Today, I turn the big two-oh.
While all my friends are turning 21, it’s unfortunate that birthday #20 suffers a sort of “middle child” syndrome. The age confers no new benefits like 21, or life opportunities like 18. Instead, all of us turning 20 are gifted with a stark reality: We are no longer teenagers.
It may just be a number, but the teenager is a very real construction that I’m leaving for good. And as I do, I can’t help but reflect on my journey through it. Seven years is a long time for people as young as we are, and I have to wonder if I’m at all the same person I was at 13.
Even then, I knew what it meant to be a teenager. It meant I was supposed to go out, try new things, be stupid without consequence, love and get my heart broken. Being a teenager meant the independence of having a real personality combined with the freedom of having minimal responsibility.
Thirteen years old, and nothing to worry about but being me.
I remember when my friends and I would climb on top of school buildings in the middle of the night, just because we could. I remember when the police sent out a helicopter because someone had seen something suspicious. I remember being let off the hook with a sigh and a warning.
I remember the adrenaline rush I got when I snuck out one night, having promised my crush I would meet her in the park. I remember the crushing disappointment of waiting alone ’til sunrise. I remember my mom’s face when I came home.
I remember my first cigarette (I threw up). My first party (I threw up again). My first kiss (that time, I kept it down). I have seven years of memories of doing things–of feeling things–for the very first time. Doing things for the sake of feeling things.
But that’s just not how I am any more. If I wanted to climb onto my old high school roof nowadays, I’d probably be arrested for trespassing. And even if I could, the novelty is mostly gone. I’m not upset that I can’t do the things I used to get away with because that’s no longer what I live for.
Yet those years were so formative and so poignant that my teenage years will be a bigger part of who I am than any other time of my life. When I’m 80, I’ll still be able to say, “Those are the experiences that defined me.” I won’t be able to say that about my 20s or 30s or 40s.
All those grainy photos of my parents as kids will one day be grainy photos of me. That’s how I know they understood when I came home after sneaking out, and how I know I’ll understand when I’m a parent too.
The transition to adulthood is obviously much more gradual than going from 19 to 20. As far as the stereotype goes, I haven’t been much of a “teenager” for some time. And on the opposite side, I certainly don’t consider myself a fully-adjusted adult. I’ve got plenty more growing to do. But the act of stepping into a brand new age demographic still makes me think about what I’m leaving.
It’s like when your parents move after you go to college. You basically stopped living at your old house when you moved into your dorm for the first time, but once the move happens, the change is irrevocable. You’ll never sleep in your old bed again, and I’ll never be a teenager again.
The change just came so quietly, we barely even noticed.
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