Goodbye My Teenage Years
Let’s capture these years in a creative way ❤
This January 29th, I stand on the cusp of true adulthood: 20 years old and unquestionably no longer a child. This is slightly funny, because I’ve spent so much of my undercooked writing life mentioning my young age to readers. Like a magic trick, it grants you wondrous sympathy.
I have spent my time observing and marvelling at life, capturing the most beautiful moments, somehow knowing in my heart how transitory they were. As I grew in years, I started looking at my younger self with new eyes and felt proud of her. Thirteen through nineteen has run its course. For the sake of memory, I’ll write a snapshot portrait of me at each of those ages as if I’m talking about a third person. If one’s trying to create a memory capsule, why not be creative?
A tall, tomboyish girl with a high ponytail is getting ready in front of the mirror before the school bus arrives. She takes out a small flick of hair over her forehead before grabbing her bag, her silver-foil wrapped jam-roll, and then sprints to the bus-stop. She’s been up since four am, writing a Writers Bureau assignment and she’s carrying their dog-eared blue booklets in her bag.
At school, there is sunshine, friends, classes and sports to look forward to. Perhaps pasta for lunch, if there’s any luck for Grade 8. She’ll read a novel in class while pretending to read a textbook, but that’s okay, because her nerd comrade in the opposite row is busy scribbling away for his detective storybook, giving her company. The girls on the other side of her desk are a bubbling, giggling swarm of gossip and strawberry lined shirts. Her foreign friend on the seat in front of her is constantly tapping her shoulder, asking for English answers. There’s a music class coming up, and then she can play the violin.
She likes to sit in the centre of the classroom. They keep calling her a photosynthesising plant for keeping the blinds up in class to let sunshine in. She calls them vampires fondly. The class clown is now doing a Jurassic Park impression of her laugh. She watches everyone and grins, certain there’s she’s never been in a more amazing class.
After she gets home, she freshens up and heads to the park facing her house. She’s befriended a few primary-school aged kids whose parents work as labourers. They are underprivileged, so she gives them some basic language and maths classes. Then she makes the kids play hide & seek games, police-police, or better yet, ice and water. They are a rowdy, joyful and loud pack of kids. She likes them better than the tennis class kids. In the evening, her tennis class starts.
The part she enjoys most is the running. The tennis itself is a bust; the best player in class is an insufferable show-off, all the boys are horsing around the whole time, but she still enjoys it. The sun sets on her racquet as she goes home everyday, and she always looks up at the crescent moon beginning to materialise in the faded violet sky.
As eighth grade ends, she turns 14. There’s an awesome birthday party where she gets to call Grade 8 home and they play treasure hunt. In spring, she takes part in a school play and is cast as ‘Mother Earth.’ But there’s news for her in the summer: The family is shifting to a new city. All her friends are soon going to disappear.
In the new city, the air is cleaner and the neighbourhoods are prettier. She cuts her hair to shoulder-length to welcome the new change. She spends days arranging bookshelves and decorating her room. But her new high school is nearly two hours away, and it feels like she lives in that bus half of the day, trundling back and forth. She’s still writing fervently while trying to adjust to school.
It’s bewildering over there. Her class has precisely five other kids. The school campus is as beautiful as a college campus, but it’s managed by trolls. She feels the absence of responsible teachers, friendly kids and preplanned activities like a physical jolt. There’s an unbearably arrogant, rude-athlete boy in her class who gets on her last nerve. Teachers and kids alike openly bad-mouth everything about the school. Being there everyday feels like being on a sinking boat, desperately trying to grab an oar.
So she reads self-help books, cleans and decorates the classroom, tries to help the school by making a ‘Student Suggestions’ box, but nothing fills up the void. The school’s problems aren’t her fault but directly affect her. The way the school is run defines its education, not its affiliation to an international board. She really should have left.
But the city is beautiful. There’s an athlete stadium near her house. She’s happy in her family’s happiness. Her brother has a better chance to play well here; things are looking up for him as a golfer. Also, she has a secret writer identity outside of school. She has diaries to write; literature festivals to look forward to, and more importantly, she’s a good person. Things at school shouldn’t affect her too badly. She’s resilient.
Big things happen just before she turns fifteen. She wins an international short story competition, and the person who judged her story ends up becoming her best literary mentor yet. She also gets to speak publicly about her article on underprivileged students. Plus, there are two exciting literature festivals to attend that year. All this progress is self-affirming and gives her confidence.
Life at school also gets easier. Tenth grade is more bearable and she’s getting along better with people. She organises that year’s teachers’ day celebrations, which ends up going amazing. She’s finally learnt to get over her class nemesis and gets sort of friendly towards him. In the winter, she gets to go on her first ever foreign trip. The place has bulbous clouds, sand beaches and beautiful hills. She’s also found her big book idea at last. It’s about a high school story. It resembles what she’s been through, but the story’s better. She’s passionate about this idea.
Her 16th birthday happens at a literature festival. Board exams await, and she enjoys doing them because she enjoys the subjects. The best memory is her all-nighter before the maths exam. She’s never been good at the subject, but for the first time, she achieves a great Maths grade. This is credited to a sleepless night spent memorising flash-cards and singing along to weird algebra songs on Youtube.
All of a sudden, her brother wins tournaments on an international scale. It’s a luminous time for the family. He also gets a national award at the president’s house before the year ends. She gets to go to Delhi and meet her middle school friends after years, and it’s awesome. Her brother also gets invited to his dream tournament and she gets to go with him. She receives her greatest writing opportunity yet and proudly covers his story for several important newspapers. She also gets to visit magical amusement parks, and meets an old lady who becomes an awesome friend. The whole trip feels like walking into an alternate dream world.
School reopens and she makes new friends. Some new kids have transferred to the school, but many of those friends are going through serious mental health problems. After being the unofficial social reformer, she now becomes the untrained school counsellor. (Someone give this kid some common sense; please just force her to relax.) Life gets intense for a while because she gets exhausted and sick from working too much. December rolls around, the school is on an extended break, and new family members from her parents’ hometown are about to move in with them permanently. Her family of four people that’s spent their whole life trekking from one state to the next every few years, is finally ready to settle down forever.
They’re shifting to the nearby central city. School will finally be too far away to reach. She unceremoniously quits school and pursues homeschooling from here on out.
Her new year in a new home begins. It’s a little confusing to be out of school, and life is suddenly very blue and lonely. A long time passes and she cycles alone from park to park, drowning out the world by eating chips and reading. She has waist length hair now, but no longer feels like smiling often. Life feels like it’s on a standstill.
Summer begins, and there are cool cultural events to attend at her local theatre. She even gets to volunteer to teach kids at the local government school. In September, she gets to go to a one month summer school. It’s in a hill station, and it’s a big and beautiful place. There’s a bright and huge library, great kids and good food. There is nature, music, life and cheer to celebrate there. It feels unbelievably lovely to be in a social world again.
After it ends, she returns home and finally finishes the last assignment of her Writers Bureau course. It’s great, but as winter comes, she starts regretting that life isn’t moving at the pace she thought was correct. The year draws to a slow end, and things are feeling dull and quiet back home. The family is staying in a temporary home while their permanent one is being built. It’s a huge project. It seems to her like seventeen years mark the sand line near adulthood, and she’s nowhere near feeling ready. She thought her seventeenth year had gone quiet and unspecial. It would take her time to realise it was about reformation in quietude. It made her grow and got her through dark days, safely whole and more balanced than before.
This year sees more balance and confidence slowly solidify in her life. In spring, she starts a routine and resolves to finish her A levels by herself. She runs in the evening listening to music. She writes her novel in the morning, and watches Tik-Toks by sunset. She learns new piano songs. The pandemic has hit and lockdown has begun, forcing even her brother out of his tournament travel for an extended home-stay. It’s nice to have him back. It’s good to grow together.
The internet leads her to find her last schoolteacher, and perhaps the very best. He’s a teacher from abroad, and he’s brilliant. She has an online literature class with him every evening. He’s witty and supportive, intelligent and very fun to be around. It’s an amazing relief to have a good teacher at last. She also meets some awesome internet friends this year, all foreign girls who are younger than her. They become close through video calls and share each other’s lives from their corner of the planet. She also befriends a local underprivileged teen working nearby and gives her free school lessons. They meet at the swing set in the neighbourhood park everyday.
In autumn, she goes to Delhi and meets old friends again, coming away feeling nostalgic and happy. In winter, she creates a short film about children for fun. The year rolls away and perhaps the sole questionable decision of this year was to cut her hair as short as a boy’s. Doing it herself was probably the big quarantine mistake but life flows on nevertheless.
Her final A levels are completed as they finally shift into their new home. It has turned out beautifully. Life feels like it’s in sudden upheaval again, with cardboard boxes to pack and unpack as they shift for the final time.
The next six months are monotone but grounding. Nothing much happens again, but through the months spent in social isolation from people of her own age — she finds that her fear and dread of these uneventful times has dissapeared at last. There’s a resilient hope within her about things getting better despite people disapproving of her. A lot of time passes squandered on one thing or another, but there’s a sense of calm balance that’s built inside that’s totally new to her. She doesn’t feel like she’s either drowning or soaring. The ground is steady beneath her feet at last; she has a stable and solid sense of self.
She has the amazing realisation that it’s alright to just live life without achieving things all the time. She doesn’t have blame herself or dramatize the season her life is currently in. It is truly enough to just eat, hydrate, sleep well and shower for one to live. (The shower is unskippable though, it’s crazy how it transforms your mood.) The truth is: It’s enough to just be as you are. Change is inevitable and it’s coming. Just breathe and live, it’s okay. You’re okay. Summer begins and she decides to try something. A plan that works is one that feels actually doable. A no-pressure idea.
She chooses to do two things a day. Two and then one can take the rest of the day off, but those two things are key. She chooses to workout by cycling around her city in the morning, and then to write. It opens life up again. She participates in a writing competition, and it leads her to find a solid book idea. The cycling takes her to mesmerising places in the city, and all the songs make her day.
A group of four underprivileged siblings start living next door to her. They’re all under ten, and so the memorable project of getting them into government school begins. She gets to cycle and meet principals from all around and their story makes it to the newspaper. The day the kids finally get to school is emotional for everyone.
In autumn, she applies to the best college in the city. It’s a long process with forms and campus visits involved, but it succeeds. She’s over the moon and her family is glad. College is an unbelievably awesome experience to look forward to. It thrusts a whirl of new friends, classes and experiences in her life. She’s absolutely mesmerised and grateful to be around good young people again. The friends she has now transform her world and make it warmer.
And…that was the story of how my teenage hood went! I’m sure there are more amazing adventures ahead. Soon there will be many more incredible stories to tell. Hello my 20's!