If a single human life is viewed as the arc of all history, puberty is undoubtedly the Dark Ages. No one knows what they’re doing and everyone is dirty, confused, and probably slightly depressed. There’s hope for the future—you may remember from the high-school history classes you ditched and/or slept through that the Renaissance happens eventually—but in the thick of it, that light seems very far away. Puberty is a period of personal war in which the mind and the body battle for control. Physically you have boobs but mentally are still on shaky ground as to whether or not Santa exists. Your morning routine includes both shaving and cartoon-watching. Sex is alternately disgusting, horrifying, and fascinating. You have reached a sweaty, hairy, socially awkward crossroads from which there is no simply no turning back.
To be fair, processes of transition often involve mistakes before a satisfactory final product emerges. Coca-Cola used to contain actual cocaine. But the fact that this is entirely true in no way diminishes the terror of puberty as it occurs. For anyone skeptical about the Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs level of horror in moving from girl to woman, allow me to paint a picture.
The year is 2008. A young Sophia Crisafulli, at the tender age of 13, is three years into what will end up being six years of wearing braces. At the moment, the gap between her two front teeth is so large that she can fit her entire pinky finger inside it. In a futile attempt at adding some glamour to her appearance, she has begun parting her hair so far on the side it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Trump’s gravity-defying combover. She has recently gotten her period for the first time but has yet to work up the nerve required to attempt using a tampon, and so she spends one week a month waddling like a newborn colt due to the infant-sized pad between her legs. She unironically enjoys Avril Lavigne, and on days when she is feeling particularly edgy, she attempts bizarre fashion combinations like loose skirts over jeans or a peasant skirt worn as a strapless top. She is both extremely self-conscious and thinks she knows everything.
In 2008, Sophia is only beginning to understand that her boobs are a kind of double-edged sword, at once giving her a strange kind of power yet subjecting her to ridiculous street harassment. She is still a year away from her first kiss and from her first serious feelings for a boy. She attends middle-school dances where boys and girls stand on opposite sides of the gymnasium, staring at their feet and refusing to acknowledge each other—not because of any school policy but due to the sheer strength of social anxiety and the confusion of primitive sexual urges. Sophia find her parents unbearably embarrassing, and though she still secretly enjoys their company within the confines of their home, she categorically refuses to be seen with them in public.
Like most periods of turmoil, puberty does pass. I am proud to announce that while she is still by no means perfect, 2017 Sophia has straight teeth, fully shaven legs (except during winter and when she’s lazy, which is a lot of the time), and a profound appreciation for her parents and extended family. She feels surer of herself and has abandoned her Sk8er Boi sartorial choices for outfits that say, “I am trying to look professional, youthful, and cool all at once—am I doing it?” The answer is, “Probably not,” but that’s okay. She’s figuring it out. Of course, the long-awaited closure of puberty also marks the much-dreaded beginning of adulthood, if only in its very earliest stages, which brings its own brand of horror. There are finances to manage and relationships to work at, jobs to apply for, and Netflix shows to procrastinate with. All at once, things become much easier and much, much harder.
Every phase of life has its own challenges, and I know that I have my fair share of heartbreak and fear and rejection in my future. But although puberty was in some ways easier—parents to feed you and house you, little more responsibility than being a not entirely horrible person—it’s a phase I wouldn’t repeat for anything. I’m thoroughly glad to have ended that chapter of my life and to know that, as long as it’s within my power, my teeth will evermore be free of metal. I’m scared for my future, because the unknown is always scary, but I’m also excited to find out what it holds in terms of both successes and failures. I suppose the long and the short of it is that life is never easy—but it’s a little bit easier once you learn how to use a tampon.