From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Teenage Clichés

When you’re a teenager, people unload clichés on you like it’s their job. A perennial favorite is, “One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh.” Nothing used to infuriate me more than hearing that one from my parents when I was going through a crisis. How, I wondered, could they minimize the heartbreak I experienced when my best friend switched schools? How could they find it funny that my hair, which I had dyed a vivid, electric ocean-blue a week before, was now snot green?

It was outrageously offensive of them. And when I look back on it now, well, I just have to laugh.

Ever hear that Mark Twain quote about how when he was fourteen his father was so ignorant he couldn’t stand to be around the man, and upon turning twenty-one was amazed at how much his dad had learned in seven years?

Another cliché, right? But sometimes clichés get that way for a reason. My parents were utterly clueless about the deep complexities of me. They were strict, irrational and understood nothing about being a teen. They came out of the womb forty years old. I would never be like them.

And today, when I hear myself say things like “Now, let’s not get hysterical,” or “You’re being very passive-aggressive,” or even “It’s important to understand the value of money,” I can barely stop myself from whirling around to see where my mom and dad are hiding, throwing out their countless gems of wisdom.

But I’m not so far from my adolescence to forget certain things. In fact, I just barely escaped unscathed. Like when adults tell you, “These are the best years of your lives.” I remember hearing that and feeling utterly dismayed, but not to worry—no matter who tells you that, you don’t have to believe them. In fact, even my state senator said those words. I was at my high-school graduation and Chuck Schumer was up there at the podium, claiming that the next night, prom, was to be the best night of our lives. I turned and stared at my friend Jeanette in horror. The average life expectancy of an American woman is eighty. Did Chuck really mean to say that the pinnacle of my existence would arrive the next evening, less than one-fifth of my way through it?

Prom was great, actually—definitely not the best, but plenty of fun. A lot of moments in your teenage years will be. But more often than not, things won’t turn out like a teen movie. The mean, popular girls may not see the errors of their ways in the end. The dorky kid everyone picks on most likely won’t experience a miraculous physical and social transformation and go on to date the star athlete.

The scary part is, sometimes real life isn’t much different from your teenage years. I still feel awkward pretty often. (The other day, I tripped getting on the train on the way to work and fell flat on my face in front of rush-hour crowds.) I still get zits. I still feel intimidated by the women who are taller, thinner and better dressed than I am.

At the same time, so much has changed. I sometimes wonder how thirteen-year-old Alanna would react if nineteen-year-old Alanna could go back in time and stop in for a visit. I envision the thirteen-year-old dropping her headphones, which are blaring Marilyn Manson, and backing away in terror, snot green hair flying. The nineteen-year-old looks so . . . normal! She highlights her hair! She gets manicures! She has Calvin Klein capris, lipstick, hip-hop CDs and, God help her, a self-help book! She has become one of the conformists she so despises.

Or have I? Maybe instead I’ve realized trying so desperately to be different is its own kind of conformity, and I should just like what I like without constantly second-guessing myself. After all, baggy black clothes don’t make me a nonconformist. As one of my classmates told me in my first semester of college, just the fact that I wear clothes at all means I’m sticking to a societal norm. (I’m not advocating running around naked, here.) Maybe I’ve learned to channel my awkwardness into more productive outlets than green hair—like writing, for example.

Not everything becomes so clear. I’m still not completely sure if I’d be better off running a sheep farm in New Zealand or writing sitcoms in Los Angeles. But for the first time, that kind of confusion is exciting. Instead of feeling like I have no idea who I am, and the entire world is out to antagonize me, I see all these possibilities before me. I see a journey ahead, instead of a group of popular girls ready to pelt tennis balls at my head in gym class. It’s hard to know how incredibly okay you’ll feel once you exit your teen years. I remember when the Columbine massacres took place my sophomore year, I thought, Yeah, I can see how something like this, as horrible as it is, could happen. Not that I could ever envision doing such a thing or condone such behavior, but that sense of being cornered and needing to fight your way out—I got that. Now I think about how Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were seniors, only weeks away from being through with high school forever, and I wish they could have had the perspective I have now. Because the worst of it really does end eventually.

Alanna Schubach

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