I am going to ask you if you remember being young, to which you will reply, “Of course I do!”, and in your head, you will see a snapshot of yourself at seven, the one you hated when you were small because your mouth was closed funny (to hide your missing front teeth), but love now, because your hair was so pretty and your freckles were amazing. I don’t want you to think about that snapshot. When I ask you if you remember being young, I want you to be fifteen again, or sixteen, seventeen, even- whatever that age was when you were in the front seat of a friends car, an hour past curfew (but your parents think you are at her house, and her parents think she is at your house), on your way to a raging party, and your favorite song comes on, and you are singing, your heart is leaping, your hair is blowing around you like you’re in a video, and you feel FREE, finally, totally, irrevocably free! That moment when you realize that you are pretty much as good as gone, one foot out the door of the home you have always known, that foot almost twitching to bolt out into the vast unknown world.
Do you remember being young? That wonderful stretch of time when limits are removed, and choices need to be made…eventually. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is preventing you from doing whatever it is you want to do immediately, which is usually something in a group, probably illegal, and always too much fun to stop until the sun comes up, or everyone passes out. When you are finally eighteen, and that phone there in your pocket stops feeling like a burning lump of coal, weighing you down like a boulder of guilt because you haven’t called home to tell some ridiculously overdone lie. You are an adult-lite: all of the perks, none of the expectations or even the ability to really run your own life yet. You are 18- the only thing you really know how to do yet is mess things up, party, and call home when you need help- which you will probably get, and which is probably more often than you want anyone to know.
Do you remember being twenty one or twenty two, and looking in the mirror before you went out to the bars for the night, and realizing how beautiful you were? How perfect your clothes fit, how perfect your make up was, how amazing your hair turned out…and you walked through rooms oozing self confidence, and you could see the boys checking you out from the corner of your eye. I remember one night, at about twenty two, when a boy- I guess he was a young man, he was a few years older than me- that I had known when I was in the ninth grade (I had a crush…no, I had an obsession with his best friend, which was quite one sided, embarrassingly) ran into me at a popular, packed bar in Monterey. He was walking past me, and I was looking straight ahead to avoid eye contact with any of the oglers, and he glanced at me, then did the most flattering double take I have ever seen. He grabbed my arm and I looked up, seeing it was him, and felt a satisfaction I remember to this day. “Is this really Courtney?!” He said, “Wow! You have really grown up!” Or something like that. The words weren’t nearly as important as the sentiment, and the way it made me feel. As if life was just so amazing, and I was just getting started. As if anything could happen.
That is what it was, I think- the sense that I was just at the beginning of something that would become my life, and the world was my oyster. As if anything could happen. That vast unknown was no longer beckoning, I was out there in it, and I was not afraid in the least. I was far too young and inexperienced to be afraid. I was sure that I would either stay the same forever, or simply grow more awesome.
Do you remember being totally unafraid of what lay ahead? Or, what about this- do you remember the first time you became afraid of whatever was next? I don’t remember either of those things, just like I don’t remember when that feeling of happy anticipation about life started to fade, or when my ability to roll with the punches got a little more prone to avoiding the punches in the first place. I couldn’t tell you when cynicism replaced my unguarded trust in people, or when I began to worry about nearly everything, after having worried about nothing my entire life. I can’t tell you when the changes began, but I can tell you that I felt it. I felt it, and it scared me, until it got big enough that it started making me forget that I had ever been another way.
I have been in mourning off and on for the past few years,and I thought it was my youth that I so sorely missed. I thought it was the perky tits and shapely ass that just grew there, asking nothing of me in return. I thought it was me missing all the heads that turned when I passed, and that I was shallow and vain for feeling so terrible about it. But I think it was so much more than that. I think it was the spark of life that lit me up, day after day, making me feel so alive, and so full of promise, and as if life would never be more awful than I could handle. That I would be able to smile my way into peoples good graces forever, and I would be fine. I missed the feeling of buoyancy, of being full of so much hope that I could barely keep myself from floating away.
We become heavier, earthbound things, at some point- most of us do. The spark of life and possibility gives the impression of being your inherent nature, but it is burning less brightly just as you hit your stride. It’s like a heat source that propels us, gives us the momentum we need to launch off into our lives. We don’t stay young forever. We have children, and we begin to put someone before ourselves, we learn about love in a whole unexpected new way, as if we have only been using a third of our hearts our whole lives, and now this whole new level reveals itself. But with love comes the worry, and the guilt, and the trappings- responsibilities, no more all night parties, no more spontaneity, no more loud sex or sleeping in. We get jobs and start chasing money the way we chased boys, we start to want things, we start to crave safety the way we once craved freedom.
We bolt the door at night against the vast unknown, and tell our children about the dangers that exist out there. Strangers and weirdos and drunk drivers, people who could harm them. Waking up to the feeling that anything could happen today fills you with anxiety now, instead of excitement. For just one day, you would like NOTHING to happen. Fifteen years ago, a day when nothing happened could send you careening into crushing, life ending, despair. Now, it would be a miracle. You watch your daughter, at seventeen, as she chomps at the bit, one foot in, and one foot out, of the only home she has ever known-whatever place you were, that was her home. She is suffering under the burden of these last few months at home, going crazy because she can’t answer the siren’s call she hears out there, out in the sea of possibility. It seems impossible that she is almost grown, but then you realize how tired you feel, next to her. How crazy everything she says now seems to you. The spark is blooming in her spirit, gathering heat, getting ready to launch this beauty into the unknown.
And now you know the way your mother felt, looking at you. A mixture of pride and annoyance, excitement, hope, and fear. Confused by the swiftness of what had seemed like such a lot of time, but ready, willing, almost, to let you go. Telling you how great you’d be, and crying in the shower every day. This journey is a tricky one, and nothing ever, really, is what you think it will be. When you are young, you know you will get older, but you don’t really believe it. And when you get older, you know you you were young, but you can’t really remember what it was…can’t forget all you know, and all that’s ben, not even for one second so that you might remember. Bittersweet, each part of life, a loss for every gain, and something left behind with every step.