Friday, September 14, 2007

indian summer

I live in a college town, which, like all college towns, runs on a strict seasonal schedule. Because it's early September, the students are back in force, crowding the coffee shops and bookstores, blocking the sidewalks, talking loudly about course schedules and roommates.

One of them, a girl I've known vaguely for the last few years, walks by and sees me sitting on the side porch, my laptop in my lap. I wave and she crosses the street and stands at the top of the porch steps, squinting against the still-warm sun. She looks a little like a Italian madonna, straight hair parted in the middle, framing a face that's all curves. A silver Star of David hangs from her necklace and her voice has the cadence of someone who's always sung in a chorus. She's a senior now, and we talk about the year to come, about her classes and her plans. Someone stole one of her boxes from storage. She's decided not to write a thesis. Her little sister is taking the SATs.

She says that she'll be looking for a job in California, where her boyfriend's applying to graduate school. "We want to get a place together," she says and, from the way she pauses, I infer that someone, most likely her mother, doesn't fully approve of the idea. But she's not my daughter and I tell her about the summer that I lived with my boyfriend in a ground floor apartment in West LA.

"I feel so old," she says. She's going to be 21 in a month and a half. "It's funny. I don't feel like a senior. I look around the dining hall and I realize that all the people I don't recognize must be younger than me." I'm not sure what to tell her. Sometimes youth isn't wasted on the young. She can see exactly what's slipping through her fingers.

27 comments:

Jill said...

It's funny - I felt old at that age too and then thought that I must not be old and spent a decade realising that I am only just now getting back to that clued up state that was clear and uncomplicated by being an adult. *Sigh*.

Magpie said...

I didn't much feel old then, and frankly, I still don't. I still wonder what I'm going to be when I grow up.

Have you gotten to know her just because she walks by your house a lot? That sounds charming.

susan said...

Porch aquaintances are a nice feature of small town life.

I love your apple photo in the previous post: a good new year for you, I hope.

Beruriah said...

I remember feeling old at 21. But then again, I actually also remember feeling I was old at 10. I had an intense fear of reaching the "double digits."

Yankee T said...

I've never felt old, and I'm 55, but I certainly do understand those who do. One of my teenagers has what I call an "old soul."
I would love that porch friendship.

Zee said...

But weren't you like that too? I know I was. I've always felt like time was slipping away too quickly. I think that's why I'm able to keep a lid on the panic about turning...gulp...42. (Since I know rationally that I felt the same about turning 32 and even 22. I also know I'll look back when I'm 50 and say, "42? Geez. You were so young, you stupid wench. What the hell were you whining about?")

The big difference now is fertility-related. I've kind of mastered the "feeling old" piece. And, although I'm not thrilled about the appearance of grey hairs and that weird thing happening to the skin just above my knees (what IS up with that anyway?) it's really not that big a deal. However, the difference between angst over 32 and over 42 is the extra voice in my head screaming things about biological clocks and aging eggs and ALL THAT WASTED TIME. In fact, sometimes I even (naively) think that if I had the two-year-old I'm supposed to have, getting older wouldn't bother me that much at all anymore. (Yeah. Right.)

The Oneliner (Christina) said...

i felt old at twenty one too. but it wasn't regret or in any way a negative feeling. i just felt like everyone around me was naive (which we all know is a nice way of saying dumb). which sounds mean, but stims from the fact that i had been working full time for at least 5-6 years(child labor law s anyone?), had moved across the country and had a retirment account. not that 'i'm all that' i am just providing the context.

Not that i have regrets, but in a small way, i am envious of her youth...in that i sometimes wish i would have said that at 21.

Katie W said...

I feel old at 22, I have no idea where my university life has gone, but it's now over. While I'm looking forward to the "adult" world, part of me misses that time, it was all so easy, apart from having no money!

meg said...

I still feel like a kid and I don't know when I'll feel grown up. My husband is the same too. Guess that makes us super immature?

Jen said...

I feel that time slipping by at a rapid pace. Each day turns to a week, each week to a month and the months pass so quickly it's already a new year. Unfortunately for me it feels too fast and that life is too short and how am I going to fit it all in. I guess I also take for granted the idea that I will live to be 100.

Furrow said...

I was about that age when I realized that I truly had control over my own destiny (okay, as much control as is possible in this world). Maybe in a sense that made me feel "old," but not in a bad way.

I'm back working on the campus where I was an undergrad, and sometimes I get this weird feeling of being stuck between two worlds, especially since I have a young look about me that I can't seem to shake, no matter how many wrinkles form on my ultra-thin skin.

ms. G said...

I am not sure how to respond to this post. She sounds like a sweet girl, but personally, nothing annoys me more than when people younger than me talk about how they feel old. So, then, I should feel....ancient?

I swing between two extremes myself. I often joke I have been an old lady since I was 6, but then on the other hand, am still waiting to feel "grown up". Of course, when I was younger, I never pictured myself past 24. Maybe that is why I was unprepared for getting older.

niobe said...

Furrow: I think I feel something a little similar, in that sometimes it feels like I'm in some bizarre time warp because we only live a short walk from where I went to college and L works there.

Ms. G: It definitely could have been annoying, but it didn't really bother me all that much, because I think what she was really saying was that she was coming to the end of a phase of her life. She probably couldn't remember a time when she wasn't in school and now all that was about end.

LAS said...

I remember being young - about 21 (okay - I am still young, 30) - but feeling like I had grown up too fast because my brother and I basically raised ourselves. Then at 29, I was well into a career, married and divorced, a breast cancer survivor, facing infertility because of it, and sober in AA - where I got to face all of my past and regrets and move beyond all of it - and at only 29!! Where am I now - well, who knows, but what it gave me was a chance to experience life again with a new perspective - in doing so, I feel young.

Megan said...

I hate getting old in the way only a former precocious child can. Now I hate getting older – even though 34 isn't old - because I wonder if my two failed pregnancies were my last chance.

Rachel said...

I used to feel old when I was that age, too. But now I know that it was nothing! I constantly feel old. And now I must admit that it bugs me when people that young say that they feel old! I guess some people (me) can never be satisfied.

Lori said...

Yes, it sounds like she just understands she is coming to the end of something. Something that in all likelihood will never be repeated again in quite that way.

It sounds like a nice conversation and, which doesn't surprise me, that you are a good listener.

Adrienne said...

She's very aware for a 21-year old. I didn't start noticing until I hit 35. And it really didn't hit me until the 11-year old next door became a 16-year old who looked like a 25-year old. And then I knew it was all past me. At least that part of it.

Monica said...

I agree that she probaby realizes her college days are over and future awaits her. I too was very depressed during this time. So much so I got to know anti-depressants. I had no idea what was in front of me. I was just not prepared for life, plain old life. I knew what I was leaving, but not where I was going. It reminds me of the last scene in the Graduate. They smile and look back, knowing what the past was, but as they look forward on the bus... somber faces.

Eva said...

Doesn't it always seem like the younger person in the conversation gets to do all the talking about his or herself?

thirtysomething said...

My, my. If only I knew at 21, where I would be at 32 and how young I was then, although I felt older.

jo(e) said...

I just love the moment you've captured in this post.

niobe said...

Jo(e): It's funny, while I was talking to her, I was saying to myself, "This conversation seems exactly like something that would happen to Jo(e)."

My Reality said...

I remember 21. I don't think I would go back to that time. While I do feel kind of old now, it is only because of the holding pattern we have been in for 5 years trying to have a family.

missedconceptions said...

At 21.5, I realized that I just really liked school (it helped that I was good at it) so I decided to stay for another several years. I just kept going (different universities, though) and they just kept giving me degrees, so it all worked out.

I now teach at a university, and there is nothing quite like college students to make you feel old. Even when they are wise and mature, they are so in such a 20-something way.

stat763 said...

You captured the moment perfectly. I have a very vivid recollection of walking on campus as a senior thinking, how did I get to be a senior, I don't feel this old?? I teach undergrads and some of them weren't even born or were just babies when I first started teaching. Now that makes me feel old.

Happy, healthy new year.

LeRoy Dissing said...

A "rite of passage" always told me another chapter was ending but a new one was about to begin. I was a non-traditional student going through college anyways so I was old when I started - 22, right out of the Navy. For her the journey is just beginning. I envy her in someways and in others, I am not so sure I would want to go backwards either (as if I could).