This post is a poorly-veiled metaphor for something I will write about in 10 days. Let’s begin.
I remember puberty like it was yesterday. Similar in temporal proximity and in how fucking awful it was, I remember summer and the heat and growing up without much hope for what changes were in the future. As a kid, I never liked the concept of growing old. I didn’t like that I would change or that people would treat me differently or that I would be expected to act in a certain way. I just wanted to play Pokemon somewhere shady and remember what good air conditioning felt like.
I don’t know that anybody likes growing up, and I think I can pinpoint most of the reasons it really bothered me and why the idea of my identity inevitably changing if only because I’ve been around longer is disconcerting. I really liked getting candy from the dentist.
If you’re not familiar with the dentist candy drawer, it’s a seemingly-incongruous phenomena in which, if you are a child and have had an appointment with a dentist, at the end of your appointment they will likely open a drawer filled with the sweet treats that got those scary drills and hooks in your mouth in the first place. I was told adults were given toothbrushes instead, and I wanted no part of that.
Even while my childhood was shitty and characterized largely by fear and a constant sense of worthlessness, I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want a fucking toothbrush. I wanted my candy and to be able to sleep through summers and to still be able to slip into the middle of the circular racks of clothes at the store and hide with the old stolen dehli chicken. Fuck toothbrushes.
I remember living in a tent and losing pets and hiding in trees and wondering when my school and everyone else would learn just how good of a liar I was and end my fantastic run of slipping through the system. I remember my childhood being awful. My therapist agrees. I also remember the idea that growing up was out of my control, and that was terrifying, not because I didn’t know what to expect. I’d met adults. I knew exactly what to expect, just didn’t like it very much. I knew my dad got toothbrushes, and I wanted to keep getting candy.
They started giving me toothbrushes. I remember the dentist who had given me a fresh set of front teeth after the old ones had been broken out was the first dentist to ever open up the other drawer, not the one on the bottom where the kids can reach, the one second from the top. He handed me a blue toothbrush. There were other colors, white or pink, either would have been better. I’d have preferred pink because it reminded me of the strawberry candies I’d always get, the ones that can be found exclusively in dentist offices and grandparent houses.
I knew exactly what getting older would offer me. Do you realize how much candy is just thrown to children arbitrarily? It’s used like currency: go to the dentist, get some candy; go to the parade, people hurl candy at you; dress up in cute costumes, carry buckets, knock on doors, and spread rumors about apples with razor blades in them, get a lot of candy. Getting older entailed the sudden replacement of candy with blue toothbrushes. The dentist would give me one, the town parade would suddenly be some kind of hellish tooth fair, and Halloween would just die.
I don’t really do candy anymore. Sometimes my resolve will weaken and I’ll just eat a handful of chocolate chips, but that’s about it. However, an important moment in my life was realizing that I’m an adult. I can buy some fucking candy whenever I want. And, more importantly, I don’t have to get my toothbrush from the dentist. I can just buy my own, or get a new doctor to prescribe me one, or order one off the online black market, whatever works.
Getting older, I have learned, is frightening only if you can’t control what getting older really looks like.