Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realise that I am as much still a child as I am an adult. Indeed, though many people could say this about themselves, for me the two extremes seem miles apart.
I am an adult. I am forty-four years old, but for at least thirty-five of those years, possibly more, I’ve unquestionably been an adult. Some might argue that my childhood was ripped away from me — I can’t think about that, can’t even comprehend that idea and all it means. All I know, however, is that at the age of nine I consciously decided that if I was to cope with all that was happening to me, all that surrounded me, I needed to grow up. Fast.
So in the same year I moved from primary to middle school, I became an adult. My outlook on life, the seriousness of it, alienated me from many of my classmates and friends. I was intense. Childhood was no more. I knew what adults were like, what they did, how they behaved and — though I was impressed by very little of it and loathed much of it even more — I had to take on the mantle of adulthood for myself. Simply in order to survive.
Thirty-five years is a long time when — if we regard adulthood as reaching eighteen — I should only have twenty-six years of it behind me. As a consequence, I’m tired. Exhausted with being self-sufficient for so long. I dream — I genuinely dream — of getting those nine years back, and what I might have done if I’d allowed myself to live them.
Then there’s the other side.
I am still a child. In many ways. I know this and I am frequently ashamed of it. I am not childish, but I recognise child–like qualities in how I see things, especially aspects of adult life that most people my age should have experienced more often and to the extent where even if they don’t necessarily take them in their stride, such events won’t knock them for six in the same way they tend to for me.
As children, especially in our teenage years, we learn adult skills in abundance — even though we most likely don’t realise this at the time. We discover the practical and emotional upheavals that may come our way in the years to come, and get some understanding, however small, of how to deal with them.
I missed out on the years learning about such things, because I’d already forced myself to race ahead. I didn’t have the grounding needed to cope with certain areas of adult life — but because those areas didn’t impinge on my existence for so long, I somehow muddled through without really noticing.
Now, in my forties, I know what I missed and I’m entirely adrift. I don’t know how to behave, how to respond; my reactions seem incorrect and I don’t know how to correct them. Certain events and experiences can be frightening, just as they would be for a child living through them for the first time, yet there’s no denying they can also be exhilarating. Though exhilaration, in turn, leads to confusion.
If I could go back, I would tell that nine-year-old child that, despite the genuine risks, he shouldn’t force himself to grow up too soon. That he would miss out on so much, including things that would be important to him later on. It would all make sense — some kind of sense, at any rate — sooner or later.
As to the forty-four year old writing this, I don’t know what to tell him or how to guide him through the realities of adult existence. At that point the child returns, wanting someone to hold his hand and walk with him.