How does one chart maturation? In our society, when you hit a fixed age you are supposed to fill a certain quota of maturity. When you're 17, you are now responsible enough to drive a two-ton vehicle that could easily be turned into a killing machine. When you're 21, you are allowed to legally consume alcohol, taking the burden off of older siblings or friends to purchase it for you illegally, and having the confidence in you to know when you should stop drinking (and if you are not trusted, there are DUIs, DWIs, and public drunkenness). Of course, not everyone is the same, so do these blanket gestures really apply in real life? It's a subject I've grappled with in my own life both physically ("Mom, it's not a big deal if I drive around with my friends after midnight all right, it's a stupid law anyway!!") and theoretically as the basis for my screenplay now four years in the making.
After a lot of thinking--and living--I have found a sort of litmus test not as much for maturation as much as for the impending onslaught of tomorrow, of jobs, of what was once "the future" and might now be “today.” The best way to characterize where you are in life is the question, "What does May mean to you?"
Let's go back a ways to Sixth Grade, which is about to wrap up, at least in the Northeast. After being the low person on the totem pole for the last few years (damn turnover from 3rd grade to 4th made you Kings of Recess into lowly serfs again), you're at the end of your reign over the entire K-6 school. (To be adjusted to other schools who have 6-8 middle schools, please take this as 5th grade. Thank you.) It only gets better: next year, you move in to Middle School. That's almost High School! That means it's almost time for driving, for parties, for breasts (if they haven't shown up yet)! It's time to stop being a stupid little kid and be an adult (read: teenager). For you, it’s all gravy from this point forward. Goodbye, stupid Elementary School, hello best summer ever (the Pool! Biking everywhere! Maybe a trip to the beach!!) and Middle School!
Of course, they have no idea what is coming instead is Middle School, where no one is ever happy with themselves or their station in life, the denizens are all incredibly insecure with everything and everyone around them and refuse to believe that anyone else is going through the same feelings that you are when clearly everyone is. They don't know that what affects them in the next two or three years will forever cement who they are as people from that point forward. Hell, you never know that until you're a Junior in High School.
You've made it out of puberty, right on the cusp of stopping the acne and weird hair growth and just before you're able to grow legitimate, non-comical facial hair (or, for girls, decide whether to bleach or wax said facial hair). You've just finished the most pressure-packed year of your life, because Junior year is the one that colleges look at the most, and everyone goes to college cause if you don't go to college you don't have a future, and if you don't have a future you won't have a job, and if you don't have a job you won't have a life worth living, and if you don't have that you'll be living on the street alone with HIV or some other god awful disease because you didn't stay awake in your SAT Prep class and now you're slowly dying, starving, cold and alone. Deep breaths. But no matter; you can now drive, so you have your first inkling of true freedom, leading up to the all important age of 18. You'll be a Senior, once again at the top of the food chain, with upwards of five grades looking up to you with either love or fear (it'll be a few years until you read Machiavelli, but instinctively you choose to instigate fear). You're the head of the class, done with SATs, and moving on to college applications. It's almost summertime, and it's time to start Senior year right!
Holy shit High School is almost over. Holy shit you're going to college in a few months. Holy shit your best friends are going to Ithaca and Syracuse and you're going to Boston and the person you have a crush on is going to Maryland. Maryland! You know how far away that is? Oh my god, High School was so easy. All those times I would panic over what is going on...then you take an AP course, and then they tell you that's not even HALF of what college is like!
Man, college is going to be great, it really is, but how are you going to do it without your friends? How can you attempt to get through with all of that learning without them around to support you? This summer will be the last one where everyone's together, and that means everyone...even the people you don't like. How can you live without Tweak? Yeah he's annoying but...but he's Tweak! He's always there! Now he won't be there. You might never see him again. You might not see anyone else again. Holy shit, let's make this summer count, cause it's the last one ever!
Pardon my forray into second-person narration there. It was going to go into full-on first, but I decided that'd be too much of a shock to the system. Not unlike May your freshman year of college. Somehow you survived, getting by with facebook, the internet, text messages, and lots of alcohol. By now you're starting to think about the rest of your life in concrete terms, specifically "What do I want to do with it?" You might take different classes to test out if you're into History or Visual Arts, Business or English. You find out that sometimes learning isn't that bad, and that you're treated with a certain amount of respect that you haven't gotten before. That respect comes with a more personal responsibility, where you have to get things done without your parents or peers harping on you (your parents will be on your back when the report card comes, with the harshness of disappointment directly linked to how much money they are spending for you to not do well). You rushed home on Thanksgiving to be back with your friends where everything seems like it used to, a return to normalcy as you still adjust to sharing a shower with twenty other men. This feeling is still around in the summer, where you're sort of older, wiser, more experienced, and ready to do different things like the stuff you always said you would when you were out of High School and looked forward to college.
The things that change most are the sweatshirts, from a Nike swoosh to a “College” or “University.” The settings normally do not. For some reason, while everything seems like it's the same, it's just...off. Yeah, it's the same people in the same basement at the same party, but they aren't the same people, this isn't the same party, but those are the same Solo cups, which is disgusting, frankly. A lot of what united everyone was the common enemy: High School and the inability to really "grow up."
Now everyone has that opportunity. Most take the baton and run with it, some don't, and some run faster than others. A disconnect grows. Whose fault is it? With the friends at college, you can talk differently, share different view points, do different things, go to bars, go to parties with new and interesting (and different) people. You grow on your own, becoming more and more rounded only to return and try to jam yourself back into a square hole. You get through it, but it's more difficult than you can imagine. It's exactly the same as your "last summer ever," except, for some part of you, it was the last.
Sophomore year gets a bit more serious. Remember how everyone else was doing this and that to prepare for colleges? SAT prep courses, summer courses for college credit, visiting 30 schools in a month? Now you're expected to have internships and job opportunities. The time for summer being about fun over everything is being pushed aside, replaced as a means for the rapidly approaching "future" which is morphing into the "present" every passing day. You're warned to enjoy this time more than ever, cause it will never be this fun again while also you're being told you're crazy if you don't know what your major is, if you aren't trying to make connections, if you aren't doing slave labor that will look good on your application. This dichotomy extends to your friends, who are starting to really differ. They just don't get you like the kids at school do, who you ironically miss more in your three or four months apart than the kids you grew up with and don't see for eight or nine months. Then again, they don’t really get you, either. Maybe you avoid the whole situation and stay at school for the summer. Ha, “summer.”
Then Junior year ends and holy fuck now you're a senior. This is it. You have only one year to somehow relish being this young and stupid while juggling future opportunities for yourself out of college. Look back on your life and see how it is all leading up to one year from now. You will walk on graduation. You will be thrust into the real world, or if you're lucky, try and linger on with Graduate School. The future isn't really the future anymore. In fact, a lot of your close friends are leaving, moving on, starting that journey that you are hesitant to start and they are downright reluctant, or petrified, to head into.
You wonder how you can survive without your friends at school, the ones that keep you sane, the ones that make hockey games worthwhile, the ones that you can sit around and talk with til the sun comes up, the ones with whom you can put on a movie and never even watch the damn thing cause you're all too interested in each other, the ones who somehow know you so incredibly well in such a short time. You wonder about how you can live without them in a much more real and tangible way than with Tweak, who you only remember when your hometown friends remind you of his existence. You had a common enemy again, but your side didn't win. No one ever does, really. You lose to reality, to the present, to the inevitability you've been resisting this whole time: adulthood. So, start spending money at the bars you can now legally get into and drink away this feeling as fast as humanly possible.
Senior year.… Senior year I really can't divulge on, simply because I haven't experienced it yet. The way I see it, it's High School all over again, except the stakes are raised. You don't have anything else to prepare for, you've been prepared for the last 12 years plus for this moment. You don't have anyone else around you to ease your way through the next few months of adjustment, as you've already been reassured countless times by many different friends who have known you for various lengths of time. You have one last summer (maybe) to try and get everything out of your system before the real world hits you like a ton of bricks. You’re perched at the edge of the nest, looking down at the ground before peering back at your tiny little wings. Before you can jump, you're nudged out from behind: Mayday! Hope you can fly.
Hope I can fly.