the outing of an adult
secret confessions of a reformed teenager
by louise arnold
I've been putting it off for a long time. Dragging my feet. As a reformed teenager, its something I've not been ready to admit to myself as yet. I still own "Teddy Bear Warms His Feet" pyjamas (they were originally my mother's idea of a contraceptive, I think, an unloved Christmas present, but I have since grown fond). I still cry with Greek-tragedy finesse every time that bastard snowman melts, every time Bambi's mother dies, every time the young Macaulay decides to cuddle a bee hive ... And yet, suddenly, I am an Adult.
I say suddenly: I know that's a lie. You don't suddenly wake up one day and own a set of matching plates and bowls. It's not overnight that stamps and shower cleaner appear on your shopping list. It's insipid, slow - the shopping list itself is the first symptom. It starts subtle; you feel in control, it's just a list after all. A list scrawled on the back of a receipt, half a cigarette packet, toilet roll ... And then, it evolves. A page torn from a notebook, a dedicated notebook, bullet points. One day a special area in the kitchen is designated as the area that the "notepad and pen to write the shopping list on" is kept. And thus, these things progress. The plastic bags from shopping suddenly manifest in a drawer of their own keeping. You keep pegs in the kitchen, in order to seal frozen bags to stop peas infesting an entire freezer. You start buying toilet rolls when there are still some left in the house; you begin buying a certain brand, rather than whatever one is on offer, you begin buying a certain color, because it matches the bathroom... And quickly, so quickly, a boundary has been crossed. Welcome to adulthood, flashes the neon light.
I found myself contemplating the merits of owning a salad bowl the other day, rather than simply a bowl I use for salad.
I went to the deli counter today. And somewhere, in between scouring for special offers and comparing the prices of different types of ham, I got called "madam." Madam. It made me feel almost naughty. The only times I've been called madam before its been prefixed by "young" and used as a beration. "Don't take that tone with me, young madam" as I pout and strut my way out of an argument, black eyelinered and sulky. And now? Sincere madaming. Reverent madaming. Not even a hint of a future grounding in the delivery. "This ham madam?" I'm not sure I like it. In fact, I'm fairly sure I don't. I worry that the natural progression from here is people giving up their seats to me on public transport. Double-glazing salesmen actually wanting to talk to me. The future from here on in is scary.
Relatives no longer say to me "My, haven't you grown?" unless it's meant to be inaudible and a reference to my width.
My first car was a mini. More accurately, my first car was rust and wheels, and a gallon of oil a day. It looked cuddly, and resolutely refused to go up hills. I don't quite own a Volvo yet, though I'm perilously near. The closest to Tupperware I have is some take away cartons I haven't quite mustered up the courage to say goodbye to. I don't own a golden retriever, although I have taken to luring in the neighbors' cat through a Hansel-and-Gretel style meat trail, and trapping the poor thing and talking to it until it meows for liberation. I know however, with an unquestionable certainty, that these things are impending. Death, taxes, sensible car, and a dog called Ralph. I am Madam. I am An Adult. No turning back now.
It's not all bad. Sure, when the realization first hits you need to breath into a paper bag for a few days, but I actually quite like knowing where to find that bag in a hurry. Third drawer down, beneath the pegs and salad tongs drawer. Having a car that starts when you turn the ignition has its advantages, momentum being an obvious one. I went through a phase of either owning seventeen tubes of tomato puree at once or none at all - the shopping list has eradicated this. My cupboards no longer look like a nuclear stockpile - the generic tinned foods have waned, and Tagliatelle now stands proudly in their place. Being an adult isn't the horrific fate I thought it would be. I've moved through that "awkward" experimental age of adulthood, that stage of all clothes being washed the same color, of burnt or bloody Sunday roasts, of white sauce like Play-Doh, of wilting houseplants ... I've come through fairly unscathed, too, barring some once-white bras that found the dark wash.
They say that the first step is to admit to yourself what you are, and I guess that stage is long overdue. I Am An Adult. I'm sure there are many more out there like me, closet adults, clinging to microwave meals and novelty socks and posters of Che Guevara. It's alright. Be brave.
Coming out isn't as scary as you think.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.4.02 @ 10:08p
Those awkward years
have hurried by - why do they fly away/Why is it, sir
that children grow up to be people one day?
The first time I was called "sir," that I can recall, was when I was 16 and walking across The Mall in D.C. Someone taking a survey wanted my opinion, and was determined enough to shout me down with, "Excuse me, sir?" a couple of times before I realized that with no one else around, he must be addressing me. It felt creepy. (I realized in later, wiser years, it was the sycophantic nature of the surveyor which elicited the "sir," and no maturity on my part, but there you are...)
Most days when I roll out of bed I still feel like I'm that 16-year-old, recklessly naive and yet somehow brilliant enough to fool employers, creditors and bartenders into treating me like someone well beyond my years. But then the mortgage is due and the car's in the shop again, and I'm working past 6 every day and then I realize that each of those grey hairs is legitimate and I am really that old.
8.23.02 @ 12:37a
This is wonderfully written. Not only does it ring true, but I love the phrasing throughout.
8.23.02 @ 12:44a
I remeber the first time I was called Mister. I was 19, in a video arcade, playing a game, and this kid watching me after I finished said, "Wow Mister, you're really good." I got drunk a shortly after that, but the ugly memory stayed with me.
8.23.02 @ 9:44a
I think I must be in the transitional phase. I own matching plates and bowls, but they are a peculiar shade of 70s orange and I bought them at Salvation Army.
I don't remember the first time someone called me "madam" but I do remember the first time someone called and asked to speak to "the lady of the house" and that was me. Scary.
8.23.02 @ 10:06a
Hey Sarah -- some of those 70s orange dinnerware sets are worth something today. Seriously.
8.23.02 @ 10:18a
Yay Damini :D
As per usual good writing. Now get cracking on some more ;)
8.23.02 @ 10:24a
Russ, I don't know that my orange cherries on a mottled brown background are worth being worth something. Then again, they are Mikasa which is good quality stuff. I picked them because I knew that whatever happened, that glazing would not come off. Besides, they matched my orange placemats and napkins.
8.23.02 @ 3:11p
In pure defiance, I answer "Ma'am?" with "Yes, sonny boy/little lady?"
8.23.02 @ 3:41p
I find it's safer to refer to a woman as "Miss" than "Ma'am". Ma'am conveys age, and Miss serves the same purpose without the connotation.
8.25.02 @ 2:51p
So this is what I'm supposed to expect, huh?...
8.25.02 @ 3:32p
Probably. With less chance of sagging boobs to accompany (hopefully).
8.25.02 @ 6:36p
well, that depends, I'm a bit chubby, man-boobies could over-develop...
8.25.02 @ 9:18p
"...when the realization first hits you need to breath into a paper bag for a few days".
I recall this moment vividly. I was on a date, and for some reason we went to see one of those teen movies like she's all that, or varsity blues. Anyway, one of the young madams came on screen, and she struck me as being quite attractive.
Then I realized I was 7-years older than the actress in question. It hurt...