I think I wasted my rebellious youth.
It’s not that I didn’t rebel. I’m sure I rebelled against something, although if you ask me now exactly what it was I couldn’t really tell you. And if you asked me at the time if I was a rebel, I would have flatly denied it. Rebels are supposed to be cool, and cool I was not (I’m pretty sure my sister will back me up on this). Rebels are also supposed to have something they’re rebelling for, or at least something they’re rebelling against, even if it’s just the general ennui that comes from living in a post-modern society that leaves nothing in particular worthwhile to rebel against (see James Dean, Rebel, Cause Without).
It’s not that I didn’t do crazy things, which is the prerogative of youth. I had my goth phase (after goth was cool but before emo was cool), my punk phase (was punk ever cool?), and my drifter phase (which was blessedly short). I made plenty of mistakes, and paid for all of them. I even learned from one or two. I went away to college once or twice, came back, went away for work, came back, and eventually got my life into some semblance of order as much by happenstance as design.
Looking back on it now (as I occasionally do) I wonder what I thought I was accomplishing at the time. Not that I am judging my younger self, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone for a lack of knowledge or experience, which by definition I didn’t have then and I do have now. But in some ways I am the same person now that I was then (unless you want to get into levels of metaphysics that I am not comfortable exploring, no offense to the philosophers), and even though I vaguely recall my motivations, about the best I can usually come up with for motivations and explanations for almost everything I did before my mid-twenties or so is “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.
Not that I’m entirely opposed to this line of reasoning in my life even now when the situation calls for it, but I have to wonder if I was really that directionless, or if I had some deeper purpose I was pursuing that I have since lost sight of or forgotten. Was I really living in some quasi-Hobbsian state of nature, or have I simply lost sight of the dreams and goals of the young man I once was? And when I look back twenty years from now, will I be asking the same questions, or will I at least be able to say that I fulfilled some higher purpose, some greater goal in life?
I suppose it goes to the same question I used to wonder about, and still do from time to time. At what point are you “a grown-up”? When do you really become an adult? Is it when you turn eighteen? I sincerely hope not, because I’ve known too many eighteen year-olds, myself included. Twenty-one is also a clear line in the sand, and clearly a bad one. Is it when you get your first “real job”? When you move out of your parents’ house? What if you lose your job or have to move back in (both of which have happened to me more than once)? Do you stop being an adult?
I’m not quite sure why it’s on my mind of late; maybe it’s because, as a friend pointed out recently, I’ve become the patriarch of my family, by default if nothing else. As I said to him at the time I’d just as soon not have the honor, considering the price. Still, we don’t get a choice in these matters. And growing up is something else we don’t get a choice in, no matter how much we’d like to join Peter and Wendy and stave it off for all time.
Even still, I’d like to have back my rebellious youth. This time I’d do it right.