Just 17, and you know what I mean?
I never realized just how boring my life is. How all life is, actually. Or maybe I’d just forgotten.
Either way, I’m looking around and everything I see is just so… lame. Lame and random.
That car looks stupid. Who does that woman think she is? That guy is talking and I’m not even listening to a word he says, just watching his stupid mouth make stupid shapes.
This bleary and cynical worldview came to me, if I had to pin it down, shortly after our teenage nieces came to our house for a week’s stay.
The girls – at 17, I can still call them girls – are twin sisters, daughters of my wife’s own twin sister. This, I sometimes point out to them, makes them biological oddities, to which they generally respond with tilts of the head and slight, condescending sneers that make me feel very lame, indeed.
But in all other ways they are typical teenage girls, living in a starkly-defined hierarchy that is invisible to most adults with their very own insecurities, ambitions, attitudes and ways of dealing with the world all well in place.
When I met them they were the same age as my oldest child – hard to believe – and they used to giggle and tease me, calling me “pretty woman” because of my long hair. Somewhere along the way they relegated me to “adult” status, so I am no longer privy to their inside jokes and schemes.
And I know they’re planning something. They must be. Maybe sneaking back to their parents’ house for a party. That’s what I’d do. Or maybe a road trip. Yeah… get in the car and head down to Myrtle. Something like that.
They haven’t made their move yet, but I’m ready and waiting.
For now, I believe, they’re trying to lull me into a false sense of security by indulging in large quantities of the fourth deadly sin: sloth.
Look at them: They’re horizontal like 65 percent of the day. On the couches. On the floor. I caught them napping out in my car the other day.
I brought ’em over to the mall. Teenagers love the mall, right? Lots of shiny crap to buy and other packs of creepy teenagers slinking around the food court. It’s like a Habitrail for these kids.
I picked the girls up a couple hours later.
“You guys had a good time?”
Part of the problem was that they had already spent all their money on soft drinks and eyebrow rings. But more so it was the fact that the mall is lame.
“I tell you what,” I said to my young charges. “I’ve got a full tank of gas. I can take you anywhere in the city. Tell me someplace that’s not boring. Somewhere you want to go.”
My offer was met with indifferent shrugs and evasive glances.
“There’s nothing around here.”
Are you kidding me? I thought to myself. When I was 17 I had the world at my feet. I was young and hungry and eager to learn. I tasted adventure, pursued love, took all the necessary first steps of a life intended to be well lived. I would give anything to be 17 again, to have so much opportunity and promise. Those years were truly the happiest and most carefree of my life.
But then… maybe not so much.
Sometimes we have a tendency to idealize the past, to look at it through that amber lens of nostalgia which casts everything in forgiving, soft focus.
My 17th summer was in 1987. I was still in high school, a rising senior, and I was convinced that mine was going to be the best senior year ever, envisioning beach parties and keggers and clinging to the possibility, slight though it was, of losing my virginity.
I was living in my room in my parents’ house, and I believe I had a job taking marketing surveys at the mall. Because back in the ’80s, teenagers loved malls. I walked to work and back – I didn’t have a car – and I made about $4 an hour, a hundred or so a week. I was taking SAT prep classes and getting real nervous about the prospect of college. My friends and I were too young to go to bars, too old for backyard parties, too sheltered to know anything about the communities around us, too lazy to build a clubhouse and as ignorant as suburban boys can be. We spent most of that summer riding our bikes around town, going to a lot of movies and engaging in a process we called “shoulder-tapping,” wherein one stands outside a convenience store and asks strangers to buy one some beer.
Under the harsh light of reality, being 17 kind of sucks. You can’t vote or buy a gun. You’ve got years before you can legally buy a drink. You’ve maybe got a crappy car, you drive it into the ground and get reamed on insurance. Your parents live on a different planet and you spend your time waiting – for your senior year and graduation, for your 18th birthday and some legal rights, for puberty to slow down, for time to speed up. And it’s anxious. And it’s frustrating. And it’s scary. And it’s painful. And it’s difficult to put into words.
Also, it’s exhausting. Which is probably why they sleep so much. Either that or they’re hopped up on goofballs.
For questions or comments email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.