I am nineteen years old, and I’ve spent a lifetime growing up, waiting in the wings — or at least, my lifetime. Sometimes, I am not sure I know how to do anything else.
Adulthood feels abstract until suddenly it does not. Growing up takes so very long. When I was a kid, I never dreamt of my future — at least not the specifics — because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure there was one. This was not to say that I was anticipating the apocalypse, but I did have a great lack of faith in time as a concept. I did not trust it. Occasionally, when I think of how sure I used to be that I would never grow up, I find myself surprised that I am not already dead. I was so devoid of any futuristic imaginings that it is almost tempting to pretend that the younger me knew something that the older me didn’t.
But then, I have watched too many movies. This is ordinary life, and, one ordinary morning last year, I woke up to find a wrapped present at the end of my bed. I sat up and waited to feel something. I compared this morning to the morning when I turned six, which for some reason I remember very well. We had been living full-time in a hotel. I had sat up in my hotel bed and seen a new toy at the end of it, and the word six, six, six, tumbled through my head, accompanied by visions of streamers and bells, and my chest kept jolting at the thought that I had changed, I had changed, I had changed; I was six.
On that morning last year, though, I felt the same. I was not surprised, of course, but I could not shake the idea that I had been betrayed somehow. I could not shake the idea that youth had promised me eternity, and then had gone and ended without fanfare, leaving me here, eighteen, and all alone. Not physically — but on that morning, there had never seemed to me a lonelier number.
This was all a very narcissistic view to take of things, but I suppose this is the unique gift afforded to young people. You are the centre of your universe. Until, of course, you grow up, and realize that you are just as susceptible to reality as everybody else — and this includes the reality of time.
Adulthood is responsibility and I am responsibility’s enemy, which may explain part of the reason I cannot quite make eye contact with it. I have not adapted very well, a year on. I am afraid of adulthood, wary of it, cautious of it. I am excited by it too, and it is hard to balance both.
And so, right now, nineteen, I am drifting; I am waiting. I am neither here nor there, neither a teenager or an adult, although technically I am both. I feel I have grown less teenager-ish in the past few years; found a damper to some of the passion and blindsiding emotion, found a new perspective to counter the self-centeredness. I cannot quite embrace adulthood yet though, because I am still somewhat intoxicated by youth. I have woken up from a dream, but I have not shaken it off, and its effects linger.
I am waiting in the wings still. I waited here for so long throughout childhood and adolescence that I grew comfortable, but then, in nightmare fashion, they called my name and I missed my cue. Now the longer I stay here, hesitating, the more and more difficult it is to go out, until perhaps, just perhaps, it would be better to stay backstage forever.
Still, as I stand in the wings I realize I don’t quite belong with the others who surround me. I have changed. So when the lights go off and the curtains come down and the theater closes for the day, I run across the stage, leaping, feeling the chalky floor against my socks, imagining the lights on, pinprick faces in the crowd; and I wonder what it is about them, a crowd, that can smother this feeling of freedom, that can turn legs to lead and stomach to stone. What would it feel like to run across this stage when I am meant to, when I am supposed to, at the right time? I feel I will only know when it is too late.
One day, when I’m old (again, unimaginable) my current inability to move, to grow up, will seem petty. Actually, the good part of being half-adult is that I can see that even now. I can see how silly this is. The half-teenager in me sees it too, however, and to her it is not silly but existential.
Time waits for no man, but when you are nineteen, perhaps it pauses for just a second.