I do not like teenagers.
Yes. You read me correctly. I do not like teenagers.
I love my teenager.
The rest of the lot? Take them, please.
To those of you who work with this segment of the population: I admire you. Clearly, you are constructed of tougher material. You are sheet metal. I am onion skin.
Why do I dislike those who dwell in the bizarre world between childhood and adulthood?
- I live two blocks from a high school. For almost a decade I’ve had to pick up their lunch-hour trash, their abandoned sweaters and shoes and other unidentifiable pieces of junk tossed on my lawn. I have to sweep the cigarette butts flicked onto my walkway and gardens. I’ve bore witness to the manifestations of both adrenaline and hormonal surges. Not since my own youth have I seen such passionate ass-kickings and makeout sessions as those unfolding under our golden locust trees.
- I live with a teenager. My teen is not so bad. So far, so good. Yet, because she is one of them, I must subject myself to her kind. I am finding ways to avoid this.
- Being around teenagers is a powerful emotional trigger. It brings forth my own journey from Velvet dolls to the voting booth. I smoked, ran around with a bad crowd, used drugs, had a shoplifting habit, threw away my grade point average in favor of recklessness, spent a great deal of time in detention, and defied my parents in any way I could think of, including having a serious relationship with the wrong sort of boy. While there were teens who far exceeded my level of rebellion, there were so many more who were paving the way toward bright futures.
The person I hurt the most was myself. My self-loathing and destructive behavior may have appeared to be directed outward, but it was really aimed inward. To all the folks who lived by my high school: Is it too late to issue a blanket apology for my behavior?
Even as a teenager I hated other teenagers. I loathed the relationship drama, the bad driving, the false bravado regarding drinking, drug use, fighting and mortality.
I went to school in an upscale neighborhood. There was a very clear line drawn between the haves sporting their stiff-collared Izod polo shirts and Mercedes Benz convertibles parked on one end of lot and the stoners in their Led Zeppelin concert T-shirts huddled under a haze of exhaust and illegal smoke at the other end.
I identified with the have-nots. But that doesn’t explain everything. There were plenty of haves who were just as messed up. The reasons were different but the results were the same. When they threw up, it was expensive liquor on high-quality imported rugs rather than the cheap gut-buster wine on the scuffed linoleum.
You couldn’t pay me to relive those days. Even if you offered me the beautiful skin, the skinny little body and the lightning-quick metalbolism, I’d rather be blotchy, bloated and sane than be a teenager again.
So when I found myself surrounded by teenagers the other day, quite by accident, I didn’t react the way many of you might: take it in stride, think nothing of it. I behaved much like a captured jungle explorer would when he finds his fate in a bubbling cook pot stirred by hungry cannibals.
A serious error in judgment placed me in the vortex of the student parking lot just as the final bell rang. Girl from the West generally takes the bus or I pick her up from a friend’s house later in the day. This day was different: I agreed to pick up my girl and a friend and take them to the mall to shop for homecoming dresses.
Finding yourself in the center of the student parking lot of a huge suburban high school populated by drivers whose licenses still have wet ink on them is probably like regaining consciousness from a blackout and realizing you are on the open range with a herd of cattle bearing down on you .
Within moments, it was a sensory nightmare of moving figures coming at my car from all sides, swearing, shouting, revving engines, blasting music, thumping bass from subwoofers and squealing tires. I attempted to back out of my parking space and extract myself from the melee.
It was too much to ask them to make eye contact with me, to notice my pleading hand gestures, to respond to my blinking turn signal so that one of them would allow me to enter the stream of traffic. It was too much to hope that the drivers behind me would refrain from their own hand signals, to lift their palms from the horn for a moment, and realize I wanted out more than they did.
Finally a group of students on foot blocked the flow long enough for me to nose my front end into traffic.
The commotion awakened a sleeping Girl from the East in the back seat, who took in the scene and said: “Momma, they’re being very loud.”
To which I replied: “Don’t ever grow up, sweet pea. It’s just ugly.”