Turning 18 doesn’t mean much. It only took 17 years and 364 days for me to realize this. I felt a little like someone had finally let me in on a long-running inside joke that I had been desperately trying to decode my entire life.
No shift of the space-time continuum.
After the candles burned and the ice cream cake melted and the crumpled twenties stuffed inside Hallmark cards were put into my sock drawer, I realized that, all in all, nothing had changed. My hair hadn’t magically straightened and my nose didn’t suddenly shrink to fit my face. My vision was still blurry and I didn’t spontaneously know the inner workings of a clock, or what car insurance is, or how to figure out if I’m a summer or a winter. I had sixty more bucks than when I was 17, and that cheered me up enough to motive me to get off the couch and stick the ice cream cake into the freezer before it melted away for good. The icing was dry and rubbery, but the chocolate crunchies, I knew, would live on for weeks.
Growing up I assumed that I would be done by the time I was 18. It sounds so big, “18”; I would sit on the stoop outside my front door and pull out little stalks of grass, one by one, forming a dirt patch the size of my fist. Mom and Dad will have known you for 18 years, I would think to myself, my mind racing backwards and forwards through time like I was a tiny time traveler, sitting on my front stoop pulling dreams and memories out of the ground. You will have known the world for 18 years, and the world will have known you. It all felt so complete, so reassuring, that by the time I was 18 I would have made my peace with life and discovered everything that was to be discovered. Everything that scared me as a 9 year old would be remnants of the past, little blades of grass that tickled my fingers until I flicked them away forever. I wouldn’t need them anymore, because I was 18. I would be old and capable, not that I had any idea what it truly means to feel “capable.”
I thought I would have unlocked the secrets to the stuff we giggled about behind our hands during recess: How to execute the perfect movie-star kiss, the best way to impress a crush, what it means to be “sexy” but also “cute”. More serious stuff, too, like how to drink just the right amount of wine coolers so that you’re tipsy but not sloppy drunk.
I thought I would know how to curl my hair so that one stray curly loop hung in front of my left eye. I thought I would know how to shave without nicking my knees with the razor. I thought I would know everything there is to know about looking like the cool girl who has everything under control. I thought I would know.
Sitting here now I almost want to laugh, but the lump in my throat is making it kind of hard to breathe. I want to look my 9 year old self in the face and tell her to focus on Disney World and spelling tests and monkey bars. I want to shake her, pull myself to her ear and whisper, not yet, please, don’t worry about that stuff yet. I want her to stand up and play in the grass instead of poking and prodding it like she’s never seen it before. You’re putting too much stock in dreams, I want to tell her. Her face is melting away now; it’s blurry and she’s looking up at me with wide eyes that want so much to see more than they do. No, is all she says, because that is the only answer she will accept, the only answer she understands. What’s wrong with having dreams? Goals? Hopes? She doesn’t get it. I run my nails over the hardwood floor, imaging the dirt and the grass underneath my fingernails. Hoping isn’t enough. Part of me wishes I was still that tiny time traveler so that she would hear me and I wouldn’t be here now, newly 18 and clawing at the hardwood floor for dreams that exist deep in the soil, desperate for water and sunlight.
But I’m here, 18 years and 23 hours old, and all I’m realizing is that 18, despite the weight of the number, doesn’t really mean all the much. Not at all.
This was a short fiction piece I wrote when I turned 18 a few years back. I guess I was feeling a little melancholy that day? Haha! Anyway, hope this piece didn’t depress anyone too much, and I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks!