Hands Making Ocean Waves: The Year That I Was Sixteen

May 3, 2012
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In our modern American society, turning sixteen is a big deal. It’s like an unspoken rite of passage into the secret society of teenagers. It seems to be the first age that comes to mind when one thinks of “a teenager”. On some level, when you turn sixteen, you become just a little bit cooler: just a little bit higher up. You can drive by yourself when you turn sixteen. You can go places without your parents or any reliance on them for the first time. It’s the age that you are deemed mature enough to be able to legally consent to an experience that can change your life. People have massive, outrageous parties to celebrate this momentous age. It’s a time when you are just purely “you”. You have no true responsibilities to anyone or to anything. You go to school, you work hard to keep your grades up, and that’s about it. You don’t have to pay for much of anything or have a sustaining job. Sixteen is a year of self discovery. It’s a period in your life when you are figuring everything out, but you don’t really have to have any of the answers. It’s a time of freedom, silliness and making memories. You’re stuck right in between being a kid and on the verge of being an adult. It’s a year of nostalgia, while simultaneously constantly looking forward. It’s a year of stretching your wings and learning how to fly. But my sixteenth year was all of that and so much more. And I know that I’m never going to forget about any of it.
I’m not going to forget about what it was like to be able to go places without relying on my parents or the parents of my friends. The first time that one of my friends picked me up in their car to go somewhere, I think I had a mild heart attack. I must have ridden along in a mild state of shock. These were the kids that I had known since elementary school. This was the group of misfits that I had grown up with and they were street legal. Five minutes ago we were on the playground. But then I must have blinked, because in an instant we were grown up. And it was a feeling that I could never quite put a name to.
I won’t forget about driving around in my friends’ car. Feeling free and untied to anything in the world but each other. Sunglasses on, the radio blasting, hands making ocean waves out of the open windows. Singing without a care in the world about how we sounded. Staying in the car for a few minutes longer after we parked just because there was a good song on and we HAD to dance to it. We had the freedom to do whatever silly thing we felt like doing, such as parking my best friend’s truck by the curb of my house, turning the radio way up and putting the windows down so that we could dance in the street under the stars. I pulled her Burger King crown out of the backseat, put it on and climbed onto her truck bed to enhance the dancing experience. We did things like this simply because we knew that we were sixteen and we would never get these moments back.
I won’t forget about Mellow Mushroom and the way that it became such a center of our rotinues. It was the first time that we were really old enough to have a place to call our own: place that was a tradition for our group. I liked knowing that anytime we all might want to hang out, one of us could simply send a text like, “Mellow Mushroom on L’ville-Suwanee. Friday @ 6?” and we would be there. I liked being able to all meet up there and order “our usual”. I liked having “a usual”. It was a part of a life that was truly beginning to become all my own.
I won’t forget about going on countless college visits. I’ll remember the feeling of thrashing around in my brain, drowning in the tidal waves of information that had just crashed over me. I liked being able to walk around the various campuses, imagining myself as a student there and dreaming about what my life would be like. It was all just barely beyond my grasp. But at the same time, I loved knowing that I didn’t have to go just yet. I still got to go home to all of my friends and the way that my life was. I still had all the time in the world, and I was able to dream in comfort.
I will not ever, ever forget about falling in love. And the first time that I realized that love was not about finding what you were missing, but the give and take that made you both match. The beautiful person that made me feel like I had wings will stay with me forever. I won’t forget about everything that she taught me about maturity, honesty and innocence. And patience, unconditional caring and the intensity of trust. I know that she will be rooted somewhere deep inside of me for the rest of my life and that even if one day we fade into nothing but names in each other’s pasts, we will always have that tenuous connection hidden away somewhere.
I’m not going to forget about the way that my parents were proud of me. They were always eager to hear about my life and to tell other people about what I was achieving. They were the people who were always there for me to build me up or to simply listen to all that I had flowing through the inner workings of my mind. When I needed anything at all, there were there. But when I wanted to handle it by myself, they stepped back. They filled my houses with books, and music and love and never told me who they wanted me to be or who not to be. And I came to realize that no one would ever respect me as much as they do. And that even when I didn’t believe in myself, they had enough belief in me for us all.
I’m not going to forget about my friends and all of the people who I could call mine. I won’t forget about all of the connections I made, often tenuous and sometimes fragile. The group of misfit kids that I’ve grown up in is my family, because a family is group of people who love you no matter what. I won’t forget about all of the stupid things we did, or our running list of inside jokes. I won’t forget about the way that we can communicate simply by giving each other specific looks or faces. They made me feel possible in a way that I couldn’t have done by myself. They were the ones who always reminded me to keep breathing. I love each and every one of them more than words can begin to express. And I know that our dynamic won’t ever be exactly the way that it was this year.
I won’t forget about music and its ability to move me. I realized that very few things have a power stronger than music does to evoke memory and emotion in me. I’ll always remember the way that music helped to make connections and the songs that became engrained in certain fleeting moments of my life. Certain lyrics became the ultimate soundtrack of the year that I was sixteen and for every memory there is a song.

I’m not going to forget about the way that I felt when I finally received my driver’s license and I experienced driving solo for the very first time. I remember feeling young in a good way, in the best way possible, as I proudly maneuvered my vehicle towards my best friend’s house. I remember putting the windows down, letting the wind blow through my hair and turning the radio up louder than it should be as I soaked up the simple joy of driving without a parent or guardian. It’s something so small, but once I got my license, I realized that it is G-d’s gift to teenagers. I’m going to remember the way that the feeling of freedom and being young in the best way did not fade, even though weeks had passed since I was issued my license. I still bask in being able to say, “Oh yeah, I can drive. I’ll have the car. Do you need me to pick you up?” whenever my friends and I make plans.

I won’t forget about truly feeling old enough to have our own opinions on important issues, like politics, religion and budget cuts. Until then, we had really just been regurgitating what our parents believed in and repeating sentences that we had heard them say. But it was at the age of sixteen that it really seemed like we knew what we were talking about. We were old enough to know that the entire world does not revolve around us and that we need to be opinionated in order to accomplish anything. We were starting to become our own people with our own sets of beliefs and personal theologies. I loved watching it happen to my friends, and I hope that they liked watching me become my own person as well.

I won’t forget about realizing that not everyone in the world is going to like you. There will always be things that you do, or things that you are that people will deem as “wrong”. And I came to the conclusion that I would always stand up for myself. I will always stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I will always fight for what I know is right. I will speak up; it will take a whole hell of a lot to silence me. And the year that I was sixteen gave me the strength to do that.

I won't forget about the way that running had the ability to make me feel better about any situation and to calm me down enough to gain some perspective. I ran in the summer time when the air was so heavily humid that it seemed like I may drown. I ran in the fall, crunching my way through piles of leaves and inhaling the sweet accents of apples, crisp air, cinnamon and autumn. I ran over the frozen ground in the winter time with numb fingertips and tingly toes while my breath came out in icy puffs like a dragon. I ran in the spring time when everything was a bright vibrant green and the air was saturated with the sweet scent of honeysuckle. I ran with a feeling of weightlessness through the mountains at Brevard distance running camp, tripping over roots, dodging rocks and flying past waterfalls. I ran by myself. I ran with my father and my sister. I ran with my teammates. I ran on roads. I ran on trails. I ran through parks. I ran when I was happy. I ran when I was sad. I ran to get lost. And I always ran to get found. It had a way of making me feel like I was a part of something bigger, whether that was simply my cross country team or the earth as a whole. Even when everything else was changing, I knew that running never would. I liked knowing that I could always "run away" for a little while whenever I needed to. It always left me with the knowledge that it would all be okay.

But most of all, I won’t forget about myself. I won’t ever forget about the person that I was during this time in my life. I was a person who loved the earth, her family, movement, and music. I was a person who was happiest with the perfect balance of predictably and spontaneity. I was someone who believed in a lot of things and didn’t really know how to keep quiet about them. I was someone very sentimental, and extremely passionate about most things in their life. I loved to do little, unexpected things for people in my life just to make them smile. I once ran four miles back to the entrance of a trail with a bouquet of daffodils that I had picked for my mother along the trail, because they are her favorite flower. I wrote letters for my friends telling them how much I loved them, and handed them out on a random weekday because I wanted to make sure that they knew how special they are. I was never afraid to throw my heart into something completely and follow it with reckless abandonment. I was an individual. I was someone who, just like everyone else, cannot be summed up in only words. And these are things that I am proud of. I was someone who had always had the pieces of themselves but never quite knew how to make them all fit. And the year that I was sixteen was the year that I was finally able to start gluing some of those pieces into place. I won’t ever forget about the experience of being in the world and loving the way that my life was.

When I turn seventeen on May 8th, 2012, it will be bittersweet. A part of me wants to hold on to sixteen forever. Because my sixteenth year has been amazing in ways that all of these previous words can only begin to describe. I know that when I turn seventeen, some things will change. It will mean that the end of my junior year is coming to an end faster than I would like it too. For the first time Maggie, Jenn, Chelsea, Alex, Alexandra and Samuel will be farther away than just a phone call or a drive to their house. The thrill of solo driving will eventually begin to wear off and it will be just another thing that I do. I will have to find the motivation to make it through the five AP classes that I am registered for next year. But some things won’t change. I’m still going to think of Cydney every time that I cut an orange pepper. And I’ll think of Jenn every time that I listen to My Chemical Romance. I’ll still be a runner and a writer. I’m still going to have my friends. And I’m still going to be me. Everything that has ever happened to me is some partial reason for why I am the way that I am. Each experience, each person, each memory is some small part of me. And the year that I was sixteen is going to be rooted in me forever. I know that I am never going to forget a single moment of it, because these are the things that will shape me. This is why I am the way I am and the way that I will be. I won’t forget about sixteen. Because this is where my roots lay.

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