Nova Ren Suma’s new novel 17 & Gone released yesterday and she’s been running a blog special featuring what other YA authors were haunted by at age 17. I loved, loved, loved her novel Imaginary Girls and am super excited to be attending one of her workshops at the upcoming New England SCBWI writing conference in May. So without further ado, here’s what haunted me at 17:
The Best Years Of My Life?
I’d always heard people say the high-school years were the best of their lives. I never believed it. Not until I was 17 and heading into my senior of high school…and my life was, well, pretty perfect.
If I’d learned anything from books and TV, the teenage years were supposed to be filled with angst and rebellion. Sure, I’d had my moments of getting in trouble for staying out late at parties and the drama of ex-boyfriends hooking up with (soon-to-be-ex) friends. Moments that were all-consuming when they were happening, but in my bliss of seniordom, they were dark blips on the otherwise bright radar of my future.
On the precipice of senior year, I was a standout athlete, poised to graduate with a perfect 12 varsity letters (one each year in soccer, basketball, and track). An honor student, and on track to graduate in the top 5% of my class. A member of the student council, a volunteer at the hospital (right down to the horrible candy-striped outfit and white Keds), and a senior editor on the school newspaper. My resume would make any stereotypical world-hating teenager throw up stolen vodka all over her Doc Martens.
Oh, and I had just starting dating a guy I’d had been crushing on for the last several months. We worked together at the local hardware store. He was a long-lashed, quiet, super-smart college guy. Not my usual jock fare. We engaged in long, intellectual conversations about movies, science documentaries on the Discovery Channel, music, and life. And the only anxiety I had when kissing him was worrying about whether my lips felt too rough on his delectably soft ones. (Seriously, why don’t all guys use Chapstick? Soft lips are in no way reserved for women.) We were still at the tingly new relationship phase, where every touch zinged with energy and excitement.
Yeah. Life was pretty perfect…maybe a little too perfect.
As winter and basketball season approached, I struggled to keep my mini panic attacks from becoming noticeable. What if my one poor grade in pre-calculus junior year tarnished my transcripts? What if I didn’t get into my top college? Or any college? What if my relationship was too good to be true and he dumped me out of the blue?
Looming bigger than all that trepidation, though, the worst fear of all haunted me: What if high school truly was the peak of my life? What if 17 & Perfect turned into 18 & Past My Prime? What if when I was 40 and married (divorced?), I’d spend all my time reminiscing with the other sad, middle-aged women over “the good old days” and vicariously living through my own high-school aged kids? What if the next 60+ years merely consisted of a slow, steady decline into bitterness? Were these really the best years of my life?
Seems even then, when things were going well, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The biggest shoe of all didn’t drop until I was 19 and my sister died, but it’s been a steady uphill (with a few bumps along the way) since then. At least at the ripe age of 30 (what an old lady my 17-year old self is saying), I can say each year brings in new highs and lows, as does each decade. I don’t think I’ll ever be over the fear of the good times running out, but I can definitely say while the high-school years brought me some wonderful memories, they certainly weren’t the best of my life.
What haunted you at 17?