Some days, I believe I was born old. Old thoughts, old heart, old bones puttering away in a childâ€™s body. Other days, I wonder if I will ever be young again, or if life has branded me as prematurely elderly and will leave it at that. Growing up, I spent a majority of my time with my grandmother in her retirement community or holed up in my small town home, watching cartoons and listening to the laundry rattle in the machine. Even then, I was subjected to an early life of household chores, most of which are generally associated with adulthood. She taught me how to iron, my five year old self following along dutifully with a shirt torn from Winnie the Pooh, and precisely how to vacuum so that dog hair was a problem of the past.
My mother, too, taught me many things, as did my father. An older couple ---- older by societyâ€™s standards, never their own ---- raising a child in a community of recovering alcoholics and ex-cons. We moved, of course, as people are wont to do, but the change only accelerated my case of early onset maturity. In third grade, I attended church at a minimum security prison, my fatherâ€™s â€˜officeâ€™, and took to caring for the resident stray cats like some sort of ten year old mother. And then, because life is rarely, if ever, easy, my world became complicated.
Around sixth or seventh grade, my mother was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can attack multiple parts of the body. Her antibodies turned against her, waging war on the healthy tissue of her neurologicalÂ and musculoskeletal systems. A childhood history of epilepsy reared its head after so many dormant years, giving me my first glimpse of a seizure. An image that now, nearly six years later, I am yet to erase.
So began the Age of the Doctor, hospitals and waiting rooms a common setting, sprinkled with the occasional emergency room rush. My father stepped up to the plate, taking over the duties my motherâ€™s responsibilities, and I grew older. Instead of the relative innocence of pre-teen years, my aging worsened by way of new job descriptions. In my motherâ€™s place, I became Nurse and Practitioner, Chef and Laundry Assistant, Grocery Shopper and Secretary. For my father, I played Family Psychologist, his bipolar disorder reigning unchecked by medication, and, for my grandmother, I was Frequent Visitor, scoping out nursing homes with my family as her own health plummeted.
Everything happened so fast that, somewhere in there, I forgot to be a kid.
Now, at eighteen, however, I realise this time for what it was: a high-speed chase into adulthood, complete with twists and turns and gravity defying drops. Iâ€™ve come out of the other side on top, climbing the mountains of those years tooth and nail every step of the way. I may not know how to behave at a party, but I can complete a shopping list in forty minutes and still have enough time to finish course work before bed.
And, well, that is simply who I am: a product of my past --- determined, a little socially out of touch, and far too mature for my own good, with a streak of humor to keep me moving forward. While itâ€™s true that my head may not be as far in the clouds as is expected of a creative thinker, my involvement in theater and writing molding me into an artist, having my feet so firmly grounded has only made the sky that much sweeter.