Some time in my late teens, I told my mother that I couldn’t wait until I was 30. I was serious, and because I was serious, she was horrified. At some point in the intervening years I wrenched some degree of control over my life, and stopped having to be defined by my age, by virtue of what defined my life.
The only thing that enabled me to keep chugging through high school was the prospect of it ending, and being able to stop going to sleep and waking up with the impending sense of doom. And the same group of blood thirsty teenage girls who I’m sure have no idea of the effect they continue to have on me, if they even knew at the time.
It was high school; years have elapsed, and it no longer matters. But it is permanently hovering at the back of my mind. I am wrenched back there often, when something reminds me of one of them, and I feel as small and confused as I ever was, and as they ever made me. I see women, together, and their relationships confuse me, because I can’t comprehend voluntarily entering into something so reminiscent of high school. It has tainted my ability to talk to women without catching myself and being conscious of making eye contact, which then means eye contact has gone on too long and, oh, now I’ve fucked it, fuck, get me away… fuck…
Whether through avoidance, ineptitude or circumstance, I didn’t make friends at uni. The people I spoke to were older than me – 22, 23 – “mature age students” – and a constant reminder, constantly reminding me of my age and immaturity. I knew then as I know now, drinking coffee with them on the lawn was a way to fill in time and avoid having to justify not meeting other people. It wasn’t an attempt to one up everyone else, being friends with an older crowd. I didn’t care about them, or being their friend, and knew I was using them as fillers, until I no longer needed fillers.
Something happened, and somewhere along the way I started work, went overseas, do things in my daily life with people whose experiences to this point I do not share. The books I have read, the things I have studied, the things I eat – it’s not judged as much as considered. I don’t worry about people looking at what I eat, and if I choose to eat while reading my book at a table in the lunch room. I thought this would come with age – that at a certain point, you stop caring.
It’s nothing to do with age. It’s circumstance. I no longer spend my days surrounded by people my age, going to school or uni, where everyone does the same things, with the little variations the only things to pick up and magnify. I didn’t care more then, by virtue of anything other than there being nothing else to care about. I am able to be concerned with bigger things now, surrounded by people who aren’t ashamed to be concerned with bigger things, even if they are home renovations and their children’s birthday parties. My age, and the things I do, the age-inappropriate things I care about, are finally acceptable.
I’m not concerned about getting old or older, and I don’t feel as though I have been wasting time, putting off growing up. I don’t have regrets about putting things off or not finishing them, because I never allowed myself enough leeway to even steer close to the rails. All I really worry about is that time is chipping away. I wanted to be 30, because by 30 I would have stopped caring, and having to pretend to like binge drinking and going out with people I’m supposed to identify with.
Sometimes, when I’m buying cleaning products and driving in the car with my little dog, I feel adult. I drive her home from mum’s house, her asleep in the front seat like I used to be, when mum drove us home. I talk to her – it’s ok, go to sleep little one, you can sleep, we’ll be home soon. And I am hit with an overwhelming sense of responsibility and adulthood. I have a set of keys, and I need them all. I carry a handbag because I need to carry my things, things that adults need. I never buy chips or fruit juice. I drive to the supermarket and put my shopping in the boot. I have a subscription to The Age, and have mail delivered.
And all it takes is the smell of new carpet in a floor of my building, or the way a school girl stands on the tram, to throw me back in my place, to high school. I shrivel from the inside and run my tongue along the inner curve of my teeth, suddenly conscious of my dirty hair, the nails I’ve gnawed the nailpolish from, my height. And I wonder whether it’s ever going to stop.