On the brink

” Adolescence is God’s way of punishing us for crimes we have yet to commit.” – Mr. 20 Prospect

Do you remember when life was simple? When you woke up in the morning, lay in bed watching the sunlight streaming into the bedroom, and wondered what you should play today. They say that youth is wasted on the young. I’m not so sure. The kids sure seem to enjoy it. And they are still kids. Ten and Eleven, the height of childhood. Old enough to ride the big rides at the Amusement Park, and still young enough to squeal with delicious terror. Adulthood is something enigmatic and distant, like a mountain range that never seems to get any closer. Yet mystery still lurks in the shadows, even though you feel protected and immortal.

Oh, those Boo Radley summers. They lasted an eternity. You never see the end coming. It comes on so slow, you look up one day and it is there. When I was a kid I used to have a re-occurring dream. In it I was playing with the kids on Prospect out in the middle of the street like we always did. When looking up through the ceiling of maples I saw a spaceship descending slowly, coming for us. Suddenly, I was overcome with fear, and began running for home, looking up to see the ship advancing on us. Suddenly the world was different, the reality that we knew was over and a new one was descending out of the sky.

I never understood that dream, but in true Ray Bradbury fashion, I think I get it now. The ship descending slowly towards us was adolescence. Like adolescence it never announces it’s coming until you realize one day it has arrived. Then everything changes. From age 13 until 17, our bodies convulse, and transform like Dr. Jeckl becoming Mr. Hyde. We become grotesques, long legged, knobby knees, our bodies too big and awkward for us to control. The face that looks back at us from the mirror takes on different proportions. Our noses, and ears suddenly stick out like a caricature.

I can remember the trips to Dr. Trifthauser’s. From 6th to 10th grade, I made a monthly visit to the orthodontist to sit in a chair and have my braces torqued and adjusted. It was a form of medieval torture, as if the good Doctor, in his garish golf pants, were trying to extract a confession from me. Six chairs in a big room, facing a wall lined with one long carpeted bench, on which the youth of Batavia sat in silence, waiting for their turn. Kids from every elementary school in town, all together in the torture chamber on the second flood while their Mom’s waited outside.

In some ways, the Orthodontists’ office was the symbolic event that revealed the bonds between us and our families were about to be supplanted by bonds between us and our fellow prisoners, in a coming of age ritual that never made the pages of the National Geographic’s hanging in the magazine rack. For six years we would be prisoners in our own bodies. Serving time as the Inquisitor did his best to extract a confession for crimes we had yet to commit.

Is there anything more unjust in life than adolescence? Is it any wonder that when we are finally released we go crazy with our new found freedom, and race headlong to try out the tools of adulthood which we are so unprepared to use? So let the kids play. Let them be kids. It will be over all too soon. All we can do is to love them, and prepare them for what lies ahead. There is no point in telling them. They wouldn’t believe us if we did.


6 thoughts on “On the brink

  1. I often wonder if, given the choice, I would go back to being a child. I certainly remember the good times, without a care. I’d wake up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoon and eat sugary cereal, then play for hours. I often have to wake up early, still, but for responsibility and not cartoons.

    In some ways, I realize that there are things I’ve lost. The things that are still the most dear to me, were so much more powerful before. My imagination that would allow me to take 2 GI Joes, a plastic elephant and a cracker-box, and transform it into a jungle scene so real, that I want to explain it in detail to my parents so they can see it too.

    While those times are gone, I also remember all the days when I felt so small, and powerless. Free to play, but not allowed responsibility. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t choose a restaurant, or run to the store to get a new inner-tube for my bike. I was dependent for nearly everything, against my will.

    While I miss the freedom of childhood, I have realized a greater appreciation for the responsibilities I can now control. For better or worse, I can still be an adult who dreams and acts irresponsibly on occasion.

    • what KYA said!!! i miss the active imagination and pure play of my youth. i could create a barbie scene with real barbies and those i fashioned out of scrap fabric and shoelaces. i had priests, witches, cemeteries, airplanes, doctor’s offices, soap operas … you name it. but then i realized i had to create these make believe worlds as places to escape. i couldn’t wait to grow up and have some control over my environment, relationships, and happiness.

  2. I still think youth is wasted on the young, though I agree that they eat it up heartily. But I often think, if I knew what I know now, but looked like I looked then? I’d be unstoppable.

  3. I’m going go ahead and ignore the heartfelt and well written gist of this post to let you know that any dream involving spacecraft descending from the roiling clouds of a forbidding sky indicates that you have been abducted.
    I’d check under your skin for microchips.
    Notice I didn’t include the obvious joke about anal probing.

  4. What an enigmatic dream!

    I cannot say that adolescence was particularly traumatic for me, however. The transition to adulthood was very smooth, but then, I always had a job. I always worked. My biggest fear was that I would NOT grow up, for I matured much more slowly than my peers. When they started to get interested in girls, I thought they were crazy. I just wanted to play sports and build stuff, and I did not want any distractions. I ended up with more adult friends than peers, and then, later, discovered women when they were still playing with girls. (So I used to taunt them.)

    But then, I’m weird.

    On another note, I keep drinking in this serene grandeur to your writing style. Quite refreshing.

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