As I ebb ever closer to my mid-thirties, as I find myself choosing to turn off both music and the TV in lieu of a good book, and as I find myself actually watching Lifetime movies (I’m looking at you, Unauthorized Full House Story), I am aware of one thing: I am getting older. I am aging, like a fine wine or extra sharp and extra stinky cheese.
And I am okay with it. I am okay with push-up bras and granny panties. I am okay with laugh lines and gray hairs, though I only see them between dye jobs. (Hello, pink fetish!)
Because my youth sucked.
Sorry NKOTB, Backstreet Boys, Salt n’ Peppa, and TLC, but I don’t miss you. I don’t miss my fishbowl haircut (my bob seriously looked like it had been crafted from a fruit bowl), my bright blue beeper, or my jelly shoes. I don’t miss neon, flannel, or my “goth phase,” and I sure as shit don’t miss Scrunchies, “tattoo” chokers, or frosted tips.
It’s not that I have a hatred toward these things (because let’s face it, part of me will always love JTT, Bop Magazine, and Justin Timberlake before he brought sexy back); it is because I don’t miss me, middle school me: the one that was an awkward bookworm, studious yet stupidly naive. The one who had a crooked spine and wore a back brace. The one who wore high-water sweatpants, shirts that were two sizes too big — or too small — and green canvas Keds. The one who let kids copy off of her just so she could have friends.
The one who wanted desperately to be accepted but never fit in.
I’m sure some people had amazing youths, but I’m also fairly certain all of us had a good year or two of social strangeness: we were learning to shave, learning to wear makeup, learning to trade our hair clips and oversized bows for rollers and curling irons.
As we moved from grade school to high school, we had to navigate not only lockers and classroom changes, but also, in many cases, new groups of people. We were forced to make new friends and, for the first time, find “our place” in the world. Sure, some of us picked up on it quicker than others, and we learned a lot in those years, but when you stop to think about it, was your “youth” all that great? Weren’t you angsty and overly emotional? Didn’t you think the world was going to end if you couldn’t go to the movies with your friends or, worse, had to be home by 8 PM (at 17 years old)?
You see, I will remember my youth for what it was: a relatively good time where I did a bunch of stupid shit without repercussion (except the time I got caught smoking behind CVS). Sure, I didn’t have to work full-time, was able to experience the joys that come only — and I mean only — from drinking contraband booze, and didn’t have to answer to anyone aside from Mother, but it is a time I am happy to leave behind. Because with age comes experience, empathy, and wisdom. With age comes stability (hopefully), control, and true friendships — ones formed based on our choices and not simply designated by our school zone or neighborhood.
Sure, I still see the same bitchiness and cattiness I encountered in the classroom, but today I don’t let it bother me. Today I walk away. Today I realize it’s okay; not everyone will like me and that is fucking normal. And today I like me. I like my newly formed wrinkles and dimples, my “midget-and-a-half” height, and even my breasts. (They may be small and flat, but I look killer in a tube top.) I like coloring at 8 AM and staying in on Sundays, and I like my life because my youth taught me to like me.
My youth taught me how to love me.
Copyright 2016 Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Sammiches and Psych Meds