At Seventeen

I’m of a certain age. I’ve started admiring gardens, forgetting vital ingredients in a dish. I’m also more fearless, confident and bold. I only worry for a few hours that I might have offended a person I like. At one time the angst would have ridden me for weeks. Years even.

At 17 I was young and thin. I hardly ate a thing. I lacked energy because of it. I was fearful about the smallest things. I left school in bewilderment. There was a lot of unemployment in 1982 (thanks a bunch Maggie!) and few people secured their first position easily. Jobs were offered where you knew someone.

I wanted to become a writer but sought employment typing out other people’s words. My Dad was a big one for safe. Safe employment; in a bank (no pun intended), an established firm. Start at the bottom and crawl your way up. I begged him to send me to art school but no daughter of his was going to wander around in a duffle coat with a portfolio gripped under one armpit. I should seek a husband who could support me. I’ve never had huge material needs. Scruffy second hand paperbacks and black eyeliner would suffice. Same now as then. Except I wear navy eyeliner – it makes me look less tired.

My politics are the same, leaning as far to the left without falling over. I was a feminist too in a world where if you were pinched on the bum you were supposed to be grateful. But all these yearnings and leanings were kept buried inside. I didn’t speak of them. I hardly spoke at all. I wasn’t equipped to shout out, to give my opinion. Unless it was to complain. Of the cold, of hunger (self-induced) of tiredness and boredom.  I didn’t really know who I was, where I was heading. I got that safe job in local government. Hung round a bunch of long hairs with motorbikes. Married young to a boy even more scared and confused than me. I was dragged along from 17 to 21 in a murky sea, hardly buoyed, with a slow moving current.

All the pieces were there but I didn’t have the courage to believe in them. It all worked out in the end but I didn’t discover true happiness until my thirties. Perhaps it’s the same for everyone. Perhaps not.

My eldest son is about to turn 17 in a matter of days. He wants to play rugby for his country, he has a dream. He doesn’t want to incur a university debt, he’s sensible. He’s strong but I see in him something of the girl with a light footprint, me at his age. He’s a terrible procrastinator. I still am. But he won’t bend to anyone else’s will. He knows he doesn’t want to work in an office. He’ll probably be self-employed as he doesn’t like being told what to do, something his teachers could testify to. His health is important. He eats well, looks after himself.

He says he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. Between rugby and the gym, his Year 12 work. I used to cling to my boyfriends; channelling myself through their bravery. Or lack of it. My son stands firm. He picks us up on any injustices. He doesn’t like gossiping. He’s a better person.

I can’t call him mine for much longer. He’ll go into the world. And when he visits me I’ll try not to cling, as my mother did with me. Joy and melancholy wrap around each other, threads in a strand. Life moves on. Sometimes quick, sometimes slow. It will go. It frightens me but still I’m glad. It’s the order of things.


4 thoughts on “At Seventeen

  1. 17 in ~1980 … 17 in 2016 … omg … mais plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose, … kinda … (not!) … Don’t get me started on 17 … looking back in haste, a newly-hatched butterfly with excited trembling wings … maybe one day I’ll learn to fly, there’s still time … Go #1 son 🙂 … & go you, girl xxx stunning writing, as always xxx

    • Thanks Julia. As son no.1 grows I find myself existing more and more in my later teenage years. They swarm my head and the story I told myself becomes a lie. They were happy, sad, wretched, grief-stricken and serious times. I know I’m happier now. XXX

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