The edge of seventeen


Lilly Lancaster

Me, dressed as a cat, celebrating my 18th birthday.

I turn eighteen in less than a week and don’t know how to feel about it. 

From what I’ve learned from movies and books, once the clock strikes twelve, I’ll immediately transform into a new wiser version of myself, but let’s be honest, I know that’s not going to happen. A long time ago, I realized I don’t live in an indie coming-of-age film. I never saw myself experiencing a whimsical teenage love like in Pretty in Pink. My summers were filled with boring evenings of sitting in my friend’s car and watching the sweat slowly drip off our skin, unlike Hot Summer Nights and The Summer I Turned Pretty where they thrived in the heat. I never found myself stunned at the inner lives of my peers like in Booksmart or tangled in a chaotic web of lustful confusion like in Perks of Being a Wallflower. Even though I’ve come to that understanding, a pit in my stomach still tells me I’m doing something wrong.

When I was younger, I anticipated having a very eventful high school experience, and while I don’t argue it wasn’t interesting, I just never felt like I was doing the right things. While everyone else was immersed in the bliss of adolescence, my overactive cognizance only allowed me to see what I lacked. I never felt the fantastical luminosity the tale foretold.

Everything I’ve ever done was supposed to live up to this moment. I’m supposed to feel wild and esoteric. It’s the magical edge of seventeen, and I’m turning into a woman! I’m supposed to be making mistakes, causing chaos, and experimenting with my identity. 

Yet, the tectonic plates are shifting, and I couldn’t be more still. 

I used to think of youth as a tumor. A ball of glitter that’s placed on the frontal lobe and controls every move we make. Once you turn a certain age, the ball explodes! The glitter is gone and maturity is revealed in a wave of relief.

I don’t think like this anymore. 

My ball of glitter, stuffed with shimmery diary entries and slumber-party dance routines, started shrinking when I was seven and disappeared before I could notice. I’ve recently been collecting the specs of glitter I have left and using them to the best of my ability. I can’t help but feel shame. While crawling on the floor hunting for my kaleidoscope consciousness, I look up, and everyone else is standing by the door, waiting to leave and start their lives. What do they have that I don’t? When do I stand up, brush off my knees, and call off the manhunt?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fear my inevitable future. I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to escape the suffocating clutches of this wretched town, but no matter where I go, I’m afraid I’ll always be on the floor, frantically looking for those mythical pieces of glitter. If I were to describe my current situation, I would say it’s similar to purgatory. I haven’t started living like my existence is lodged between time. I feel frozen, yet time continues, and I have to find a way to adapt. 

I continue on by looking to the future. The future is like my finish line, but the line keeps changing. It gradually moves farther away. No matter how fast I run, it’s faster.

People congratulate me on turning eighteen, and I find it foolish. When I accomplish something, I’ll let you know.

I’ve been on auto-pilot for the last few years, but I’m not even sure I’m on the plane. 

While I take pride in the fact that I haven’t peaked in high school, I can’t help but think this feeling will follow me beyond my current situation. If I’m so worried about what I haven’t done in the past, will I forget to live in the present? There’s so much I want to see and do. What if it all starts slipping away? How do I know when to tighten my grip?

Sylvia Plath’s fig tree analogy sits like rotten fruit in my skull. As I stare at the fig tree, my mouth waters. One fig is a heroic investigative journalist, and the one hanging next to it is a poet and a published author. Another fig is a philosopher and a teacher who holds more wisdom than a hundred men, the fig under it is a beautiful love story, and another one is a beloved actress. One fig lives in Scotland, and another in Maine. When I look up, I see thousands more. How do I know which fig to choose? How long do I have until they start turning black and plopping on the ground? 

While the paralytic injects into my veins as I sit idly in the crotch of my fig tree, I glance into the multiple verses I’ve created. I see infinite options unfolding and evolving. To pick one of the figs would mean killing the rest, and I’m a bit too morally scrupulous to unleash mass genocide. I don’t believe in a ‘greater good.’ There’s always a middle ground. People tend to get caught up in the weight of the decision to realize the simple answer they already hold. I don’t think the fig tree exists to taunt me but to provide reassurance. In Buddhism, it’s said that Buddha found enlightenment when sitting under a fig tree. Fig trees are seen as sacred and in Islam, some are considered holy. I don’t think my life is held in a singular fig but a whole tree.

I will sit contently in my rooted cavity. When the branches begin to droop and the honeyed flesh swells with life, one by one I will pick them off and cherish each tender fruit as I place it in my basket. The seasons will change, branches will splinter and bald then grow lush with sprouts. When I notice the branch necks beginning to bend, I’ll grab my basket and do it all over again.