It started with mistakes. First came the horrible decision of cutting my hair so short that Limited Too sales women went, “I’m sorry, this is a girls store” when I walked through the door to the kingdom of aggressive neon. I made the chop during the ripe age of missile school, where regretful looks peak. Some of mine included faux leather leggings, rainbow mohawk hats, and the use of crocs in a non-ironic way. Needless to say, by age fourteen, I had learned my lesson.
At that age - still barely considered a teen - I went whale watching in Eastern Canada. It was a tiny boat with fifteen people, and it was absolutely freezing. We were given giant orange coats that reached my shins and went about a foot longer than my still-growing arms. I was transformed into a pumpkin, an oompa-loompa, the sun. We saw a couple whales, but that wasn’t the moment for me. My tangled hair was flying, my fingers begging for gloves yet still gripping on to the frigid rails, and suddenly I felt free. This was the ocean, and there was no one who could stop me from doing anything. All I could see was the dark blue abyss and hear the wind whistling through my body and taste the cold. I could taste the cold! I could taste it, and it tasted good.
The best idea I ever had was to create a playlist consisting of songs that I thought were the ‘Best songs ever !!!! :)))” at the time. This is now, looking back, highly rewarding.
During this time, my obsession with the movie Juno sprung about. I’m positive my evolution from middle-schooler to high school attendee would not have occurred as gracefully if it hadn’t been for this movie. For some odd reason, my family owns three copies of the movie and one CD of its soundtrack. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but I believe it has something to do with the fact that every single member of my family happens to adore Juno, and so it happened to be the number one given and got gift in the household. Right before I entered the new school, I re-watched the movie several times. It was comforting to see bedrooms littered in posters stuck up by Scotch tape, a bed set with cereal stains and a touch of adolescent pink, a lamp that works possible 60% of the time - at most, books fall off shelves and stacked up in corners, where a loan stuffed animal named booboo sits, dust piling on the brown bears eyelids. Juno surrounded and encompassed me in a mass of realistic characters - who have brown eyes for once! Shocker - and situations full of Sunny D and TicTac massacres. It made me ready for an actual teenage experience, and not just one from the scenes of High School Musical.
I realized something right away. Elementary school is awesome compared to high school. I once had a teacher give me a gift basket with toys at the end of the year because I got the highest reading score. I thrived on the recognitions, basked in all the glory, and reminded everyone in class about it. I longed for it when I made the coolest study guide during biology midterms.
My sisters got me through. I present you with the utter truth: Look up to your older sisters. Even if you don’t have any, look up to some woman figure, even a Kardashian (Okay, maybe not a Kardashian, but you do you). Sisters can and will: Tell you why your middle part looks terrible, throw the passive aggressive “Mmmmmmkkkkayyy” paired in there with the side glance whenever possible, borrow your clothes, get angry when you borrow their clothes, watch ‘Love Actually’ with you, sing harmonies on songs that don’t need anymore harmonies (And if you dare join in, another Mmmmmmmkkkayyy is coming your way), and generally teach you the ways of life. Love them or loathe them, at least they’ll always be there.
At age fifteen I learned how to question teachers, not because I’m feeling defiant or rude, like the stereotypical high-schooler. Think Kat Stratford from ’10 Things I Hate About You.’ I now question my teachers because I am curious and interested, and want to know more about the origins of reggae or the effects of the Vietnam War. I have conversations with them, instead of debates. I’ve accepted that they’re there to teach me, not to torment me. The same goes for myself.
Soon I started to have opinions. That’s the best part of being a teenager: at least now I got just a tiny bit of say in what goes one in the world. So I made this opinion: Mental illness is construed in todays society. It used to be construed to the point where everything different was defined as a mental illness (Being transgender, for example). Now it’s construed to the point that nothing is defined as a mental illness because it’s so common. Staying in bed for a week? In 1950, I would be confined to a mental hospital. In 2015, I would be called lazy and that it’s just my mindset that needs to be altered. I was a part of this problem, participating in the online idea of romanticized mental illness, which you can find on almost any social media site. This changed when I read Girl Interrupted, a memoir by Susanna Kaysen. The book gave me an insight to what living with a mental illness in a psych ward was like 40 years ago while providing a perspective that changed my view on the idea of being mentally ill. It’s much easier to understand the emotions of other teenagers now than it was pre-reading, and I am forever thankful for discovering the undercover of the supposed stigma that is mental illness in teens.
I then started writing. There has to be a vent of expression in everyones life. For me, this vent was a black moleskin journal alongside an alter-ego named June. June doesn’t exist. Instead she’s who I want to be, or who I am in a parallel universe, or who I think I am if I didn’t have to live a life that follows societal expectations. It’s much more intriguing to write from the perspective of June than from a girl who follows the rules and happens to drink Starbucks. The journals are filled to the brim with drawings and poems and thoughts about music and printed pictures and political ideologies and stories about stupid people who do stupid things. Finding this form of expression made being a teenager not as straining and quite more rewarding, and that’s all because I let my June shine through.
My step-mom and father got a divorce in the fall of sophomore year. I’d never seen my dad cry before, and I still haven’t seen my dad cry, but now I knew what it’s like when your dad doesn’t cry in front of you, but most definitely does so in his room. There’s the quiet. And theres the loud. The surroundings are muted, caught in a stand-still between reality and falsehood. But the mind, the mind is non-stop; ideas are popping up like prairie dogs, jumping in front of the eyes; they’re the too-tall plants on the boulevard, the hanging toy on the review mirror, they’re in the way and not supposed to be there. The environment that enraptured my body was stuck and my mind wanted to get out. Wanting to help someone you love and wanting to hurt the one who hurt this person go hand in hand, and having those two emotions at once don’t create equilibrium, they create distortion. I am a child, and he is an adult, and I’m not allowed to see him cry. Knowing he was in pain and couldn’t show me felt much worse than knowing he was in pain because he was showing me. This was the lowest part of teenage-hood.
After those couple months of absolute sadness, I took it upon myself to experience binge-watching. I learned a few things along the way. If you’re going to binge watch shows (especially shows with 5+ seasons), plan it out weeks in advance. Some questions to consider: Do I have any huge tests coming up? Is the test that important? Could I study and watch the show at the same time? Is the show something I’ve seen before? If I haven’t seen it before, how much effort am I going to have to put in to pay attention to it? If I have seen it before, do I really need to watch it again? Should I just watch my favorite episodes? How long are the episodes? If they’re half an hour long, can I watch in between study sessions? If they’re an hour long, how many can I binge before it looks like I have no plan in my life and enjoy rotting away as my back muscles degrade into mush? Is winter or spring break coming up? Can I wait a month or two for those long breaks? No? Then go right ahead.
The big ONE-SIX came around. It wasn’t glamourous. There were no surprise cars, or parties with hundreds of people, or giant cakes. Everyone but my father was out of town. Most were on voluntary vacations because my day of birth happens to full during winter break. So I woke up angry, annoyed with the mothers and the siblings that had left me with a person who had to work that day. It was cold and I was frustrated. I ended the day more content, but still angry. The next day was much better. Being sixteen did not open up a world of possibilities, but it did open up the phrase, “Oh, I’m sixteen!” which happened to sound much cooler than “Yeah, I’m fifteen.” Live it up, sweet-sixteeners.
Gracia was also sixteen when I met her, but the meeting was brief, and I wasn’t paying attention because I happened to be nine years old. Flash forward seven years, I got to get to know her for a full two months. It was an incredible experience. Gracia was a girl who always wore her curled hair up, pinned due to the shortness of it. She rolled her own cigarettes and made her own coffee. Gracia wore rings upon rings, and each of them had symbolized something. It was like everything she did, wore, said, sung, cried about, created, introduced, believed in, had a reason. There was a backstory and meaning that was way above my philosophical understandings in every move she made. Because of her, I learned how to appreciate the people who come into my life and show me the world in emotional ways that I never thought about. I keep these people close, and never let them go.
These people included my parents: Thank you for bathing me, holding me, and letting me clutter the stack of books in the corner next to the record player. Thank you for laughing when I crinkled my eyes, for putting me to bed, for filming me every second of my young life. Thank you for knowing me before I knew me, for teaching me to sing and dance and be happy, for kissing my toes. Thank you for waking up for me, for filling me with joy, for taking my hands and guiding me. Thank you for challenging me, for comforting me when my friend didn’t want to be my friend anymore, for loving me even when I slammed the door in your face. Thank you for playing classical music excessively, creating an obsession for the quite tones of the violin in the morning. Thank you for embracing me, accepting me, and for understanding me. Thank you for doing everything a parent should do, and thank you for making me be thankful for you.
I think I was lying when I said that I had experienced the lowest part of teenage-hood, because October of my junior year brought a feeling I had never felt before. If you’ve never gotten the feeling of no escape, be thankful. It happens in public. The tenseness starts in the fingers and moves to the shoulders and then suddenly the heart can feel it. It can feel these unnerving thoughts that the brain is sending throughout the body, and there is nothing to stop it. The problem is that you’re in public, and public outbreak of tears tends to be frowned upon. So suddenly the body is in a panic, because crying can’t happen, and the tears travel to the chest, and that combined with the tenseness already surrounding it chokes up the bloodstream and all that is heard is pounding. The fingers don’t stop shaking, and no one notices, and there is no escape.
This was the moment in my life where I knew who I was, because I discovered who I wasn’t. Nearing the end of my sixteenth year, there was a boy who I had known for a couple years who killed himself down by a creek. He was the boy who gave me a rose, who kissed me at New Years, who almost broke up my friendship with my best friend, who caused text riots and lies, who confused me, who made me feel guilty, who held me, who laughed with me on the warmest day of September while we were at his favorite place in the whole world. It was there were he hung himself. I was sad, but suddenly I understood. Sixteen years is not a lot of time. I’ve accomplished a minuscule amount of important life events, and yet I regret a solid amount of things. There will always be this proportionality of mistakes and successes, and somehow I have lived these past sixteen years without a problem with this, until the moment I got the call about the boy who was my first love. And so it goes: The key to transitioning through teenage hood is not accepting this proportionality, but instead accepting that the world is surrounding you and moving at paces beyond your control, and all you can do is live without the ability to relive.