Yesterday, a friend asked me something which got me thinking about our youth. She wanted me to think of some words and phrases which summed up our time as teens, back in the deepest, darkest 1990s, and this train of thought has put me on a bee-line for memory lane ever since.
It made me think of checked shirts, and Doc Marten boots; it made me think of tie-dye (of which I used to be a head-to-toe fan); it made me think of ‘Jump Around’ by the band House of Pain, which was practically our class anthem. I remembered the huge round glasses I used to wear, and the full year of mourning for Kurt Cobain. I remembered all the ‘battles of the bands’ – you either had to be a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan; you couldn’t be both (unless, like me, you did it in secret) – the same went for Blur and Oasis. It made me smile to remember how my friends and I used to be on constant lookout for the boys we liked, following them around and trying to look cool; somehow, we managed to put aside our natural shyness when we were in groups, though history does not record what the poor boys thought of us. I thought, affectionately, of a time when nobody had a mobile phone, and there was no such thing as Facebook. If you wanted to know what someone was thinking, you didn’t check their Twitter feed – you just had to ask them. It’s the kind of world that teenagers today can’t even imagine.
Along with the sunny memories of carefree fun came the darker thoughts, ones that plagued me as a younger person. I remembered, with painful clarity, the awkwardness and embarrassment of being a teenager, particularly one who was a bit ungainly, and more likely to have been thought of as the class swot instead of a social butterfly. The pain of rejection came back to me like a needle in my soul, and the terror of losing face among my peers reared up in me again, and I began to realise it was no wonder I found adolescence such a difficult thing to go through. Every day brought a new challenge, and the rules always seemed to be changing. I was not among the chosen few who always seemed ahead of the game, and I wondered how there were some people who seemed to know what they were doing at all times. It’s only now, with the benefit of adulthood, that I realise those people were going through the same testing as I was – they were just better at hiding it. The pressures you feel in those few precious years will never seem so heavy again, and no pain will ever strike as hard as a pain suffered during your teens. For me, it was a time of extremes – my happy times were extraordinary, but I also crawled through the darkest pits of despair that I think I’ve ever known.
I wouldn’t change a second of it, though.
I know now that those years made me who I am today, and the lessons I learned throughout my teens still inform my daily life. Lessons like: never judge a person because you don’t know what they’re dealing with; never bully or belittle another person because everyone has something worthwhile within them; never assume a person is your friend because they give you what you want. I learned that sometimes going through pain can bring you great benefits, but that it’s important to know how to protect yourself. I learned the extent of what I could cope with, and how strong I could be when I had to. You can’t replace life experiences like that.
I’m very glad that I grew up – and I don’t think I’d like to do it all again – but I’m glad I had my adolescence, and the family and friends I had. I realise, too, that it’s no mystery why I love writing for young adults. No other time in your life holds so much promise and potential, where every day is a new and thrilling experience. On second thought, maybe I should relive my youth more often!