We were teenagers once

At 22 years of age, we’re hardly past high school and we’ve just squeezed past the teen years. How, then, can that time of our life feel so mind-bogglingly distant?

Recent events have made me realize that I am no longer a teenager, and can’t quite remember the time I was. Certain moments remain poignant, of course: the freckles of that boy in 10th grade, walking through locker halls like I was someone important, the mantra of “be confident, be cool, be calm”… but these memories run rather like projected images in my head. The stream of thoughts behind them, the insecurities and heart-wrenching bouts of crying, is the story I somehow cannot reclaim.

This self-distancing must have happened so slowly that I never saw. I didn’t realize how much memory I had lost until I found myself struggling to understand some iconically “high school” dilemmas facing a teenager very important to me. I admit, I felt the immediate temptation to condescend to her issues from an age-superiority pedestal – which instantly screamed to me that I was failing to empathize. I had forgotten the fresh challenges of high school, and the questions, potential answers, what was or felt important. I couldn’t relate to her current reality, because I couldn’t relate to my own past one.

But, I’m trying, and the topic has inevitably slipped into chats with other friends. Here’s a brief scan of our sharpest memories from high school. (Dare I say it, it’s also hilarious.)

[excerpts from recent emails, taken with permission]

Karina – 22 years old – Lima, Peru

….i seriously felt out of place when i was a teen…not like UBER out of place, i mean i did have some teenage moments:
– used to cry at random times, but like not out of the blue, something bad had to happen, but not uber bad, like maybe the beauty parlor lady wasnt nice to me….maybe it was all my period though…hormones
– me and these twins would call random numbers and pretend to be other people
– i would read soooo much teenage stuff… (btw this is all btwn the ages of 14-16 I’d say not after 16) like Sharon Creech was my IDOL…lol, but then in 9th grade I was introduced to Great Expecations and I LOVED THAT BOOK, and the many other english novels we had to read, i seriously took it as great readings, would crave the time i set aside to finish my english readings
– in 8th grade i would run around and giggle, hahah with my friends of course not alone, haha, and i had a major crush on this one dude
– i’d try on different clothes, kinda, not like really different, but somewhat more interested in fashion than just opening the closet and putting on whatever was most visible
– when they asked me to write poems in English/Spanish class they were all uber hard to understand…I am not sure that I knew what a poem was, lol, I either just described something very specific like a bird in front of me, using 1billion metaphors, or I talked about several vague topics with even vaguer metaphors hahaha

Melanie – 22 years old – California, USA

– Everyone trying really hard not to look like they cared what other people thought about them, but obviously actually caring extreme amounts about what others thought of them.
– Running into my friends between classes and sharing 10-second blurbs about the class before.
– Realizing for the first time that other people’s parents were much more lenient where mine were strict and learning that there are an astonishing number of ways to parent (e.g., totally normal for some parents to smoke pot with their own kids).
– Having the experience that how much money you have affects who you can afford to be friends with and not feeling comfortable around people who had no sense of financial burden.
– Feeling like how well I did academically defined my worth as a person and trying really hard to go to a good college not because I wanted to but because I was expected to.
– How often I created ideas of what other people thought of me, and letting those ideas get in the way of striking up conversations with people I did not know well.

Anna – 22 years old – Alabama, USA

– listening to Tom Petty in art class
– sitting in the bleachers in the band section during pep rallies and football games, thinking about the sax player to rows in front of me
– waiting for the first bell to ring while sitting in my red VW bug and either listening to Deathcab or discreetly reading Twilight (before Twilight was the Twilight phenomenon it is now…)
– the play during 10th grade when I had to kiss the guy I ended up dating for a couple of years and fake an Italian accent
– the moment when that guy I had a crush on said hi to me in the hallway and I walked straight past him, thinking surely he had said hi to someone else
– prom: senior year—date: that guy-I-had-had-a-crush-on’s brother–memorable moment: he commented that I had probably gotten into Stanford just because I was Hispanic

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4 thoughts on “We were teenagers once

  1. love this post nina! it’s weird how even four years from now, we’re probably going to look back and think of this time as our “early twenties” and how free/awesome that time was. the funny thing is though, when i think of myself now, i feel like a 12 year old most of the time (12 because i definitely have less of that sense of bravado now as i did when i was in high school and convinced that i was oh-so-grown-up). whenever someone asks me about serious life plans, i’m just like, “who, me? nah!”

    1. I know, right! “Serious”… is an alien concept. But Ruby, I hope that when we are in our 30s, we will still have delayed-age reaction and say to each other: “But I still feel like I’m 22.” Yes? 😛

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