Do we come of age in a singular moment or is it a gathering progression? I’m not talking about the ceremonious physical coming of age that entitles one to a plastic coated card. I’m referring to the life rendering psychological event; that moment your candy coated, rainbow sparkled life gets blown up by a bazooka named Hard Reality. We climb to the glorious peak of our youth only to be pushed over the cliff; plummeting at a shocking speed into the pits of adulthood.
I wonder if it’s gloriously tragic for each and every one of us or just an unfortunate few? All I know is one day you’re pushing your Barbie car through a carpet of Fruit Loops when your neighbor decides to shoot your dog for pooping on his petunias. Or your new step-dad takes a frying pan to your little brother. Or your Mom goes out for groceries and never comes home. Or the school bully makes you his new pet project.
One day the world was right. Remember? Remember how that felt?
And then it wasn’t.
You’d think a moment like that would be memorialized on our calendar — like our birthday — only it’s polar opposite. Death day, the day we buried our most cherished friend in a tub of marshmallow fluff and rainbow sprinkles. My memory of my Death Day is sketchy, but it was early. This is a surprise when you consider I’ve been late to arrive to every other milestone: growing hips, monthly bleeding, choosing a degree, having kids, jumping on the life purpose wagon. I’d be freakin’ pissed about the late bloomer thing if I wasn’t busy showing up late for grey hair, crows feet, back pain, neck pain, joint pain and high blood pressure. Being a late bloomer has nice returns come midlife.
I was eight and it seemed like a normal third-grade kind of day. That’s the key indicator, right? We’re just hanging, doing our thing, when instantaneously, our “thing” is all wrong. “Shut up you finger sucking, bawl baby freak! You’re so queer!” I don’t remember why Sherry went off on me in front of the whole class but I know I was not the kind of kid who would have spurred her on. I was the shy, down to earth, quiet sort. I would have glued my eyes shut before I’d have provoked trouble. I abhorred conflict.
Sherri shoved me off the cliff so hard that day even the teacher stood speechless. No one stopped me as I ran out of the classroom, out of the school, and straight out of my childhood. Yes, it was true. I did suck my fingers and I also did this crazy, odd thing where I rubbed balls of cotton against my nose. Don’t ask me why! Kids aren’t supposed to worry about the “why.” That’s the rainbow unicorn part. It just IS. We don’t care until someone humiliates us and then, horribly, we do.
That was my coming of age, a.k.a. Death Day.
So I hid my glow. I curled up in a ball, sunk in my chest, dipped my head, and cowered over the girl I had been that very morning when I’d delicately put on my brown plaid polyester pants, pink satin jacket, red socks and brown Mary Janes. I had left the house that morning assuming I was doing everything right. By the time I ran home, I was pretty darn certain I was a whole lot of wrong.
I buried Monica Certain between my pillow and my pillow case and hid as much as I could of what was left. I hid my glorious finger sucking, my experimental fashion knowhow, my silliness, my natural curiosity, and whimsical carelessness towards all things physical. By fifth grade I’d hidden myself so well my teachers had trouble seeing me. I became a master at camouflage; blending into walls, desks, school yards, and lunch rooms. I learned to keep my glow hidden unless someone passed a rigorous test to prove they were safe enough for me to take it out. Sometimes those tests failed and my glow took a hard hit.
And I was one of the lucky ones. Because there were kids who completely lost their glow. I mean it was gaaaaa-onnnne. They must have thrown it into the fireplace or drowned it in a gas can or fed it to a pile of red ants because I never saw them with it again, not even at sleepovers or in the hushed whispers of my club house. Someone or something pushed them so hard over the cliff that their glow shattered when they hit the ground. If they find it again (and I know they can) they’ll have to spend some serious time gluing it all back together. No one should live without their glow.
The Popularity Link
My fascination with popularity was launched when I came of age. I’m still fascinated by it. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why Carry was popular just because she could climb the gym rope all the way to the ceiling. Or why Scott was looked down upon because he took apart his Little Professor to make a spit ball launcher? Why Pattie was “Fatty” but Becky, who was also heavy, was cool? Why was Shelly avoided for having “four eyes” but no one cared that James wore glasses? I mean, who decides this? Even at eight it all seemed so… trivial. Kids seriously disliked me because I sucked my fingers? Because I was shy? Because I was the slowest runner? That was more important than how nice I was to them or I how fun I was to be around or how hard I could play?
What if popularity is determined by the severity of your Death Day? What if Pattie took a harder shove than Becky, lost more of her glow, and ended up being the class “fatty?” What if Kevin’s Death Day was the day he shot his first buck? He wanted to puke all over the thing dying at his feet but his dad was so proud of his kill, bragging to the coworkers, flaunting the rack at home. So Kevin’s fall was cushioned, his glow wasn’t as hard to get back and he ended up being the High School President.
Who said we have to lose our glow to come of age? Is there an easier way to help our kids step into adulthood? Must they be shoved?
Coming Of Consciousness
Eventually another day comes: Resurgence Day, the coming of consciousness. Someone or something gives us a hard shot of helium and BAM! We’re flying. From that height we can see how right we once were. We’re not the names they gave us! It never mattered if we wore glasses, braces, fifty extra pounds of fat, pimples, or freckles. Turns out, sucking your fingers is trivial compared to the kindness in your heart. From this height you can see how Scott was supposed to be tinkering with electronics. And the other kids in class were supposed to be the brainiac, the teacher’s pet, the doodler, the rapper, the jock, the drama queen, and the princess. This was a big piece of their glow, their jive, their thing, their way.
One moment we’re wallowing in our wrong…
And then we’re not.
How clear it all looks to us now. We’re not meant for an existence of self-doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and loathing. We are not meant to hide or camouflage or disappear into crowds. Nor were we meant to redefine, ridicule, bully, or diminish others.
And then helium meets glow and KAAAA-POWIEEEE! I mean gaaaa-ooooone! No more names, clicks, rankings, or uncertainty. All of that is so trivial! We’re back, dressing in our red skinny jeans, black lace top, purple faux fur vest and yellow pumps; certain we are everything right.
By Monica Wilcox