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Growing Up Instantly
This assignment wasn’t easy. It almost felt like a failed attempt at dry humor because the day it was given out was the day I became an official “adult”. Trying to piece memories together and describe what growing up was like for someone who doesn’t even really remember, is like trying to describe the taste of water. I only remember very small brief periods of time. Trying to describe most anything I remember, would be like describing a black and white, soundless, motion picture; like a reel of film playing quickly and quietly inside my mind with large blots on it and places where the film had been torn or cut out completely. Oddly enough, the thing I remember clearest is my father’s funeral and that happened when I was two. Yet the more I thought and sat, staring at pictures, it felt like the more I could remember. Maybe I couldn’t remember exactly what happened, but I remembered enough to know that I was scared to grow up and that it happened all too quickly.
Growing up is something we all wanted to do. Even I remember fantasizing about what I’d be when I “grew up”. My parents sat discussing my future with me before I was even born. The teachers made it sound like an awesome thing to grow up by having me write about my future plans or draw what I wanted to be. The image of a big beautiful house, with the perfect job, perfect family, and lots of money colored my thoughts. But as I got older, my expectations seemed to lower and growing up wasn’t such a big. Instead of anticipating the day my eighteenth birthday rolled around, I dreaded it. Adulthood slowly crept up and then pounced, catching me unaware.
In less time than I could imagine references changed, words I thought I knew became foreign and uncomfortable. Once, getting high, meant going as high as you could on a swing. Protection, was knee pads and a helmet every time you got on your bike or skateboard. Kinky was what the hose looked like when it was all wadded up and kinked off. And a hoe was a garden tool. Then, in a span of 365 days, those meanings changed one by one, year after year and before I knew what was happening, I began to grow up.
Birthdays had always been the highlight of the year. I got presents, my favorite food for dinner, and sometimes even a party for that special non-holiday. Every year I got so excited, like any normal child would be, I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before the actual day. It was like a second Christmas. Pride would swell inside my small chest as I thought of how much older I was and how much “cooler” I would be because of it. One year older, one year closer to freedom, one year closer to my perfect life. Then, on what seemed a normal day, I woke up and my fifteenth birthday was staring me in the face. All I could do was wonder what had happened to all my simple childhood years.
I had always played dress up, what little girl doesn’t? But now it was all so real to me. Instead of walking around in my mother’s heals that were too big for me, I fit in them. I was given my first make-up set that year, which meant I was a young woman and no longer a little girl. If I put on the make-up I was told how grown-up I looked and no one thought of it as being cute or silly. Almost immediately I wanted to run to my room, close my eyes, and hope that when I opened them again my mother would be yelling at me to go outside and play. That day I cried, my whole frame trembling with fear, because I felt as though my life was slipping away.
As the days went by, the shock seemed to dwindle and I wasn’t so scared about what the future held and instead turned my thoughts to more important things such as who dyed their hair what color and was also given crash courses of make-up 101. My life went back to revolving around school, what my friends did on the weekends without their parents’ consent, and other u-important things that seemed to be the highlight of my world.
It’s funny how we take things for granted and think that they will never change. We always go through life thinking that we will go to the same school, do the same job, and see the same people until we die. Then the transformation hits and we are thrown to the ground in shock. It’s almost as if we never see it coming. In essence, we never do. Even as a child, in our simple ways, we think there will always be time to go play in the river. We think that we can always bike as far from home as possible just to see how far we can go before we get caught, because someone will always come looking for us. As a teen we think that life is all about boys, make-up, and fashion. All too soon boys lose their cooties and the want to stay as far from them as possible, is replaced by a want to hold their hand. Then all of a sudden, like an unwanted visitor, your sixteenth birthday shows up and you are allowed to date. You can see a picture of yourself in your head, diving behind a couch to hide and whispering “I hope they didn’t see me”, but you know you can’t hide from it.
Like my fifteenth birthday, my sixteenth birthday had caught me by surprise. The only exciting thing about that day was that I would get my Claddagh ring. It was an old Irish tradition for the mother gave her daughter a Claddagh, retell its story, and finally give her daughter her freedom. The ring I had received that year was made of pure silver and a special Connemara marble that was only found in Galway, Ireland, the home of the original Claddagh. It had been forged on Irish soil by Irish hands. It was my own little piece of home to be carried with me always. Not even the thought of being able to date was as exciting as getting my ring. Dating scared me. I wanted nothing to do with it and was determined to stay away from it. Only the ring, the most special thing in the world, held any importance to me. It was only a few days after I had firmly told my parents “don’t worry I doubt anyone would want to date me anyway”, I found myself turning the ring so the heart was facing towards me. A clear sign, to anyone who understood the meaning of the Claddagh, that my heart was taken.
As to be expected of most high-school relationships, it came and went. My heart was broken and my ring returned to its original position facing out. Once again I caught myself looking back and suddenly my heart wanted to scream as I realized that yet another year had slid by without my knowing. Days, weeks, and soon enough months were slipping by without my consent and no way to cling to them. I, gradually and begrudgingly, returned to my responsibilities that I had taken on at the age of two after my dad had died. Taking care of my siblings, making sure the house was picked up, and that anything else that needed doing was done. Then towards the end of my sixteenth year the accident happened.
Memories are something we always seem to take for granted. As if growing up sooner than we expected wasn’t enough, we go through life and don’t even take time to remember the special things that gave our lives meaning. Then when life passes us by at sixteen, we turn around at the age of sixty and are without the ability to remember our lives at its best.
It was a warm spring day, my friend Danni was asleep on my shoulder, and we were returning home from a National Honors Society trip. It was my second year of managing track, so naturally when we had got back in time for practice my first thought was to get to the track as soon as possible. I was determined to go to state with the team and that this year I would have close to a perfect attendance. I had already missed half of that day’s practice. As soon as I was out of my seat, I made straight for the track field and found my coach in the shot-put ring with one of the senior boys. I greeted my friends and walked to my coach keeping to the fence, occasionally looking behind me to make sure everything was clear.
Then all of the sudden my world went without sound, my body froze, and I watched the sky come to meet me. After what seemed like a lifetime, but actually was just a few short seconds, my coach was by my side, and I was on the ground. Slowly the sound of everyone in a panic was fading back in, as if someone was slowly turning the volume to the world back up. I didn’t understand what was happening and all I knew was I couldn’t feel my body for the first few minutes. Slowly I began to regain a numb awareness, followed by sharp, screaming electric shocks that raked my body. It was as if someone had attached a defibrillator somewhere along my spine and was continually pressing the button. If I could have, I would have screamed and cried for all I was worth, but I all I could focus on was everyone’s tears and the sudden urge to make everything better. That was my job after all, to take care of everyone and make sure that they were ok. It wasn’t until later that I found out that I had been hit on the head by the men’s shot-put.
When I woke up in the Regional Hospital a few days later, I couldn’t remember anything. I had fleeting memories of what had happened, who people were, and where I lived, but everything else was blank. And the few memories I had were blurred, almost like trying to see underwater or looking through a fogged mirror. There were no more memories to recall, no more birthdays to be excited about. Just fear. My life had passed me by and I had no idea what had happened. Coming from the hospital I was abruptly thrown back into the world. My responsibilities had not disappeared, though they were less urgent now, and I felt like a newborn that was expected to be an adult. I slowly began to adjust. Soon starting college, taking care of a family, all felt natural to me like it had always been that way. For all I knew, I could have already been eighteen and graduated.
My eighteenth birthday, only last week, was just like any normal day with the exception of a few small presents and a fancy dinner. My mother and father couldn’t stop smiling knowing their baby girl had finally “grown up”. My friends excitedly, in an ironic sort of way, planned what I would do now that I had the “freedom” to do “whatever”, and my siblings smiled but couldn’t ignore the fact that soon I’d be leaving. Everyone had been excited in their own way, except me. A whole lifetime had passed me by and I had little or no knowledge or memories of it. Swiftly and quietly adulthood had sprung upon me, catching me by surprise.
So many of us can’t wait to grow older and never stop to think that with every passing year you have one less year to enjoy. We always just keep going, wanting more, wanting better, never realizing that each year passes us by on silent wings. Then when it’s almost too late, we find our whole life has gone by in the blink of an eye with not much to remember it by. Growing up, though difficult, went by undetected. It seems like only yesterday, I was solving an argument by sticking my tongue out at someone, and now I have to carefully, almost strategically plan out my response to it. I still wish on stars but now, instead of standing at the living room window begging for my wish to come true, it’s a secret with less hope that anything will happen. The once so simple life of being a child, with its small uncanny worries, seems to have merely flashed before my eyes and disappeared.