The other night I was at Dooby’s with Sarah, gabbing over ramen and $4 long island iced teas. Sarah described an interesting exercise in which she reflected on her teenage years. She emphasized the fact that the point of reminiscing wasn’t to cringe at any past actions or mull over regrets, but to appreciate and analyze how much she’d grown. We made jokes about how old we felt mentally before changing the topic.
A few drinks later I was back in my apartment, slightly drunk and feeling pensive. Face smashed into a pillow, I closed my eyes and tried to think about who I was when I was 14, just as Sarah had. I wanted to see myself objectively—the goal was to think about myself without falling into a pit of self-loathing or instant regret over past actions. Not recommended if you’re tipsy.
I was a freshman in high school at 14. I was still going through my emo phase, wearing nothing but black clothes and wearing so much eyeliner that my mom would ask why I looked like a raccoon. I listened to My Chemical Romance and spent time after school reading Twilight and writing fan-fiction. I remember that I was bullied, and had a hard time making friends. Lunch was spent feeling awkward as I sat by myself. I cringed thinking about all this, and decided to stop and move forward in time.
When I was 17, I was a junior in high school. I was going through a hipster phase, where most of my wardrobe consisted of thrifty finds from Goodwill. I had a blonde streak in my hair dyed different colors, and began wearing my glasses more often. My friends and I all had photography class together, which was my favorite period. This is when I was also kind of an asshole. I made older friends buy me cigarettes and alcohol. I’d hang out with guys who spent a lot of time cooped up in the basement listening to loud music or watching old school cartoons. I stopped hanging out with my “old” friends in favor of the “new” ones. I’d sneak out of my house after midnight and have screaming matches with my dad.
I rolled over, reaching out to grab another pillow. This exercise wasn’t going as planned. I was remembering just the bad times. I thought about the present.
At 21, I’m in a fulfilling, long-term relationship. I have a group of friends both new and old, get along wonderfully with my parents, am paid to do something that I thoroughly enjoy, and that work is getting recognized. I no longer care about what other people think of me, dress however I want, and the tips of my hair are bright pink. Am I still unsure about my future? Sure. Do I worry about graduating college and getting a job? Yes. There’s still a lot I need to improve on, but I’ve come a long way since the age of 14.
—Follow Emma Kidwell on Twitter: @EmmaKidwell