I’ve achieved a small dream. I can’t say it’s a lifetime dream because I’m only 27. But it’s what I want to do, right now, in this moment, and it seems like a step. One small step. And if my life is a series of steps, a staircase if you will, I suppose I’m going up.
The other day at work a tweenager came up to me and asked me if they could please have a balloon. I remember this feeling. Grocery stores at the age of fourteen. One of the only places you can go with your freedom and your friends and a twenty your parents gave you. They’re bouncing. Three girls and two boys. Covered in acne. One boy taller than the other. His voice deeper than the other boy’s voice. They say youth is wasted on the young and sometimes I dream of going back to fourteen or fifteen to relive those experiences all over again. But adulthood does something to youth. It idealizes it. Every day is a struggle to figure out who you are. It’s no better than twenty or thirty or forty. Your responsibilities feel just as hard. Your injustices feel just as unjust.
The balloons are only for kids, I say, awkwardly. I don’t quite know how to gauge exactly what a kid is anymore. They tell me that they are kids and I tell them that I’m no longer able to tell who is or who isn’t. This is the first person over the age of 5 and under the age of 20 that I’ve talked to in so long. It’s like talking into a mirror of a younger version of myself. I want to ask these time travelers so many questions. Are you dating someone? How much does it suck? Are you getting proper sex education? What do kids do for fun these days? What kind of music do you listen to? Does everything feel like it’s crumbling beneath your feet? Are you just happy all the time? How much homework do you have to do? What do you want to be when you grow up? They are so new. A baby is a little human, but these feel even more like little humans. They’re walking, talking, decision-making, emotion-feeling little androids. Please, tell me what it’s like to be fourteen because I have forgotten. And suddenly, I realize how old I am.
I want to lean over in a whisper and say I am twenty seven. I imagine that they lean back in horror and gasp. How do I, like, even function. Do I do taxes? Am I married? Do I make homemade baked chicken and talk about politics in a dry voice? I expect they look at me with the same confusion and fascination that I look at them. The mirror reversed, and they wonder to themselves, what is it like to be twenty seven? What will I be like when I am twenty seven?
After I tell them my inability to determine age, I hand them a balloon. They tell me that they’re not allowed to trick or treat anymore and no one gives them candy, or stickers, or balloons. At some point in the last few years someone, a collection of someones, have decided that they must let go of foolish things. They have declared that they are no longer children. And what a horrible thing. I give them all balloons, and I give them all stickers. One girl is left at the counter. All of her friends have left, walking through the store, exploring their freedom, emptying their pockets.
“Did they just leave you here?”
She looks up at me and gives a little “yeah.”