At Eighteen.

{A new series here at Mother Sugar, called The Salon: What You Know For Sure, inspired this post.  As I began drafting my contribution to the collection of comments (and commenters vying for some of Bitter en Zoet’s magical chocolate), I realized my answer to the question of who I was at 18 and who I thought I’d become required a little more thinking and a longer answer.  So.}

A snapshot of myself at 18: I had broken up with one boy and fell in love with another, one I knew I would marry, one who smiled when my long hair fell like a curtain around our faces.  My hair had finally grown as long as it had been at 15, when I had moved from Hawai`i to Connecticut and chopped the almost elbow-length sun-bleached blonde into a neat saltless and sandless bob, which, I thought, would be useful to me in my new preppy town.  I saw my long hair as a personal triumph: despite three years of stifling and foreign social pressures that would have me in pastel cashmere twin sets at the club, my beachy hair had persevered, growing back slowly and steadily to remind me of who I had been.  Beneath my graduation cap, sun-bleached blonde fell again to my elbows and a plumeria perched above my ear.  I thought I had found my soul (my mantra of that year came from Tracy Chapman, ‘All That You Have is Your Soul’), and with my soul, its mate.

He was a year below me in school, soulfully played an acoustic guitar and had broad, burden-bearing shoulders.  That summer, we devised daily adventures.  We took our bicycles on the ferry to Block Island, where we rode on sandy trails lined with beach grass and ate sandwiches in a small cafe.  We visited his grandparents on their lush green farm in Pennsylvania, where his Scottish Papa made us bagels from scratch and sang folk songs in his low bass voice after dinner, where we came across a pond in the trees and jumped in with our clothes on, where we kissed up in the rafters of the barn.  I worked at his family’s gourmet market that summer, and at the end of the day, he would pick me up in his soft-top Jeep for a drive to the rocky New England beach or I would bring a warm baguette to his house for a picnic on his bedroom floor.

An old surfboard I bought in Hawai`i finally got some New England use.

Let’s be real: swoon-worthy setting for an 18-year-old’s adventure on a bicycle.

We made plans, which mostly vacillated between touring Europe as an acoustic folk duo or opening a little coffee shop and art studio.  He said that, in our imagined future, he would wake up early to start the espresso machine in the shop and I would come down (I suppose we were to live above the shop?) late in the morning, sleepily, drink the cappuccino he had made for me, and set about my day teaching art classes.  He said he’d welcome my family’s custom of opening presents on Christmas Eve if I would walk down the aisle to bagpipes. His mother already had the Scottish ballad picked out.

To be more specific, though: at 18 I had found something for myself that, until that point, I had only experienced by proxy.  I suddenly had a big extended family around me.  The boy had many aunts and uncles and many more cousins who all lived in a ten-mile radius of us, who all either worked at or stopped by their little family market where I was a cashier, who included me in all of their birthday parties and holiday celebrations, who invited me over for tea on the porch, who told me, Kelsey, you don’t have to knock! Come on in.  The boy’s little brother called a few hours before his first middle school dance in a panic, asking that I come over to teach him how to properly dance with a girl.  The feeling of it all intoxicated me.  I wanted to stay there forever, wanted to attend those people’s birthday parties forever.  I had found what I needed and I was determined to keep it.

The charming family market where I worked and bought baguettes and glazed strawberry rhubarb pies made by the boy’s aunt.

And then I left for college.

I suppose there are a few things that that 18-year-old girl wanted and believed in that are still true for me now.  I still have fantasies of owning a little shop (though I do own my own different kind of little business).  Although I’ve all but given up playing the guitar and mostly only sing in the car, I’d still love to live in Europe.  I still love warm baguettes on picnics and I still crave the feeling of being surrounded by a big loving family.

The thing that has changed for sure, though, is what I believe myself to be capable of.  At 18, I was scared to let go of the life I had.  Writing it out like that almost seems silly, but it’s true: I believed I knew entirely who I was and had found exactly what I needed in life.  And I was terrified to risk losing it (him, his family, that feeling).  I had no concept of my own ability to create a life for myself, to build my own community, to give myself room to change and learn.  If it weren’t wildly inappropriate, I would call up that boy and thank him, sincerely, for shattering my heart after I left for college.  I learned a lot about my own power then, about accepting change, about balancing the art of dreaming and the thrill of possibility with an openness to the unexpected and a good dose of self-reliance.

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5 thoughts on “At Eighteen.

  1. What a lovely post! As always….

    I love that you point out there are things about you that still exist in your current self – I find it all too easy to write-off that younger self of mine as being impossibly different from who I am now, but that’s not true. Like you, there are lots of preferences and dreams that have stayed with me.

    And it’s interesting that you point to your self-sufficiency as being something you’ve found in yourself since. I think I had the opposite experience. At 18 I felt capable of anything and everything – in a way that I don’t now. And yet there was also a sense of being so new in the world, like the world was a mystery I had yet to discover, which is gone now. I think I know how the world works better now than I did then, but maybe that’s just an illusion… 🙂

    • Thanks, BH. I agree– I think I, too, had the sense of being new in the world, but that was frightening to me more than it was exciting. Change was like a horrible disease to be avoided and prevented at all costs. Now, I think some of my old fear of change is replaced instead with some sense of wonder, of possibility. In some ways, you’re probably much more capable now than you were at 18, with much more of the world open to you than it could’ve been then… ?

  2. What intrigues me most about the way so many of us are tackling this question, is how some of us made assumptions about what would happen in the future, how some of us held on so tightly to what we had then with the fear of losing it all, and how some of us feared what would not happen all those years hence. What we often don’t realize at 18 is how much of it comes from us; by that I don’t mean we can control the outcome (o, if only we could!), but that we are so much stronger than we think at 18, we think it is only fate, or only circumstance; we undervalue all that we bring to the world and all that world is going to still bring to us.

    Fear. You feared you’d found it and lost it. When I was 18, I feared I’d never get there at all. And look at us know. Somewhat fearless, if I do say so myself.

  3. Pingback: Join the Conversation: November Edition | Mother Sugar

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