wanted to look cool around my friends, who seemed to be having the time of their lives. By midnight, people were passing out drunk and my friends were nowhere to be found. I had no idea how to get back to my dorm. Why did I trust people that were older than me so easily? Maybe that’s because I’m 16 years old.
As a child, I always loved doing whatever my older brother did. When we both started homeschool five years ago, I had the choice of either taking my time with my education, or follow in my brother’s footsteps and pursue high school. When I was 12 years old, I enrolled in a nationally accredited high school program in Pennsylvania. I rarely felt a disconnect between me and the other students in my homeschool program, despite the fact that they were almost three or four years older than me. They always treated me as their equal.
By fall 2011, my family and I began visiting colleges around the New England area for my brother, who finished high school a year earlier than expected. During those long road trips, I kept wondering where my education was to lead me next. I knew that I was going to be around 16 years old when I finished high school. Did I want to go to college when I was only 16? Or, did I want to wait two years, and attend college at 18, like everyone else?
After my brother left the following year to attend college in Vermont, I found myself alone for the first time and wanted to pursue my own college education. Since I was interested in studying music, my family visited music cities such as Nashville to see which school would be able to accommodate my needs. My family and I concluded that I should pursue my studies in New York City, as it was only an hour away from home.
During the spring of 2013, my acceptance letters began to roll in. Soon enough, I learned that I was admitted to Eugene Lang College. I could hardly contain my excitement – I wanted to scream to the world about my achievement. However, that was the one thing I was incapable of. I remember logging onto Facebook the very day I was accepted and removed my birthday from my profile, so that when I started friending people from my college, no one would discover the truth. I have no idea what made me so ashamed of letting people know who I truly was. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.
I concocted a plan to portray myself as the 18-year-old girl everyone assumed that I was. This involved black eyeliner denser than a cloudy night sky, eye popping cherry red lipstick as bright as Jessica Rabbit’s, and crop tops so low cut that there was barely any fabric left to cover the rest of my body. Since I wanted to act like I was older, I had to dress up to play the part. At college, I was told by others that I looked between 19 and 23 years old. I wasn’t sure if I should be overjoyed that my tricks worked, or sad because I never had a teenage life.
When I was at the dentist in mid-January, the hygienist asked me while probing a hundred tools down my throat if I enjoyed being 16. The bright dental light that hovered above my head made me feel as though I were in the middle of an investigation conducted by the FBI. I felt obligated to say yes, as if I meant it. However, I hesitated. Even before college, I felt as though I was starting to lose my sense of innocence and the child I was at heart. I was growing up faster than other people. Feeling this way stripped the privilege of me being my own Peter Pan in Neverland. I barely did half the things teenagers did at my age. I never went to the mall with my friends, I was rarely invited to parties, and I didn’t go to homecoming or prom with the boy of my dreams, because it wasn’t a thing many homeschoolers got invited to. By reading that alone, you could tell that I was not exactly one of the cool kids. I was jealous. I felt as though I was missing out on the things every teenager was privileged to experience.
Since I did not have the typical high school experience, I ended up in situations that weren’t the most desirable. I’m surprised no one around me saw what I was doing, stopped me, and asked me what the hell I was doing. In the back of my mind, I knew I was 16. However, some fools fool themselves.
Other than that super rad party I went to – I really have nothing to brag about. What? I’m 16 and I’m in college. I will receive my degree before I turn 21. Do you know how sad that is to even say? On top of that, I go to a liberal arts school, not a medical school where I can strut down the halls, bragging how I’ll one day be a young, excellent doctor. See, I’m not quite blessed. Who cares about getting their education done faster? Everyone prefers taking their time. But, really. What makes me different than you? Just a few years that you subtract, and I’ll probably not get the outcome right because I’m horrible at math. My age does not make me any different than you.
Despite my boldness to write this piece, the thought of telling people I have been putting on a show all this time makes me feel like I’m stuck in a whirlwind of Petra’s multiple personalities. It’s gotten harder to separate what’s true after all this time.
I’m not trying to say my issue is as important as gender, race, and class issues. Yet, no one wants to be treated differently because of their gender, race, and class. I think age should be under this category, because it’s about being who we are. We’re judged by how many summers we have seen. Your siblings say you’re too young to know what love is. Your parents say you’re too young to know what you want. Since when is being young makes you look like you don’t have your own mind? Since when can you be called too young or too old in this ball that we live in? I’m here, just to gain an education like everybody else. I did everything I was supposed to – I went to high school for four years, graduated with honors and a surpassing GPA. I don’t think my age should be taken into account when it comes to my ability to pursue an education.