I remember being a kid, trailing behind my mom at the mall. A pack of teenage girls breezed by us with their perfect hair, smudged black eyes, laughing like every word in the English language was funny. Twelve-year old me sporting knotted hair, a wrinkled shirt, with teeth coming in crookedly, thought to herself, “I want to be like that.”
Now I am that. My hair is long, and I’ve learned how to curl it away from my face. I pencil on eyeliner every day and feel naked without it. Sometimes I laugh just for laughter’s sake, tears escaping my eyes as I cackle. And when I see little girls looking at me with envy and longing, I just want to hug them tightly and beg them to enjoy recess and ordering off the kid’s menu.
Things are so much bigger on this side of it. I’m not just talking about the adult menu enchiladas at Gringos. Being a teenager can feel like you’re gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe; you’re forced to move forward when all you want is to stick to the sidewalk of your past. It’s hard to think about the lives we’re working towards. You get good grades to get into college, you study in college to get a good job, and you work that job to live your life. It’s a cycle. And not like the carousel on the playground, you can’t jump off of when you get dizzy.
Sometimes when I look at my life and the places I’m going, the things I’ve done, I think about myself as a kid. What would middle-school me have thought of present-day me? Would she think I was pretty? Would she tell her mom in whispers about the curse words I scream into the steering wheel when I get stuck in traffic? Would she want to talk to me and tell me all of the secrets she keeps hidden away in her locker? Would she let me braid her matted hair? Would she watch me walk past her in the mall and think to herself, “I want to be like that?”
I remember wanting to be a senator, a lawyer, direct movies, be best friends with Hilary Duff. I had so many hopes and dreams for myself, and now I’m on the edge of adulthood, so close I can almost see the other side, and I am a sickeningly average.
Where’s the full ride to Columbia I was supposed to have? How about the brand new car I was going to save up for and buy? Or the bestselling novel, why didn’t I write that?
I wished for boyfriends, money, gal pals, and straight A’s. When I blew away the dusty feathers of the dandelions I rolled around in, scattered across my front yard, I made wishes. I ended with “Amen,” and happily let them float away. I was so sure then, in seventh grade, that when I grew up, all my wishes would come true.
Now I’m seventeen. No boyfriend, a wad of babysitting money stashed in my sock drawer, no more than ten close friends, and the straight A’s? Sorry pre-pubescent me, high B’s will have to do. This is the teenager that the starry-eyed little girl became. I’m not rich, I’m not famous, I’m going to a state school for college, and I think boys are allergic to my smile.
Here’s the thing that we don’t think about, though. Our lives are just starting. I get upset about my thighs touching, being late to class, and the barista at Starbucks forgetting to add my extra shot of caramel. Even on nights like this one when I’m sitting at my computer, slowly picking away at a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, begging my best friend for five more minutes to write before we Skype, I let myself get caught up in this life. The now. This very confusing, quick, extreme state of being seventeen.
And I will probably get tattoos and keep cussing when I’m angry. There will be nights in my life that I get drunk and say things that I shouldn’t. My heart will probably get broken, and I may do some breaking myself. Some days, I won’t want to wake up, and on others, I’ll be up before the sun. I will break apart like a pinch of play-doh, and I will keep putting myself back together, molding to fit the times.
I don’t know what I would’ve thought of myself then. Maybe I would’ve hated my haircut, thought I chewed my gum too loudly and damn it, I probably would’ve thought my cussing was disgusting.
Even when I’m at the mall now, dodging social interaction, making a B-line for Sephora, I find myself looking at other teenage girls and thinking to myself, “I want to be like that.” And I can’t help but wonder since that’s all I do these days, when will I get to a place where I don’t want what others have? When will I love myself as a whole? When will I let myself be good enough?
I’ve felt the pressure of all my child-like dreams. They weigh down my shoulders. They crack my ribs as I sleep. These things I thought would make me happy are breaking me. The makeup is making me forget what my freckles look like. My hair still gets tangled when I sleep. And the jokes that I laugh at? They’re not funny the way things used to be.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I miss it. I think I’m trying to tell that little girl that I’m sorry. I wish I could’ve been the dream she had at nights. I want her to be happy now, proud of the roads she’s taken and pit stops she made along the way.
I don’t want to want to be different. I know that I am a human and we’re hard wired for change. Trying to be okay with that is tough, but I think I’m getting there.
What I really need now, is for her to tell me I’m okay. Whisper that she’s proud and that I should keep moving on. Because I remember that little girl very well. Even when her pigtails were so tight her head hurt, and the boys were mean, she kept going. She went home, picked those flowers, and she thanked God for her many blessings.
When I think about her now, the flame of her memory shaking in my head, I smile. Her hair was knotted, but she didn’t let it bother her. She had pollen stamped on her cheeks from kissing all the flowers. And she laughed at her mom dancing in the kitchen like it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen. Seventeen-year-old me, tired eyes, highlighted hair, can’t help but think to herself, “I want to be like that.”