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Adulthood

By Summer Block

Humor

LINUS_4F

Extended adolescence is all the rage these days. Or extended childhood, or extended young adulthood, depending on whether your particular clock stopped during Star Wars: Episode III or Star Wars: Episode I.

Ally McBeal vs. Liz Lemon

 

Robin:

Career deadlines, marriage deadlines, parenthood deadlines— all the internal deadlines for adult milestones have gotten later since the Baby Boomers’ day. Traditionally, five milestones have been used to define adulthood— completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a first child. Millennials pass through all the Big Five, on average, about five years later than Baby Boomers did. It’s become a feedback loop: as the milestones are commonly achieved deeper into post-adolescence, cultural expectations shift even further back.

Today’s young people don’t expect to marry until their late twenties, don’t expect to start a family until their thirties, don’t expect to be on an actual career track until much later than their parents were. So they make decisions about their futures that reflect this wider time frame. Many would not be ready to take on the trappings of adulthood any earlier even if the opportunity arose; they haven’t braced themselves for it.


16 August, 2007

Today is the penultimate day of our vacation with Anna’s family. Tomorrow evening, we will pile our two boys and our belongings into the trusty Corolla and head back home to West Hartford, Connecticut. Except of course, that we are not really heading back, or home. We are heading out, going forward, doing something new and quite unlike what we’ve done before. We are leaving our crowded little apartment in the crowded little city of Somerville, Mass. (preceded by like abodes in Cambridge and Brooklyn), for a proper house, three bedrooms and a living room and a dining room (fully separate from the kitchen, mind you) AND a finished basement, all sitting upon a quarter acre of gracious, green, unapologetically boring, suburban land.

The funny thing is that the move to me seems worthy of excitement. We have purchased a perfectly sensible, utterly unexceptional Dutch colonial (that is a kind of house, I have learned) in a bland, agreeable suburb in central Connecticut (very fine schools, of course). Anna has a tenure-track position at a highly respected university and I have what promises to be an engaging non-profit lawyering job. In short order, we will buy a second car – a minivan perhaps, or a station wagon – to park in the second spot in our two-car garage and tote around our two children, presumably to soccer practice, PTA meetings, Klan rallies, and the like. We are standing on the precipice of no precipice at all, just the long slide toward middle-class, average, American comfort.

And yet, I feel I’m entering uncharted territory. I’ve never lived outside a city, never lived in anything but an apartment. As a teenager and even in my early twenties, I assumed without much thought that I’d never own a car, let alone a house. I described West Hartford to my best friend, who grew up with me in Brooklyn: the endless, quiet, tree-lined streets, the sidewalks empty of people after dark, the well-kept houses uniformly filled with the flickering blue glow of television. He said, “You’re kind of like a spaceman there.” He’s right, but instead of feeling like I’m taking an appalling cultural step backward, selling out, failing it to keep it street, etc., I’m excited. It’s like I’m embarking on a sociological adventure, an exchange program far more exotic than the year I spent in Argentina when I was fifteen. Also, it will be nice to have enough space, which we have not had since Max was born, and less still since Reuben came on the scene. Did I mention that we might buy a new car?

Maybe I am selling out and loving it. Anyway, the great unknown begins now . . .


17 March, 2010

The first half mile of an early morning bicycle ride in the cold is never good. The air is always sharper than I expected, finding its way between layers to chill my back and toes and make me think I should have bundled up more. No matter how hard I pedal, I can’t seem to move as fast as I’d like to, a point made manifest by the little speed meters the town police have installed here and there, one of of them a block from home, informing me that I am topping out at 17 miles an hour. Actually, that’s not bad for an old three-speed loaded with lunch, computer, and a 200-pound man in khakis and loafers, but the first half mile is about perception, and it feels slow. And cold.

It’s mostly dark at a quarter of six, and my end of town is shielded from the east by a pair of hills, so the dawn looks like someone shining a dim flashlight up from behind Hartford. As always in my godforsaken suburb, the only people on the street are dog-walkers and joggers, who are marginally more scarce at this hour. Cars, though, are mostly absent, so it is quiet. Just behind me, I hear the soft, regular clicking of the antique bicycle hub, parts forged and assembled forty-odd years ago in a northern English factory town, where hundreds of people likely plodded to work on three-speeds in pre-dawn hours; just ahead of me, I hear the zizzing whisper of an equally aged tire negotiating the asphalt. This is the part of the ride where I think about life.

And so? I suppose if I could have chosen an existence for myself in a central Connecticut suburb, had I even been able to name a central Connecticut suburb three years ago, I might have liked this: the misfit doing a 60-mile commute by bicycle and train in a place where people won’t even walk three blocks to the grocery store. That is an encouraging thought for a chilly March morning: I have not sold out. I still ride my bike whenever I can. I still work in the ghetto, still meet my clients at night in project hallways, still fight the good fight for a lot less money than most of my law school classmates are earning these days.

But!

Oh, the “but” is a serious thing in this internal conversation: I spend a lot of hours in the car every week. I have gained fifteen pounds. I live in West Hartford, an uppity, mostly white suburb that seems to pride itself, above all, on being different than the desperately poor city it adjoins – the kind of suburb I hate, not just because it is boring, but because it represents the abandonment by those with means of those without, the unapologetic self-interest underneath our vaunted American individualism. Oh, and in order to engage in this pleasurable bicycle commute, I have left my house before dawn and foregone the pleasure of breakfast with my wife and children, and Jesus H. Christ, commuting 60 miles by any method short of a helicopter is fucking absurd, and on top of that my job is too crazy, and I can never get enough done, and we can never make a dent in our credit card debt, and I really need to go to the dentist, and . . .

Luckily there’s not too much time for quiet reflection. I am past the hills now and moving through Hartford at a good clip. It’s warmer, and the air feels less like raw late winter and more like the muddy, optimistic ferment of early spring. Every now and then, the lovely, gold-domed Capitol peaks up ahead of me with glorious dawn behind it, and I get to thinking that phrase that has become my mantra since moving here: Maybe life isn’t so bad.

Where Farmington and Asylum Avenues converge, an empty lot slants downhill to a tangle of highway ramps. Above sits a huge patch of sky-blue openness, fringed with Hartford’s chrome skyline and punctuated on the southwestern edge by the Capitol, tall and unapologetically overwrought. I hesitate, caught between wanting to take a picture and worrying I will miss my train, but then I am buoyed by the pleasing thought that I will get to see this breathtaking panorama many many times again. I keep moving down Farmington, under the highway overpass and to the train station. Of course, I should have checked the time: I arrive at with fifteen minutes to spare.

That morning Jackson woke with an erection like an iron bar.He lay in bed with his eyes closed feeling it throb between his legs.He imagined Céline returning from work, unbuttoning her blouse and pulling the red regulation sash from around her waist with a practiced flick.She’d step down out of her shoes, unclip her metal nametag and toss it onto the kitchen table where it would land with a clatter. He could see her fingers sliding the zip down the side of her skirt, the fabric falling to the floor with that sweet familiar swish and then there she’d be, thin legs and her hands reaching up behind her, leaning forward, unfastening her bra the way she did.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.