Come Smoke Yourself a Marshmallow

Is It Really FOMO When You’ve Actually Missed Out?

“Close-up of the hand of a woman holding a piece of S'more at a campfire.” by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

All credit to Ruby A. for coming up with this hilarious and perfect title. I may have to steal it for my memoirs someday.

Tonight after dinner, Me, Shaunta, and her family went out on the back patio. Having recently purchased and constructed a lovely table and set of chairs, it was the perfect night to sit on the deck. The first real Summer night of the year. We also struck up the fire pit, and started making smores.

(Note: if you are wondering what happened to the diets that Shaunta and I are supposed to be on, this is where we reassure you that smores are paleo or vegan or — something. Smores are good for you! I’m sure that’s on Dr. Oz somewhere.)

I hung back, enjoying the night air. And, by the time that I got out of my chair to make my smore, the fire had died down to embers. Shaunta tried to revive the flame; tried to set my marshmallow on fire, but to no avail.

I mean, I got it golden brown eventually. I enjoyed my smore. But I couldn’t help but feel that this perfectly innocuous thing was the perfect metaphor for my life.

I am always late to the party.

(If you’re thinking that I’m being maudlin, let me just say: hello, I’m Zach, welcome to my blog!…)

But, seriously. When something good is happening, I’m always late. I didn’t start acting until my senior year of high school. I didn’t have a best friend until my senior year of high school. I didn’t meet my girlfriend in person until my senior year of high school. I still haven’t been to a big, real concert. I didn’t go to a real party, like the ones you see on TV (okay, choir kids really don’t do booze, but still) until after I graduated from high school.

I could keep going on. I could sit here and list all of the common, normal life experiences that people my age should have had. I either experienced it late, or haven’t experienced it at all.

Part of it is that I’m fat. I can’t experience all of the normal things that people do. It’s insulating, not only in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense. I also grew up dead broke, and in a family that didn’t — and still doesn’t — like to do things. Why go out and be a part of the community when you can watch The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Malcolm and the Middle, and The Simpsons again, every weeknight?

No Money + Fat Body = Missing Out on a Lot of Important Milestones.

I’m a firm believer that there are things that you’re supposed to experience when you’re young. Things that can happen only when you’re young. Like being a Rhodes Scholar, or having a summer love, or going to a Taylor Swift concert, or having a grand, world-crossing adventure, going to Coachella, going to Burning Man.

Now, I know that you can technically, physically do these things when you’re older (except the Rhodes Scholar thing, once you hit 24, that door’s shut forever). But they cease to be novel once you get older. They cease to be extraordinary. They’re things that you already should have experienced. It’s part of being a normal, mainstream American human being. (Seriously, my baby cousin just went to a Taylor Swift concert. I’ve got two decades and change on her, and I still haven’t been to one — or any big arena concert. That hurt.)

I’m almost 30. 30 is old. I’ve written about this time and time again, but I honestly can’t quite shake the existential dread of reaching this milestone. 30 is adulthood. 30 is no longer young. 30 is when you have to pack away all of the dreams. 30 is when the fire goes out, and you wait for the embers to die.

Maybe this isn’t true for all adults. Maybe there are people who really do get into the groove of things once they’re older. But I’ve had 25 years of watching my parents in adulthood, and they’ve painted a goddamn grim picture: no adventures, always angry, working backbreaking jobs you hate for almost no money, watching the same crap television and eating the same crap food with the same ungrateful crap kids, then going to bed and doing it all over the next day.

For me, adulthood is the time where you pack away the dreams of fun and adventure. It’s where you put away the hope and the light and the joy. Adulthood is when the fire, the life, the joy gets dowsed out of you.

And when you haven’t had a chance to be on fire yet, the thought of that is fucking terrifying.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to equate growing old with anything other than misery. We live in a culture that celebrates youth, that worships youth, especially when that youth fits into the normal societal bounds of attractiveness and normalcy.

At least once in my life, I’d like to experience that, firsthand. Being the exact person that society celebrates. No deformities, no malfunctions, perfect. Being attractive, being normal. Being the underdog, being the come-back kid sucks.

The grass is definitely greener on the other side of the gated community. I can see it right there on Instagram.

Now, I’m going to do this thing. I’m going to do the 60 Months, and I’m going to travel the world. I will salvage something out of my life.

But I have this feeling that, whatever adventures I go on, whatever good times I have, there will be this little shadow on my shoulder, saying: Imagine how much better this would be, if you had actually done this right. If you had actually done this when you were supposed to. This could have been so much better.

I know that I’m supposed to be encouraging. I know that I’m supposed to be optimistic. I know that I’m supposed to be excited. And I am.

But I’m also feelin g this. I don’t know what to do with it. It’s the truth. No matter how I try to parse this, how I try to break it down, how I try to examine it, I can’t escape it. When you live your life differently than just about everybody else in your culture, in your society, you just have to accept that you’re doing it very wrong.

Zach J. Payne writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction. He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno, and dreams of travelling the world. Follow along on his adventure.