When I was a kid I always wanted to be seventeen. This was when, in my mind, the world would open its gilded doors and allow me to float through into the chaos that growing up in a small left me craving by the time I reached ten years old. And what, you ask, did I hope to find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well, I hoped to find the world and within it – myself. So here’s what I was going to do when I was seventeen –
I was going to be tragically and impossibly intelligent by the time I was seventeen. I was going to know exactly where I was going and why I was going there at all times and the childish notions of confusion and fear would evaporate the moment those doors to seventeen closed behind me and enveloped me into their madness. I was going to read – a lot. And not just the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Wind in the Willows that got me through much of my childhood – I was going to read foreign books by enigmatic heroes of the written word like Dochevsky and Alighieri. And I wasn’t only going to just understand them; I was going to understand them on a level so unfounded that my sheer ability to comprehend their nuances would be simultaneously enthralling and enraging. And I was going to write – a lot. Hell, I was going to write a library.
I was going to be cynical and alone and insufferably miserable. I was going to drink hard liquor and smoke cigarettes that didn’t have filters and I was going to look unimaginably awesome whilst I did this. I was going to see the world and travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket and a crooked smile on my face. I was going to make friends and enemies in equal measure and learn as much from those who loathed me as I would learn from those who loved me. I was going to drink wine out of the bottle on top of the Eiffel tower and strike a pose next to Washington monument that bordered on phallic. I was going to eat food that wasn’t even considered food in much of the world and I was going drink my coffee black and bitter and I was going to draw deep and meaningful correlations between the nature of my favoured beverage and the inherent nature of my soul. Yes, I was going to be one deep motherfucker when I was seventeen.
I was going to change the world one burnt flag at a time and I was never going to wear a bra or shave my legs or give into what a society who idolised nothingness asked me to be. I was never going to wear make-up or take note of my appearance. I was going to be an independent entity, existing only to better humanity and for no personal gain. I was going to chain myself to fences and throw pretend blood over many a war mongering politician. I was going to be the next Abbie Hoffman and I was going to end the hypocrisy and injustice in a blaze of adolescent glory. I was going to establish world peace because when I turned seventeen I would suddenly know exactly where the rest of the planet had gone wrong in that respect. People would listen to me when I was seventeen. I was going to set the world on fire.
And then when my library had been written, my world discovered and eventually saved I was going to die alone in a cabin in the woods somewhere in Maine, New England surrounded by books and tokens of my indulgences. Empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl – my God there would be so much vinyl. And I would leave nothing behind but my legacy. No children, no broken hearts or thankful ones and I would be remembered for what I did and not who I was. No one would know me enough to miss me and I would take comfort in this thought in my last days. People would remember the thousands of lives I lived but no one would ever be close enough to know the real life. The eating, shitting, snoring, crying life that we all try so desperately to hide from everyone but the people you love. I was never going to fall in love. This one was the most important. I was never going to fall in love.
So I am a few years on the wrong side of seventeen. And what, you ask, did I actually find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well I found the world and within it – everything but myself. So here’s what I did when I was seventeen –
I was tragically and impossibly suffocated by my intelligence and the constraints, as well as the expectations that came with it. I had no idea where I was going most of the time nor why I was going there or what I hoped to find at the end of many dead end roads. The childish notions of confusion and fear were replaced with the adolescence notions of confusion and fear that were in retrospect much more terrifying than their predecessors. And I read – a lot. And I read foreign books and I understood little to nothing hidden within their pages. But I pretended I did, as if just managing to finish “The Idiot” or “The Divine Comedy” and understand their basic premise was enough. And I wrote – a lot. Hell, I wrote a whole goddamn library.
I was cynical and insufferably miserable but never alone. I drank hard liquor and smoked cigarettes without filters but never looked any cooler than the other people doing it. I did indeed travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket but there was very rarely a smile on my face. I made more enemies than I made friends, and in all likeliness probably learned more about myself from those whom loathed me than I did from those who loved me. I never did make it to the Eiffel tower or to the Washington monument to snap that fabled phallic photograph. I have eaten some crazy stuff, but nothing of note and yes, I do drink my coffee dark and bitter but never drew that comparison between its nature and that of my soul. Yes, I was one misanthropic motherfucker by the time I was seventeen.
I never burned a flag and have always worn a bra (well most of the time) and I shave my legs and pluck my eyebrows like every other woman. I wear makeup and care more as I grow older about what I wear. I realised that I was a person in the world too and that I could not save everybody without martyring myself. That idea lost a lot of weight by the time I was seventeen. I have berated many an MP but I have never chained myself to something or thrown any particular item, blood or otherwise, over a politician. Around the same time I discovered that I was a person, not independent of the world but part of it, I discovered that even the most parasitic politician has a mother and a father who love them as my own loved me. It made the process of being objectively outraged a lot easier once I began to see my enemy as a human being and not a sack of cells sucking up oxygen. I learned quickly that I didn’t know everything and that the establishment of world peace took more than just telling people to put down their guns. I didn’t become the next Abbie Hoffman and I didn’t really achieve any great political victory when I was seventeen. No one listened to me when I seventeen. But I did set the world on fire.
Sitting on the wrong side of seventeen looking back at all I had hoped to achieve does twist my stomach into a knot – mainly at the sheer vanity of many of the dreams. I was an egotistical, angst ridden fool who thought of nothing but herself and masked it as a deep and meaningful understanding of the world and the problems within it. I didn’t know what I was talking about then, and I don’t really know what I am talking about now. And in coming to that realisation I managed to set fire to the one part of the world that mattered – my future.
I will not die alone in a cabin somewhere in Maine, New England and I won’t be surrounded by empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl. Okay, so there will be vinyl, and a lot of it. I will leave behind much more than my legacy and I know at least one person will miss me when I am gone. One heart will break and one person will never be the same. I know at least one person will remember me independent of the thousands of lives I pretended to live in the shadows of my own vanity and that one person will remember me for the eating, shitting, snoring, crying mess I am and you are and they are. I know this because I broke my own rules and I did what I said I would never do. I fell in love.
Yes, instead of doing all of that awesome stuff I had planned for seventeen when I was ten years old, I did the one thing I promised myself I would never do. Broken promises are always devastating to some degree, but none cut deeper or fade slower than the promises you made yourself. And then on the wrong side of seventeen I realised that predicting the future is possibly the most fruitless endeavour one can hope to comprehend because sometimes the exact thing that you never wanted is the exact thing that you always needed. I needed to fall in love, I needed to break that promise and there isn’t a day that goes by that this fact doesn’t simultaneously kill me and heal me.
And however we end up, whether she loves me forever like she does now with complete innocence and adoration, or she grows tired of my unrelenting pessimism and tries to break free of my inane bull shit – I will always be eternally grateful to her and the promise that she forced me to break.
And however we end up, I will always love the little girl who helped me set fire to the world and held my hand as we rebuilt it together, brick by bloody brick.