Later this month, I turn twenty-five. To most, this probably seems like a perfectly exciting age—car rentals, prime of life, etc. To me, it feels like a last hoorah. Insurance companies and European railway websites have long warned me that this will be my last year as a “youth,” and while I know this is a subjective standard, it feels like an affirmation of a long-ignored reality.
You see, I’ve never really wanted to grow up. I’ve always had friends who have enterprised to be older, to flip forward a few chapters in life. They shared a kindergarten kiss on the playground, scissored a thong from a pair of middle schooler undies, or boasted of their weekend blackouts within the first month of college. These days, they are carefully structuring their financial futures and planning for retirement and are truly, admirably adult.
I, however, have always aged reluctantly. I can still remember the day my dad decided my sister and I should learn to clean our own bathrooms. My parents’ evergreen generosity meant this day was long overdue, but my rivalry with change meant it was no more welcome now than it would’ve been a couple years earlier. And so, as my sweet father prepared to inch us closer to self-sufficiency, I hid in a closet beside our boiler. Obviously, there was a part of me that just didn’t want to clean, but that wasn’t the part of me that hid in the boiler closet. Instead, it was the little Peter Pan part of me wanting nothing to do with adulthood that curled up in the warm propane darkness and watched through the wooden slats as my dad showed my sister where to find the Lysol.
Since then, I’ve staved off shaving until my upper lip resembled a fuzzy caterpillar and waited until late in my fourth semester of college to declare a major. Currently, I’m struggling to remember my online banking password because I so seldom review my personal finances. But I can only hold adulthood at bay for so long, and it seems society is right in suggesting I’ve reached the homestretch of my youth.
In some ways, this finish line comes as a relief. Youth can be weighty. Ever since my chore-evading days, I’ve had a very acute alertness to the costliness and irretrievability of time. As a supremely OCD kid, I remember spending hours in bed each night, watching my digital clock march onward and thinking about how each passing minute was one I’d never get back. At times, I couldn’t even roll onto my other side for fear of letting a single one tick by unnoticed. Then, as a gawky eighth-grader, I recall zoning out through much of our class’s commencement, paralyzed by the thought of my high school and college graduations already steadfastly advancing.
Nowadays, the melodrama of those thoughts has faded, but youth still feels like a golden nugget unsolicitedly slipped into my pocket: I’m afraid of losing it, but even more afraid of spending it incorrectly. Luckily, society is overflowing with instructions as to how we should invest our glory days: we should be active on campus but also travel the world, we should spend our weekends in a red sea of SOLO cups but drop that habit on weekdays to reach our educational promise, we should date and learn to be in relationships but take time to be single and find ourselves. In the words of Calvin promos: “Do both!”
Well, I am the poster boy for “do both,” and rarely does a day pass by that I don’t see someone kayaking across my Facebook page and think that he has calculated the expenditure of his precious time better than I have. While I studied abroad and marathon-trained and wrote blog posts, I should have been moving to Seattle and pioneering a YouTube channel and touring the country with a ramshackle band. Youth only happens once, so you’d better get it right!
Deep down, I know that there’s no “getting it right.” The most tragic aspect of this segue from youth to adulthood is simply realizing you can’t choose everything. I love my present reality, but it’s singular. I’ll never be an Olympian or an accomplished dancer or an impressively young author, and the mere clicking shut of doors stings. The gifts under the Christmas tree are being opened, and the exciting new toys can’t quite replace the enticing mystery.
But, I have one year of “youth” left, and I’m going into it with some goals, dammit! First, I don’t want to treat time like it’s fragile—it’s durable enough to withstand some mistakes and only as precious as the experiences that fill it. Second, I want to convince myself that “youth” is an illusion and that really there’s just “life.” And finally, I want to learn how to check my online bank statements. Adulthood is a long journey, and I want to make sure that I can pay for those full-priced railway tickets along the way.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.