Never fall victim to nostalgia for the ripening preteen mutant you once were. Avert your eyes from any rose-colored projections of glistening locker-lined public school hallways that Boy Meets World seeded in your young and impressionable mind. Those hallways were neither rose-colored nor glistening. Maybe you remember feeling free, not a care in the world. You think things were easier then.
Remember? You lived with your parents, who wanted to be constantly updated as to your location via cell phone. You weren’t allowed to go white water rafting because rafting is dangerous, and why should they let you go anywhere with your attitude? You slammed your bedroom door. Any time you spent alone was regarded as a threat to the family unit and you dreaded the day when you’d come home to find your bedroom door removed from its hinges.
You instant messaged with a boy in Florida, anxious that someone would fling open the door without warning and you would be found out, accused of dawdling with predators. Would it hurt you to come out of your girl cave once and a while and spend some time with your family? Yes, it would hurt. Of course it would hurt. Everything hurts! You turned up the volume on your alarm clock stereo and blared a Simple Plan song that would demonstrate to everyone how much everything hurts. Do you still remember feeling free?
Remember? Awkwardness seemed to be at the very core of your identity. Evenings were spent in front of the mirror, mulling over the conversations and interactions that you had during the day, brooding over how miserably you botched them. Then you rehearsed all of your conversations for tomorrow and practiced all of your forthcoming jokes. It was vital for you to constantly be brilliant, entertaining, and hilarious or all your friends would abandon you. Homework was not even a possibility until this process was complete.
You were convinced everyone was carefully observing you and taking detailed notes. Moving from class A to class B, your walk was so mechanical, your movements so orchestrated that you no longer appeared human. What should I do with my arms? Should I swing them, like this? Should I cross them? Should I put them behind my head? No, not behind your head! You must have resembled a robot operated by a microscopic alien who pulled levers inside a control panel behind your eyeballs. A robot in a human suit walking around in sneakers and a backpack, trying to pass off as a human but always suspecting that everyone can see the zipper dangling at the nape of your neck. In line at Taco Bell, you rehearsed your order for a chicken quesadilla in your head, sweating and chanting to yourself, I cannot mess this up!
Remember the stuttering and the stumbling and the capsizing and the uncomfortable laughter? Remember sweating two hand-shaped sweat stains onto your jeans while talking to Mr. Awesome with his cystic acne and eyes-like-a-sea-of-eternity or whatever? Remember how itchy that human suit was? How much you wanted to rip it apart with your fingernails?
Remember? You tried to “be an individual” while also being part of the collective whole, and failed. You were told that if you could just be yourself then you would find people who liked you the way you are. It quickly became clear that in being yourself you alienated yourself from everyone. You could not have the best of both worlds. You had to make a choice between having your own place at the lunch table and spending the rest of your days hovering on the outskirts of cliques that were terrified of being associated with you. There was nothing in between Hot Topic and Abercrombie and Fitch but twenty feet of beige mall tiles.
You wanted to prove to yourself that you didn’t care and carefully constructed a façade of not-caring. With determination, you explored your identity through fashion choices that you would recall with revulsion for the rest of your life. You cut up your clothes, wore every bracelet you owned at once, and painted your fingernails to look like killer bees. You thought this was freedom. You wanted to be defined by your admirable taste music, too, but couldn’t find anyone who liked Simple Plan as much as you did.
Your parents tried to rein you in, stop you from listening to garbage and spending your time with punks and “leaving the house dressed like that.” You wanted to separate yourself from their opinions and behaviors but found yourself unconsciously parroting them. You thought you had more self-knowledge than your peers, but you probably had just as little.
Remember how every time you thought you knew who you were, you didn’t? More often than not, you surprised yourself. You were still in the process of creating an identity from parts, rehearsing it, performing it. Remember?