“Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.“
– Samuel Ullman
It was a Saturday morning, and we sat on misplaced avant garde style couches , somewhere uptown. The air reeked of stale adventure and exhaustion. The wooden floors were hard and cold so we huddled under blankets and sighed at how much we had overextended ourselves the night before. Perhaps we were getting too old for this. The greed, the infinite demand for ” good times”. The need to experience it all and live to tell the tale was starting to take its toll. It was as if our early twenties, these times, had become a gaping hole ,where we longed for the full experience, and since we couldn’t sustain it, we plunged in , self sacrificed and imploded like the death of a supernova.
” we’re going to have to grow the fuck up eventually” my friend said, as she tied her hair up in a bun.
” grow the fuck up to where?” said another
” I dont know… at some point we are going to have to let this go and settle down” she continued.
” settle down into what?” I inquired . My interest was now piqued. Conversations about ” growing the fuck up” and adulthood seemed to rattle my insides these days. I hated talking about it, it made me scared, choked up. The future had never been more scarier than it was right now.
” I dunno man.. were going to have to be adults”
” What does that word even mean? We’re going to be doing the same things anyway” I replied.
We are now to give up reckless abandon. Under someone’s regulation and timeline , it would no longer be acceptable to carry on the way we were . I felt like the Pevensies being forced by Aslan to leave Narnia because they were growing too old, and someone else had to take their place. This was unatural to us, it felt like going against the grain , to admit that somewhere these vices would have to be abandoned. If we were addicts, fun was our chosen drug. When we were not sticking it beneath our skin, hoping that it would slip through our veins and the shock would resonate through our numb bodies. We were uninhibitedly jumping off cliffs plummeting into deep dark waters, which we knew we could swim. The thought of relieving the rush from the free fall , hurt. It had been essential to our core in college, and now we would have to ” give it up” like we were criminals who needed to be rehabilitated by a system. It kept us together when life , responsibility and “adulthood” tried to tear us apart. Our friendships had survived busy schedules , long breaks in between, because we took these plunges. Now our early twenties were starting to feel like a failed science. The method was no longer usable, facts had been dis-proven and we had to try out new theories. We had not accounted for the painful zig zags, the mind numbing rise and fall of our lives on the y axis, the blatant disappointment, shame, and even the unexpected triumphs.
Life had come not come knocking on our doors with grace. One minute she rapped softly in the form of shorter vacations together, cancelled events, missed phone calls, proverbial flaking, economic, romantic and even mental problems. Then the banging started, and it came in the form of significant others, graduate schools in far away places where car rides seemed unthinkable, the peace corps, moving back to Nigeria ,weddings and engagements. The growing number of Facebook engagements, pregnancies and weddings made me feel like life had duck taped my foot to the accelerator of a speeding car and I was on the fast lane about to crash into reality. It felt mandatory to be a part of this. If I was not living it I had to live it through others .
These were the science of our twenties. A series of personal formulae on how to live life. It had worked for some, and failed for others. Stories we read in books and saw on television became ours, as if it had been part of a devious master plan all along. One minute we were pointing at TV characters, laughing at their obstacles, next we were the ones living it. I remember it all, the moments when I knew the formular had failed. It was the moment where we were locked in a narrow bathroom stall together, embracing each other while you waved a negative pregnancy stick in the air, we cried because you were not pregnant and you would not have to go through the agony of deciding whether a life was a life, or if you had the strength to take it. Now we could leave those for the politicians and the philosophy books. One where your younger brother died, and I watched you via skype, weeping a thousand miles away, an LCD screen between us, it was unfortunate, unexpected, and the grief would send you spiralling. It was the moment you got into medical school after so much sacrifice. It made me wonder how heavy the price of my own dreams would be, and it kept me up at night. It was the night I got my license, you laughed at me because it took me being 22 to get it , you let me drive your white toyota highlander, and we turned up Kings of Leon’s ” Use Somebody” screaming at the top our lungs to a subruban American town that had fallen asleep at 10:30pm. It was the time where we sat on the broken stoop in front of your apartment in Bedstuy . You told me how much you hated New York, you were exhausted , you wanted to move, it was hard, it broke your spirit, and by the next spring you packed up your bags, left your bathroom sized $800 room and moved to Los Angeles. I cried on the phone, and you told me you needed to ” grow the fuck up, and this miserable place was not helping” your formular had failed. It was like a national anthem now, a new song on the radio, everyone was talking about it, and I still didnt understand. ” Growing the fuck up” I could talk about it forever, and it would still feel like falling off the cliff, you either died mid fall or you drowned at the bottom. All I knew was ” not growing the fuck up”. It was us, bawling our eyes out , to the horror of the people siting behind us, at at the AMC on 14th street watching the final installment of Harry Potter, because it mean’t the end of everything we had known as kids. The cast were in their 20’s too, we had grown up together, how had we all gotten here? Shit was too real .The formular had failed when you got into graduate school, a feat you had worked so hard for, but your father died and you had to go back home. Where would it all go when life finally broke down the door and made itself a permanent visitor? I could feel the house shaking and the foundations coming undone. There would be no closets or wardrobes to hide in, when the door finally came off. People were telling us that we had so much time to figure it out. They lied. Time was a farce, an abstract , and we didn’t have it. Time did not belong to anyone. We were now living in a period where things were changing too fast. Where we went to bed with heroes and woke up , their pictures on the NY Post, full blown amputated villains who shot their girlfriends. Where was the space for us? The lost boys and girls , who were so unsure of this adulthood. Who had evaded it , a shadow that seemed to cling even when the sun had gone down. Our parents called us everyday, their worried tones showing their waning confidence. They thought we were doing it wrong, we needed to choose a career, art was not sustenance, passion did not feed, professionalism was the answer. So we buried our heads in GMAT/ GRE books, in the day time, sat in classes and spoke about management and budget analysis, and our nights were spent unleashing the demon that was inner child, the monster that we forcefully repressed.
” Even artists have to grow the fuck up Sheba”. you said this while we shared sweet potatoe fries after work, people watching from a dirty LES cafe window, and I winced when you said ” fuck”. You always used it so loosely like it was such a heavy word, and your lips could not carry it. How had it slithered into your vocabulary so easily? New york had tainted you. This place had made you harsh, and perhaps you had grown up too. You no longer took cabs and met us in front of Greenhouse. You went home when you had “reached your limit”, unhooking your black coat gently off the wall and giving me the” dont overdo it” look. Your apartment now boasted more written work than you had said you would write in college. Our late night calls had dwindled significantly, and you left me hanging with ” I have to go now, I have to wake up to write tomorrow.. and so should you”. If guilt had been a stone, it was sitting in my throat preventing me from swallowing all the emotions that had welled up in my face. You asked me to clear things up with my mother, as you had done. You stopped smoking, and we toasted to you doing it without a nicotine patch or an E cigarette. Your buzz cut and a growing beard were the replacements to the uncombed Afro and bearded jaw you sported in college. Everything had changed since you returned from Ecuador, a place you said you had left the irrelevance of youth.
” I don’t know what to do.. Im scared”
” you’ve confused growing up with giving up the things that make you happy. But it’s really just making room. Stop overthinking this shit , there’s no science to this, there’s no formula”. He replied. His voice was soothing, as if he had been in my head the entire time wondering how I was pulling it together. I nodded quietly.
” I don’t even know what the fuck im doing. Nobody knows. We just have to try.”
He paid the bill, and we left the dirty cuban, holding hands. Your palm was rough , just like old times.
” Have you been writing?”you ask gently, while we waited for the amber hand on the cross walk to become a silver man.
” No.. no not really” I replied honestly. I had attempted to produce work on a blog and was feeing very uninspired, let the empty blogger platform sit all summer and had unwillingly returned in the fall. ( How self reflexive is this?)
” you have to start now Sheba.. start now” he muttered. ” There’s no formular.. start now”
If Samuel Ullman was right , youth was youth because of zest and zeal. We didn’t have to give it all up. And if we felt like we did, we did not have to look crazy for doing so. I can’t let it go. The fire inside me that wants to not ” grow the fuck up” but I can try. The inner child does not have to be buried. Dr Jerkyll could let Mr Hyde come out and play, even for a while. Like Childish Gambino, I did not have to get off the bus. The experience was dialectical. My American friends were taking their time to “grow up”, my Nigerian friends were charging down the timeline like God had lit a fire up their butts, and there I was sitting on the fence wondering who was right, what side to choose. I needed to be on my own , and not implode, that was simply the answer. There isn’t any formular, and the sooner I accepted it, the sooner I realized that there wasn’t any working science either.
When March 25th came, and the 23rd ring was added to my tree trunk. I realized that there are no heroes, no winners and that everything here is just transient. We will not all get to the finish line together. Some of us will fall on the way side, run faster, take breaks, lance armstrong the shit out of this “race” … die. we’re just going to keep walking/running on this track until it’s all over. There’s no formular. There’s only what you can do to be responsible for your own life. My 20’s so far have been cyclical, but I have had to question so much about it.