While I was in graduate school for psychology, we counselled clients from behind a one-way mirror. Watching me, my supervisor asked ‘Where’s that 15-year-old bad ass you’ve told me so much about? We need her just about now’. This was the first time anyone had ever framed teenage me in a particularly positive light. People have said that teenage me was resilient and strong, but this was the first time anyone had ever suggested that teenage me had things right. I’ve reflected a lot on that comment. I work with teenagers as a psychotherapist, and while many others in the field express terror at the prospect of working with this particular age, I find their resistance radical and appropriate. I love teenagers. And maybe that’s because I secretly love and miss the teenage me.
God, teenage me knew so much. Teenage me was an expert at giving zero fucks. It might sound strange, but teenage me wasn’t so worried about appearances. Teenage me thought natural hair was okay. She wore it in two buns on top of her head. She cut curly thick hair in short layers and her head looked like a big fat anvil and she thought it looked good. Teenage me wore my grandma’s purple velvet prom dress to school in the rain with Doc Martens. Teenage me wore a cape to school, just ‘cuz. Teenage me threaded crayons through her hair and played baseball this way, just ‘cuz. Teenager me did whatever the fuck she wanted. She rollerbladed around her neighbourhood at night in her bra and underwear, just because she damn well could. She dared herself to run all the way to the high school and back while naked and wearing only rubber boots, laughing and shrieking. Teenage me was fucking alive.
Teenage me knew to question power. Whenever my dad asked me to do things, I would ask “why?” That didn’t go down so great with my Dad, who grew up in a time where kids were seen and not heard. Luckily his approach didn’t take. When I asked why, my dad would say, “Don’t ask why. One day I might tell you to move because there is a giant piano falling from the sky and if you stop to ask why, just think what will happen”. Don’t ask why. What would be a worse thing to teach a girl growing up in the world today. Or any day. This threat sounded stupid to me even back then. Even back then I knew that, as Lorrie Moore puts it, my parents were no more than my brothers and sisters in this world. They knew something about a few things, but mostly they knew nothing at all. My Dad would tell me not to take the Lord’s name in vein and I would be like ‘why don’t you give me one god damn good reason why I shouldn’t?”
Teenage me wasn’t obsessed with being skinny or fashionable. Teenage me wore three-inch platform shoes from Aldo with sky blue ribbed lycra pants that were too short. Teenage me had acne all over my back, it looked like a pizza. Pizza back, don’t care. I would wear spaghetti strap tank tops to school every day. I remember at 15 my first boyfriend, equally oblivious, telling me that his friends had said “Jacqueline is hot, but she has zits all over her back”. I was like, I do?
Teenage me pioneered the sweatpants and pyjamas look in everyday life. Back then it was radical. She knew you had to be comfortable in order to get things done. I remember walking home along the highway once, having just got my period that year, and chafing under the horrible discomfort of a maxi pad, three inches thick, soaked and sticky with menstrual blood. I remember reaching down my pants, ripping it off my underwear and throwing it to the side of the road gleefully. Teenage me was so fucking free!
Teenage me knew so much about questioning authority. For me, nobody had ever explained the connection between grades in high school and performance in life, so teenage me saw no reason to kill myself doing homework or attending classes. Teenage me spent math and science classes listening to Amanda Marshall on repeat while circumambulating the school, or driving with my best friends to Milestones and laughing over Thai Chicken Drumettes. Teenage me paid for taxi’s to 711 the get Slurpees during English. Teenage me got kicked out of gym class, science class.
Teenage me cared so so much less about being likeable. I am a kind person, and I was always kind, but I did obnoxious things, like ‘freestyle’ and wear puffy Fila jackets with enormous Nike duffel bags full of nothing but air and crumpled papers. Teenage me didn’t know the meaning of the word poser.
Don’t get me wrong, teenage me was sad a lot of the time. And a lot of the saddest things happened to me when I was a teenager, but also maybe there is a good reason so many teenagers are so sad so much of the time. Teenagers have a lot of good reasons to be sad and to be angry. In her book Notes from a Feminist Killjoy, Erin Wunker paraphrases Sarah Ahmed’s work in saying “discomfort tells us something important. Being happy puts us in line with dominant belief systems, such as patriarchy, capitalism, neoliberalism, racism. Being happy […] means we ‘line up’ with what is expected of us”. Fuck. Teenage angst is not only badass, it is radically feminist. Teenagers are just starting to wake up to all the inequities of the world, and living in the space between childhood and adulthood-where they look and feel somewhat adult-like, yet are forced to live beneath the thumb of often nincompoop-esque adults-they are beginning to feel power and the abuses of power keenly.
My immediate family and extended family were heteronormative in most ways. For the most part, men worked outside the home, women worked inside the home. At family dinners, women would cook and then when dinner was over, the men would sit in the living room by the fire talking. I shit you not. I remember being irked by this obvious inequity, and being urged by my mother not to rock the boat. I remember one Christmas blowing up at my male cousins, my grandpa, my uncle. Suggesting, not so subtly, that maybe they should be helping to clear the table and wash the dishes. “Why in the hell weren’t they?” Everyone was none too happy about the outburst, and despite being an awesome teenager who was skilled in the art of giving zero fucks, I felt ashamed. I felt uncertain about the rectitude of my moral injunction. If all the adults disagree with me, then maybe I am wrong? If it has never occurred to the men in my family to do the dishes, maybe there is a reason? But the thing is, not everyone did agree, and it probably had occurred to the men at some point. But both sides had rationalized and accepted the status quo, the one because they lacked the agency to resist, the other for obvious reasons-they were the beneficiaries of such a system. Oof. The teenage me was an awesome feminist who understood so many things that the adult me has forgotten. The teenage me was right on so many counts.
Carl Jung believes we are born three times in this life. The first is a physical birth, the second is the birth of our ego, and the third is the birth of spiritual consciousness. I’m not sure about the particular developmental tasks he assigns to each stage, but maybe he is right that we are born more than once. And maybe some of these births are less about the emergence of a brand new self, and more about the remembering or rediscovery of something that was in us all along.