Everyone has nights where they lie awake thinking of every mistake they’ve ever made and cringing at the ceiling. I had one this weekend, thinking of something that happened when I was 15. It was 3am and Rational Brain — the part of me that should have said, “Look, Stephanie. That was 10 years ago. It might be time to let it go.” — had gone to bed at a reasonable hour, so it was just me and Crazy Brain hanging out in the dark, regretting everything.
Crazy Brain, as crazy brains are wont to do, decided that it was vitally important that I track down the journal I kept from ages 14 to 15 to find out what my teenage self had thought about the incident in question. Immediately.
I knew something about the event would be in there even though I haven’t read that particular journal in nearly a decade because the occurrence is still burned into my brain and I was a very thorough diarist. I distinctly remember writing incredibly precocious things that no average teenager would have understood. I remember thinking that as I wrote them, anyway.
I was prepared for a journal entry about this particular incident that began with a droll observation of mankind and ended in a profound conclusion proving that ninth- and tenth-grade Stephanie was the most clever ninth and tenth grader to grace this earth.
I was not prepared to find no entry on the matter at all. I was even less prepared for what I did find. Teenage Stephanie was not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’d go so far as to call teenage Stephanie a pretentious and delusional twit.
Expectations vs. Reality (told using actual quotes)
Expectation #1. My 14-year-old self was making the kind of biting, incisive observations about mankind that philosophers only dream of.
Reality Check #1. “world peace is all i really want 4 my 15th birthday. violent movies aren’t helping. if all these people have a problem w/ kids smoking Bcuz it’s cool, what about all the violence????”
Expectation #2. At 15, I was an incredibly kind person.
Reality Check #2. “It’s not like he’s even attractive, especially considering his brain is pea-sized.” [<–This was about someone I had a crush on.]
Reality Check #2.5. “Mr. ___ is so hairy and gross. Why would his wife be pretty? I was sort of expecting a caveman to marry him.” [<–This was about one of the most supportive teachers I’ve ever had.]
Expectation #3. Mature for my age, I was above petty high school drama.
Reality Check #3. “It should be illegal to flirt with a girl for a week, ignore her the next week, then flirt with her again the next. It’s like against the law or something. I have fully liked him — FULLY — for four years running… that’s nearly a third of my entire life.”
Expectation #4. My physical age did not match up with my mental age, which was somewhere near 30, probably.
Reality Check #4. “Father = FAT. HER. IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE!”
Expectation #5. When I die, someone will be very interested in publishing this journal, like Sylvia Plath’s high school journals.
Reality Check #6. “I don’t even think he actually likes me. Male chauvinist pig. …I don’t actually know what chauvinist means, to be honest. It just sounded right.”
I should have known as soon as I opened the notebook that it wasn’t what I remembered it being. There are hints of this from the start. First of all, I wrote in it back-to-front to fool spies, who only read things front-to-back.
The first entry (on the back page) is in the bubbliest handwriting I’ve ever seen, and every letter has its own carefully maintained quirk. My l’s, b’s, and t’s are all wide loops, my a’s all have elaborate tops, and my i’s are dotted with hearts. HEARTS. I turned in handwritten papers with this stuff on it. I forced other humans to read drivel in terrible handwriting and there is no punishment too severe for this.
After the fifth or sixth “Paul McCartney sux” (a controversial opinion I hold to this day, but now try to spell correctly), it’s easy to see why adults dislike teenagers. They’re horrible.
I shouldn’t be too hard on teenage me. My brain was a hormonal mess, my body was doing freaky things it had never done before, and I was spending seven hours a day stewing in a building with hundreds of people in the same freaky situation.
I imagine tadpoles go through something similar. One day they’re cute comma-shaped blobs and the next day they have dumb-looking legs and no one wants to hang out with them. I bet those weird in-between tadpoles are awful to be around, too. I bet they form in-between tadpole gangs and experiment with illegal algae just to fit in. But one morning they wake up and they’ve turned out to be a pretty ok frog and everyone knows how to act around them again.
My journals got better over time. The one I kept from ages 17 to 18 is a thrill ride — full of sex (other people’s), drugs (also other people’s) and rock n’ roll (mostly Queen). I figured out how grammar works sometime after my 19th birthday. Things have been looking up since then.
I’m just totally freaked out about what 36-year-old me will think of this blog post.