Adolescence doesn’t last forever. We all grow up one day, and though the feeling of being a teenager might linger, there eventually comes a day when you realize you’re thirty-six and you stopped being able to fit into your grad dress ten years ago, and you can no longer pass for sixteen. Not even if you squint at yourself in the mirror. Not even from very far away.
I’m not one of those people who romanticizes their teenage years. Mine were pretty miserable as I remember. But lately—often when I’ve just been on a city bus filled with high schoolers and their nonsensical noise—I’ve found myself looking back with amusement at all the ridiculous things I did during my teen years, and only my teen years. Things no self-respecting adult would ever do. Things I can’t believe I ever did. Although it’s nice to remember that I did them. Once upon a time.
My Best Friend, The Floor
I used to sit on the floor a lot. And I mean, a lot. Waiting for a friend at her locker, in doctor’s office corridors, in movie theatre lines. If there was no bench at the bus stop—and I was always waiting for the bus when I was a teen—I would sit on the curb. I have no idea why I did this. Did I realize I was essentially sitting on the dirty street? Did I know everyone could probably see up my cut-offs? Was there some problem with my legs that they couldn’t hold me up for the approximately seven minutes I had to wait?
This tendency to plop down anywhere with no explanation stopped abruptly when I started paying for all my own clothes—when you’re shelling out your own cash for your duds, not sitting on a gum and dog-poop encrusted sidewalk becomes a priority. I can barely remember being the clueless girl who had to climb up from the ground and dust off her jeans when the bus pulled to a stop, but I’m impressed by her. I might not have known it at the time, but it takes guts to act like a hobo one minute and ace a final exam in French the next, wearing Mary Jane heels, no less.
This Is My Personality This Week
At no other time in my life has my personality been so in flux as during my high school years. Looking back, I think I tried on a different personality every second day, from blasé girl to obnoxious girl to silly girl to sullen girl. Some days I was a combination of all these girls at once, and sometimes none at all. Which girl I was going to be that week depended heavily on who I wanted to impress at school and what TV shows I was watching. This would all go swimmingly until someone would try to call me on my schizophrenic and unpredictable modes of being, at which point I would vehemently DENY having any idea what they were talking about. Many a fight with my girlfriends resulted from such denials. Which brings me to my next only-in-my-teen-years tendency:
I’ll Have a Side of Lies With That
I used to lie all the time. I lied about things that embarrassed me, like which boy I liked or what grade I’d gotten on a test or how much I’d paid for a new dress. Mostly I lied about how I felt about things, because no teen ever wants to admit they actually feel anything ever. According to my teenage self, I never cared about anything. I did not care that the guy I had a crush on had just made fun of me. I did not care that I’d accidentally worn a see-through shirt to the school dance. I did not care that someone was spreading a nasty rumour about my nose hair around school. No matter how many times my friends asked me—and adolescent girls just love to ask these types of questions—I would NEVER admit that I cared, although of course I cared a great deal. It’s a little sad, really. Nothing makes you feel more alone than insisting you feel nothing while you’re feeling everything.
What’s more impressive than my persistent lying is how desperately I would cling to my lies, especially if I was caught in one of them. Even if it was clearly obvious I had stained her top because I had been the last one to wear it and she found it on the floor in my room and it was my shade of lipstick on the sleeve, I would staunchly, almost righteously insist it had not been me. It was like that when I got it. That’s not my lipstick, it’s yours. I have no idea where that came from. All Lies.
Where on earth did I get the nerve?
Eat This, I Dare You
I used to eat a lot of random shit and call it food when I was a teenager. When I got home from school, I would grab a loaf of fresh Italian bread my father had bought, cut myself two slices, then tear out the middles, slather then with butter, and microwave them. The toaster was foreign to me at this time, apparently. I used to microwave frozen French fries until they were essentially just potato rectangles and eat them with salt and pepper. I used to eat chocolate chip cookies sandwiched together with peanut butter.
I know I took Home Ec. in school, but the idea of actual cooking never entered my mind. A meal of Kraft Dinner noodles without the cheese—really, just a bowl of non-pasta and butter—and microwaved chicken nuggets was far more appealing.
And didn’t I manage to keep my slim figure all the while, too? Oh teenage me, how oblivious you were.
Nothing made me feel cooler or more included when I was a teenager than having an inside joke with someone. Even better was to have an inside joke with a popular girl. And best of all was to have an inside joke with a popular girl and have her bring up said joke in front of a group of people. This scenario would have been the highlight of my month.
We made inside jokes out of anything we found momentarily funny—like a teacher’s repetition of the phrase “put it on the back burner”—and kept the joke alive with continued allusion to it long after it ceased to amuse. And yet having that joke to hold between the two of you was EVERYTHING. Just the chance to say, “Oh, sorry, inside joke. You kind of had to be there,” was worth wearing out the funny until it was showing holes. Oh to feel that I was a part of things, that I was included in the nudge, nudge, wink, wink, that I was in on the joke. And that others were NOT.
These days, if an inside joke between friends comes up, I tend to shy away, always concerned that others will feel left out, not wanting to be caught in an elaborate explanation of the joke that will inevitably result in the discovery that it was never that funny to begin with. No, I don’t crave that inside status of jokes anymore—I’d rather have real intimacy with my friends than this pretend bond—but I remember the rush of excitement when another girl would smirk at me, link her arm with mine, and giggle on my shoulder at something nobody else could understand. I remember it well.
What Are You Wearing?
When I was about fifteen I went through a phase of wearing my father’s old clothes. There was a particular cream-coloured silk shirt I liked, as well as a gray sweater-vest. I think I even borrowed a pair of his woolen pants. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just don’t know.
On the Bus
Taking the bus isn’t something I can relegate to my teenage years only, since I still take public transit today, but my bus-taking behavior has improved by light-years since I first started taking the city bus at age twelve. First of all, I no longer steal the long rectangular advertisements for Juicy Fruit gum and hang them in my basement. I don’t stand in a clump—that’s a clump, not a line—of other teens at the bus stop and then push and shove my way toward the bus door. I don’t get up at my stop without ringing the bell and expect the bus to stop anyway. And I don’t insist on sitting in the very last seat at the back, on the right-hand side, and bristle with rage if someone else takes that seat before me.
No, I don’t do any of these things anymore. No sir.
Pass This Note
All of my substantial communication when I was a teen was done through notes. I delivered all my biggest news, told all my most tightly-held secrets on folded notebook paper. Boys professed their love in notes. Hearts were broken and friendships destroyed due to notes. And these weren’t a few hurriedly scrawled lines. I’m talking ten-page long, front and back, single-spaced treatises. With diagrams and poems and elaborate sign-offs. Keep in mind that all this written blah-blahing was in addition to the near-constant talking on the phone with my girlfriends. We just could not talk to each other enough. Once I finished reading the twenty-page note I’d been slipped in Bio, I’d just go home and go over it all again over the phone. Because I had to know it all, every single detail, every tiny morsel of intel, and I had to save the hand-written description of it in a shoebox in my closet.
Where did this desire to write out every detail of my life and share it with my friends go? I don’t blog about my day-to-day life. I’m not much of a texter. I no longer feel this need to share, share, share even when there’s nothing to share. Note-writing seems to have disappeared from my life with the end of high school, along with my school uniform and scrunchie hair-ties, and with it all those shared secrets that I generally keep, these days, to myself.
We are only teenagers once. Thank God. Personally, I wouldn’t go back to those days of angsty melodrama if you paid me. So many of the crazy things I did as a teen were rooted in insecurity, and following the crowd, and wanting to be someone other than who I was. I’m much happier where I am now, thank you, and I think much saner. I’m glad I’ve reached a place now where I don’t feel like I have to lie or change my personality or wear someone else’s clothes to fit in. I’m glad I have the sense not to eat junk all the time or lollygag on the floor. I’m glad I no longer feel like I don’t exist unless I’m documenting my entire life for someone else.
I’m glad to be all grown up now and that the silly things I did as a teenager are just that—silly things I can remember I did once and never will again. Except the microwaving frozen French fries thing. Because I totally still do that.