Last week, I pulled up an album on Spotify that I haven’t listened to in a decade. It was an album that got so much play when I was 14 that, when I listened to it at 31, I could sing from the first word of the first song to the last word of the last song.
It was Natalie Imbruglia’s “Left of the Middle.” Remember “Torn”?
Feeling nearly giddy with nostalgia, I shared a Facebook status about the experience and was met with a comment that made me pretty happy:
One of the things I love about you is that you haven’t lost touch with your inner 14-year-old.
I wouldn’t go back to my teen years for anything,* but there is a joy and innocence of 14 that grown-ups can’t replicate. We can try. We can decide that those traits are important to us and live our lives in a way that attempts to replicate that feeling. Apparently, I do this successfully enough that others have noticed.
And yet, there is no first kiss like your first kiss. There is no reading experience that comes close to that first book that spoke poetry to your guts. There is no friendship like teen girl friendship.
At left, at 14 (yes, that’s a Tigger mock turtleneck midriff shirt with black overall shorts). At right, at 18.
But maybe we can try to maintain some of that newness. Certain things from 14 are worth carrying into adulthood:
- The friendships. In 1997, the sun rose and the sun set with my best friend (above). Her word was more important than all the words. Her approval was more important than my own. I’ve no interest in having that level of dependence on another person again, but what I wouldn’t give to love a friend so fully. Today, I can’t even muster the energy to call people I haven’t talked to in two months. At 14, one of our biggest concerns was that the other would fall off the caller ID. Our home caller IDs held 99 numbers, and when she went on vacation, other calls would push her down the line. We could never, ever let the other’s home number disappear from the phone. It was a Big Deal.
- The relationships. Not everything about the relationships, god no. But if we can find someone as an adult who makes us as giddy as those first, new loves, we should hold on with two hands.
- The knowledge that anything is possible. There is nothing as fearless as a teenager. At 14, I could decide to be a journalist or a chemist, an engineer or a veterinarian. I could decide to go to Kent State, or Ball State, or Italy. I could decide to get engaged at 19, or 22, or 32, or never. As a grown up, it’s easy to feel stuck in all those decisions we made back in our 20s as if, for some reason, we can’t unchoose those choices. Yeah, it’s harder with kids and spouses and responsibilities, but it’s still your life. If you’re in a dead-end job, get out. If you loathe your city’s weather, move. If your fiance sucks, ditch him.
- The amount I documented my life. I have the memory of a goldfish, so I am eternally grateful I kept such detailed journals from the time I was in second grade well into college. As life got busier, I pulled out my pen less often. I still keep a journal, and I’m determined to start writing in it more often this year. But no matter what, I will never detail conversations, love interests, or a day’s play-by-play like I did in 1996.
- My love of King’s Island. I grew up not 20 minutes from the amusement park. My friends and I would get season passes, and each week, a different mom would drop us off at noon and pick us up at close. King’s Island was our babysitter, and it was amazing. As far as third places go, it knocks the socks off Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.
Not to say 14 was all blue skies and pinky swears. There are plenty that I’m happy to leave in the annals of the ’90s:
- My unibrow
- My bacne
- My obsession with the phrase “bite me”
- My refusal to learn to drive
- My insistence on remaining a virgin until marriage. Thanks for that, St. Max youth group.
- My inability to cleanly dump a boyfriend (OK, this problem may have edged into the millennium)
- My inability to hit on someone cute (This was only a problem in my early teen years–in my later teens, I figured out how to do it: I talked to boys only who didn’t intimidate me, which means I dated lots of computer nerds. I still love me a good computer nerd. I am highly amused [and kind of turned on?] by my graphic designer husband currently learning code for work.)
- My barely there A-cup
- My oily, oily face. If I put my head down on a homework assignment, I would leave a stain, not unlike greasy pizza on a paper plate. Ew.
Clearly, the con list is longer than the pro list. But I’d still like to give 14-year-old me a time traveling fist bump of appreciation. She wasn’t all bad.
* That’s not entirely true. Here is a complete list of things I would be 14 for again: A month’s worth of writing lessons from Stephen King. Getting rid of Joey’s autism.