Americans love a great coming-of-age story. Most of the literature and media we encounter and venerate is not directly a bildungsroman — a narrative the place a toddler grows up, learns issues about rising up after which later displays on rising up as a newly grown particular person. Audiences love to soak up the drama of the awkward years and students babble with one another over the ethical classes younger folks study as they age. The most well-known youngsters in literature are caught in a perpetual cycle of coming-of-age and uncoming-of-age as readers begin, finish after which flip again to the start of a guide. Generations of individuals have adopted Holden Caulfield, the Baudelaire orphans, the runaway child in that Willa Cather story with the practice and Junie B. Jones as all of them grew up and discovered some lesson in regards to the world — and people are only a few examples. Perhaps Americans are fascinated with younger folks growing older as a result of there’s something creative and tragic to be gleaned from the sting of maturity. On Sunday, I’ll flip twenty-two and, like numerous others earlier than me, will topple over this edge and disappear into the murky, labyrinthine waters of maturity.
The day I flip twenty-two, my coming-of-age story will finish with a screening of “Halloween,” my favourite film, and a dinner-for-two bucket from my favourite Korean fried hen joint. It would be the finish of a narrative that was particular for me however unremarkable for others. My coming-of-age story was not extraordinary. No one needs to examine how a child from Texas by some means discovered his solution to the Ivy League. That isn’t fascinating. Maybe it’s for an admissions pamphlet however not for Harold Bloom. My coming-of-age story, my bildungsroman if you’ll, takes place in an period that the youthful members of my era idolize on-line. It was the period of enjoying Minecraft and WiiSports. It was the period of Barack Obama, of lively shooter drills, of post-9/11 paranoia and “Hannah Montana.” It was the period of enjoying in my grandmother’s trailer park, of asking my mom to show up the automotive radio when “Shake it Off” performed, of scraping my knees on asphalt and of consuming IHOP smiley face pancakes. It was an period now lengthy gone, preserved at this time as Pinterest board aesthetics and in tacky Netflix dramas with all of the glamor of Y2K however not one of the sleaze. My coming-of-age story is that of the remainder of my era. I used to be born within the new millennium, grew up within the shadow of 9/11 and got here of age at a time when the Internet grew to become all-consuming and all-knowing.
I like to think about my twenty-one, quickly to be twenty-two, birthdays, as characters in their very own books. They, like guide characters, are extensions of their writer: me. My story at three was one among tantrums in supermarkets. At fourteen it was one among itchy college uniforms. At seventeen it was like “High School Musical” however with precalculus and no singing. Each birthday is its personal plotline, its personal brief story within the anthology of my life. Some are unhappy and boring, just like the story of my life at twenty — locked up in lockdown and watching the pandemic hours stretch on ceaselessly. Some tales are stuffed with change and drama, like once I was nineteen and silly sufficient to imagine that being an grownup was simple. It was not. Every yr, on my birthday, all these tales converge, uniting as I start a brand new one. As I step out of twenty-one, I’ll attain again and pull all of the totally different variations of myself into twenty-two — and the anthology will get a brand new version.
At twenty-two, the numbers will not be as particular as they as soon as had been. There aren’t any extra milestones left to realize. At ten you hit double-digits, at fifteen you discover ways to drive, at eighteen you vote and at twenty-one you attain the sting of maturity the place you might be sufficiently old to drink however younger sufficient to get carded. The particular birthdays that come after twenty-one are few and much between. Special ages like thirty, fifty, seventy-five and 100 are much less like milestones and extra just like the little labels on Italian wine or big wheels of cheese locked in French basements. They are celebrations that one has made it by way of the ravages of time and has gained the refined qualities of age. I too hope to age like wonderful wine — not cheese — and I sit up for celebrating my seventy-fifth as a crotchety bitter previous man with hopefully a PhD, an awesome head of hair and like six cats or no matter.
To age in America is an unpleasant factor. Every yr, the expiration date for magnificence shortens. When I used to be youthful the commercials all insisted that fifty could possibly be the brand new twenty-five. Now twenty-five is the brand new fifty. You hit thirty and also you, in line with Twitter, turn out to be a strolling corpse, a zombified reminder of the horrors of forgoing a great moisturizer. Not me. I moisturize. Just a little spackle for the pores and skin goes a good distance in the long term, however the inevitable second will come the place the age-defying stuff doesn’t work and I’ll now not look younger sufficient to be mistaken for a kid within the airport safety line.
I’m not Holden Caulfield — thank God — nor am I Junie B. Jones — thank God, once more — as a substitute, I’m each model of myself that got here earlier than. I’m 13 and 4 and 7 and twenty. With each change, each new story, each metamorphosis, I take just a little piece of who I used to be earlier than as I turn out to be one thing new. When I turn out to be twenty-two, I’ll achieve this with the garments I wore at twenty-one. I’ll smile with the chipped tooth I bought at 9. I’ll dance to the songs I heard at fourteen. I might be carrying some variation of the coconut-head bowl-shaped haircut I bought at ten and by no means modified since. I might be each quantity as much as twenty-two, and I’ll be glad about it, even when it means my coming-of-age story will finish. My coming-of-age story is as suburban as a Converse sneaker and as generic as a lamppost, however it’s mine. It is my story to someday inform to individuals who might later neglect it, or a narrative I’ll someday in previous, previous age additionally neglect. I by no means was the protagonist of the good American coming-of-age novel. My birthdays will not be one thing that college students will debate about in English seminars, nor will they be dissected by lecturers. But they are going to be remembered. At least by me. Every one among my birthdays, regardless of what number of I’m gifted, would be the birthday of my life — and they’re going to come to me as recollections of a childhood effectively spent.