You Are Not Who You Will Be When You’re Eighteen

When I was 17 years old (and a few years before and for a few years after) I had this one favorite band.  I was inexorably obsessed.  I had every record and used my tech-savvyness to download old band demos that no one actually thought were good, least of all the band. I joined the street team and committed an unsavory amount of time to its message board.  I believed that what this band did with music was beautiful.  My favorite line, even as a (alleged) grown-up, is always “If he wasn’t even singing in this band or writing the lyrics but just writing poetry, I would follow him”.  This may or may not be true, I’m not really sure.  I mean, now probably yes, but back then I wasn’t much for the poetry.  Anyway, I loved the way he used to say things.  I loved his metaphors and sentence structures.  He really is a beautiful writer and I am still a fan, albeit a slightly less rabid one.

Anyway, he wrote this song, on their first big album, about being eighteen, which was the anthem of every scene/pop-punk/emo kid with access to limewire.  The song ended with this one line sung over and over until a record scratch cut the song off.

“You’re just jealous ’cause we’re young and in love.”

The whole song is the stuff of beautifully angsty & perfectly authentic teenaged anthems.  As I write this now I’d liken it to that Smiths song in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  (I haven’t been able to see the movie yet, so I’m not sure if it’s in there.  I can’t imagine it not, though)

When I was a teenager, I felt like that song really understood me.  I spent every night with my best friends, waltzing around in the summer nights with no shoes on and no regard for reality.  The concept of “living life” was my reality.  Preemptive nostalgia was my reality.  I was yearning for the ease of the time even as I was living it.  I was emotionally attached to the experience and truly, truly believed that nothing on earth could top it.  Nights sitting around a spouting water fountain in a boring, predictable small-ish town, about 30 miles from the beach and 40 miles from Philadelphia, listening to one of my friends play covers on an acoustic guitar, all the while taking in deep, savoring breaths of summer air and feeling proud of my use of the middle of the night.  Jumping out of bed at 4am because a friend calls and tells me to, just to sit around that fountain.  Driving down to the beach, in February, at night, because I miss the smell of it.  Piling into cars at 1am to drive out to Pat’s Steaks because someone wanted a cheesesteak and they’re open 24/7 so ‘why not?’.  (gas was cheap enough to allow for these kinds of excursions)

I wanted to get that line tattooed on my body.  I told everyone I was going to do it, once I turned 18.  I never drank, never did drugs, never had sex; I hadn’t even kissed anyone by the time I graduated.  I loved the idea of this legal yet racy declaration of my nostalgic life.  I said “I’m doing it.  Even if I’m not friends with any of these people in 20 years, I’ll still love it because it will remind me of these times.” These times.  As if those times were going to be the greatest, biggest, most important times of my life.  These times.  I was going to have it tattooed in script across my lower back. Yes, my lower back.  “You’re just jealous ’cause we’re young and in love.” on my body forever.  Because I felt so attached to my life, so emotionally strong about my moments and friends, that I couldn’t fathom a reality where I wouldn’t want that tattoo.

I am 26 years old, less than 4 months from 27, and never did get that tattoo.  Shockingly, I am not nursing the wounds of a deprived faux-rebellioun.  I am thankful that I was neither rich enough nor motivated enough to do the deed.  It’s ok.  Because I don’t feel that way anymore.  Despite the overwhelming emotions I felt for the time I was living, it was not the best time I ever had; even better times have come.  I have seen people I love more than I could ever hope to successfully articulate commit their lives to one another, as I stood beside them.  I have held a friend’s hand, in disbelief, two days after his second brain surgery, as he sluggishly attempted conversation through his post-op drug haze, because I had spent the whole month before terrified he would die and he was here, talking, two days later.  I have learned what it is like to be really loved by people.  I have held my faux-niece in my arms, days after she came into the world in a most turbulent fashion, and marveled at the way her parents’ lives told a story of redemption, grace and love that bore such an extraordinary return.

I know that emotions are running absolutely bat-shit wild when we’re in high school, or just out.  And that our hearts literally beat not just with blood coursing through them, but the living, flowing stuff of emotions that make it difficult to see past this exact moment.  But emotions are ephemeral.  That moment where you feel infinite, or where you feel like your insides have died and nothing can ever hope to recover from this moment? That moment is temporary.  That thought process is temporary.  You are temporary.  You will not be the same person in 3 years.  You may still like the same people, music and food but you will assuredly like many others as well.  You will meet new people, you will try new foods and you will discover new bands.

I wasn’t totally sure where I was going with this from the get-go, other than wanting to explore how finite our feelings can be, despite their perceived interminability.  It’s amazing how little a person can feel different yet how much they actually change.  You may feel like you did when you were 18, but you will grow.  And you will not be who you were at 18 forever.  God willing and the creek don’t rise.

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