Growing Backward

You’ll never see with virgin eyes again.
– Missy Higgins

I commented to

last night that I wish I could have a do-over for my youth.

It’s true.  And I know I’ve written about this before.  I spent my teenage years holding my breath, nervously waiting for life to happen to me.  I want to go back and actually do things this time.  Meet people.  Go to sketchy parties.  Date.

All those years wasted, blaming my emotional issues for my fear of life.  All those years watching, feeling more mature than the interesting kids, but also envying them deeply.  All those years wishing some exciting, dynamic, adventurous girl would step into my life, take pity on me, and lead me on a whirlwind tour of youth culture.

All that time trying to project an unassuming shyness that still somehow said “pay attention to me!”

Other kids had bad things happen to them and somehow transmuted it into bold nonconformity.  I had the nonconformity, but none of the chutzpah.   I sat in my room and dreamt of life, of the future.

And now my penance for wasting that time is that I can’t leave it behind.  I can’t let it go.  I feel like I’m still there, still 17, or 14, still watching the kids at the mall with a mix of contempt and longing, still waiting for someone to notice me.  But I’m not 17, I’m 27, and I have a wife and two stepchildren and a house and two cars and short hair and I’m a successful engineer.

But I still can’t leave it behind.  It’s like unfinished business, an unwritten chapter nagging at me.  I feel like Merlin, growing backwards in time; when I was a child I felt like an adult, and now I feel like a child in a man’s body.  I finally have the confidence I lacked all those years, but now it is the time to put away childish things.

I write these things and people tell me to play a little, be a kid for a day.  But it’s not about hauling out the box of legos, or climbing a tree.  It’s about staying up until dawn because you don’t want to miss a thing, and you don’t care about getting home to your family or being well-rested for work.  It’s about getting sprains and contusions at a punk-rock show.  It’s about quitting your job and hopping on a bus because you feel like seeing the country.  It’s about first kisses and getting to third base and waking up in strange beds.  It’s about coffee house conversations that don’t yet feel cliched and ironic.  It’s about taking your band more seriously than your job.  It’s about spending the summer in Europe.

It’s about irresponsibility, and possibility.  And it’s forever out of reach.  Not just because I have responsibilities that I can’t let slide.  Not just because  I’m too old to hang with the cool kids anymore.  But because no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I still look through the same set of eyes.  The freshness, the excitement, the sense of the whole world spread out before me will still elude me, because it won’t be new.  There’s only one first time.

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  1. Having a child of your own will help you see through a new set of eyes. Suddenly, ZOMG IT’S A PUPPY! PUPPY SAYS RUFF RUFF!

    Sounds stupid now, but maybe you’ll see.

    That said, I still do a lot of that “irresponsible” stuff, but then, I always did, and maybe that’s the difference. I take a lot of crap for it too, now behind closed doors. Most people have stopped telling me I need to grow up to my face, because it does nothing but make me mad.

  2. … I never did any of that stuff either. *shrugs*

  3. “I finally have the confidence I lacked all those years, but now it is the time to put away childish things.”

    I so understand this post…

    I’ve pretty much avowed that my daughter will die her hair blue and no arguing. If she doesn’t, she’s grounded for 8 weeks!!!

    Being with wife helped a lot. For me one of the hardest things was the Scripture “Rejoice in the breasts of the wife of your youth!”. I felt like my youth was over and I had never rejoiced in young breasts. My wife was a blessing…

    I’ve avowed with my daughter I will try to stand by and guide her with a support that I didn’t have. I had support but not in all the areas.

    Yes, there are times I’ve thought of what it’d be like to get as much credit line as I can. Cash out. And travel to some backwater place where $100,000 goes far.

    – Saj

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