Growing Pains – Yale Daily

Jesse Flores

Americans love a good coming-of-age story. Most literature and media we encounter and revere is in some way a coming-of-age novel—a story of a child growing up, learning about growing up, and then reflecting on growing up as a new adult. Audiences love to immerse themselves in the drama of awkward years, with academics chattering to each other about the moral lessons young people learn as they age. The most famous children in literature are caught in a perpetual cycle of adulthood and teenage as the reader begins, ends, and then goes back to the beginning of the book. Generations have followed Holden Caulfield, Orphans Baudelaire, the runaway kids and trains in Willa Cather’s story, and Junie B. Jones, all grown up and learning a few lessons about the world – These are just a few examples. Maybe Americans are fascinated by aging in youth because there is something artistic and tragic to glean from the fringes of adulthood. On Sunday, I’ll turn 22, and like countless others before me, I’ll roll over the edge and disappear into mature murky, labyrinthine waters.

On the day I turn 22, my coming-of-age story will end with a screening of my favorite movie “Halloween” and a dinner for two at my favorite Korean fried chicken restaurant. This will be the end of a story that is special to me but unremarkable to others. My coming-of-age story is nothing special. No one wants to read how a kid from Texas somehow got into the Ivy League. It’s not fun. Maybe for an admissions handbook, but not for Harold Bloom. My coming-of-age story, if you will, my coming-of-age novel, takes place at a time when young members of my generation are adored online.That was the time to play Minecraft and WiiSports. It was the era of Barack Obama, the era of active shooting drills, the era of post-9/11 paranoia and “Hannah Montana”. It was the days of playing in my grandmother’s trailer park, having my mom turn on the car radio while “Shake it Off” was playing, shaving my knees on the asphalt and eating IHOP Smiley Pancakes. That was an era long gone, reserved today for the Pinterest board aesthetic and cheesy Netflix drama, with all the charm of the Millennium Bug, but without the cheesy. My coming-of-age story is the story of my generation. I was born in the new millennium, grew up in the shadow of 9/11, and grew up in an era when the Internet became all-encompassing and all-knowing.

I like to think of my 21st and coming 22nd birthdays as characters in their own books. They, like the characters in the book, are an extension of their author: me. My story when I was three was a tantrum at the supermarket. At fourteen, it was an itchy school uniform. Seventeen is like “High School Musical” But with calculus, no singing. Each birthday is its own plot, a short story in the anthology of my life. Some are sad and boring, like my 20-year-old story — locked in lockdown and watching the pandemic stretch forever. Some stories are full of change and drama, like when I was nineteen and stupid enough to believe that adulthood was easy. no. Every year, on my birthday, all these stories come together and come together as I start a new one. When I walk out of 21, I’ll go back and pull all the different versions of myself to 22 — this anthology is getting a new version.

At 22, those numbers aren’t as special as they used to be. There are no more milestones to achieve. At ten you hit double digits, at fifteen you learned to drive, at eighteen you vote, at twenty one you’re on the verge of adulthood, you’re old enough to drink but young enough to get a card. There are very few special birthdays after the age of twenty-one. Special ages like thirty, fifty, seventy-five and one hundred are less like milestones and more like little labels on Italian wines or giant cheese wheels locked in a French basement. They are celebrations of people succeeding in the ravages of time and acquiring the refined quality of the years. I too wish to age like wine – not cheese – and I look forward to celebrating my seventy-five years old as a grumpy, bitter old man, hopefully with a Ph.D., with nice hair, like six cats or something else.

Getting old in America is an ugly thing. Every year, the shelf life of beauty is shortened. When I was young, the ads insisted that fifty could be the new twenty-five. Now twenty-five is the new fifty. According to Twitter, when you turn 30, you become a walking dead, a zombie-like reminder of how horrible it is to give up a good moisturizer. not me. I am moisturised. A little spot on my skin will go a long way in the long run, but the inevitable moment will come when the anti-aging stuff won’t work and I’ll no longer look young enough to be mistaken for airport security kids online.

I’m not Holden Caulfield – thank god – neither am I Junie B. Jones – thank god again – instead, I’m all previous versions of myself. I was thirteen and four years old, and I was seven and twenty. With every change, with every new story, with every metamorphosis, I keep a little bit of who I was before becoming something new. When I’m twenty-two, I’ll be wearing what I wore when I was twenty-one. I would smile with the missing teeth I had when I was nine. I would dance to songs I heard when I was fourteen. I’ll be wearing some variation of the coconut head bowl hairstyle I got when I was ten and haven’t changed since. I’m going to be twenty-two with every number I’m going to be grateful for, even if it means my coming-of-age story will come to an end. My upbringing is as suburban as Converse sneakers and as commonplace as lampposts, but it’s mine. This is my story that will one day be told to those who may forget it, or the story that I will one day forget in my old age and also in my old age. I was never the protagonist of a great American coming-of-age novel. My birthday is not something students will argue about in an English seminar, nor will it be dissected by academics. But they will be remembered. At least in my opinion. Every birthday of mine, no matter how talented I am, will be a birthday in my life – and they will come to me as memories of a wonderful childhood.

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