Last weekend, I attended a high school graduation party. Perhaps, not really a significant thing. I mean, kids are graduating all the time. But this was the first high school graduation party I’d attended in years, basically since my own high school graduation in 2000.
I cannot believe its already been thirteen years. As I packed for the party, I found myself (vainly) worrying about what outfit I should wear in front of a bunch of teenagers. It is tragic and took me a while to admit this, but I am one of those woman (already). You know the ones who want to fit in with the youth, to reclaim something they feel they’ve lost or missed out on?
In high school, I knew nothing about the “cool girl” things—fashion, hair, makeup, and especially not boys. What I was familiar with was teenage angst, but to an extreme level. When I entered ninth grade, I was coming off of a mild eating disorder and a summer of worrying my hair would never stop falling out. I remember convincing my dad to let me buy a few things from Aeropostale, which at the time, we regarded as expensive and trendy and mostly out of the question. I can’t remember whether I felt embarrassed or flattered when I saw one of the more in-crowd girls wearing the same shirt as the one I had bought.
In tenth grade, I remember experiencing this sudden onset of anxiety. I don’t remember when it first appeared, but it would come at the strangest times. I remember the acute flapping of “butterflies” in my stomach one Saturday afternoon when I was with two friends watching Anastasia. I remember telling my dad about it and then that unbearably question repeatedly posed: “But what’s making you so nervous?”
There was nothing really, except whatever was inside me. I suppose the same dark emotions that make me ponder things enough to write about them are also the ones that take me away from enjoying anything as fully as I could. I supposed that’s what happened in my youth.
And that, is what, this graduation party brought out in me. In choosing a tank top and a skirt, what I was grasping on to was the concept of carefree youth. I wanted to embody that, now that I understood what it meant, now that I regretted not doing so earlier.
I had too many fears as a teenager. I worried about perfect grades and being liked and making the right choices and saving money (I never even spent birthday money). I worried about things that aren’t terrible to worry about, but I forgot to let go sometimes. And I never knew then what I know now: that you never get it back, and that while, when you get older, there are new freedoms and opportunities, new adventures, things are never as easy and clear. And happiness is harder to define and attain, because it’s muddled with other questions—measures of whether or not in the time that’s passed, you’ve made yourself a success.
When I saw the graduate, I told her the few words of wisdom I had, realizing that they might be too morose for a girl who seemed to have already figured it out, who was happy in school and excited for college, who tried new things and found strength in this, who acted like a teenager without disrespecting her family or friends. I said: “Do whatever you want to now, without worry of how tired you’ll be the next day or whether or not it’s really worth it. Do whatever you can to avoid the feeling later of missing out, of regret.”
Because I think in the end, this is the legacy of childhood: it’s the freedom of indulgence, the chance, for one time in your life, to exercise independence without real risk or threat. To feel what it is to be unfettered and unworried, and truly believe that life is a stream of possibilities and dreams that will keep coming true.