On Youth

When I was lying in bed last night, my thoughts drifted towards my childhood bedroom. I’ve had many childhood bedrooms, but this was the one I remember the most – the one I still dream about. Everyone’s got that house they consider the home in which they “grew up”, even if they were in a family that moved regularly. It’s the house where you spent the most of your important formative years.

This was my bedroom from about age 13 to age 19. I guess you don’t get much more “formative years” than that. As I laid in bed thinking about that room, the details suddenly started jumping out all over the place. It was like the memory was constructing itself in my eyes – like a streaming video going from blurry and muddy to high definition. I remembered the color and the feel of the carpet – that springy 90’s dense pile carpet. I could see the rickety old hand-me-down wooden wall unit I made an entertainment center, with my 25 inch tube TV, 3 disc CD changer stereo system with dual cassette decks (for copying tapes), and pathetic row of CDs. I saw the two elementary school desks that we acquired God-knows-how, acting as both my nightstand and drawing desk, the little cubbies underneath filled with pocket folders, and writing instruments resting in the little notch that was made for just that purpose. 

On top of the nightstand desks, a combination touchtone phone and alarm clock. A display of Prismacolor colored pencils. An electric pencil sharpener. Various pens and markers and highlighters sticking out of a crude ceramic cup I made myself (I still have this cup and use it for the same purpose).

My eyes move to the wall shelves that flanked my window. There are three on each side, mounted to the wall. I see my burgeoning shot glass collection, a small stack of books, a few framed pictures, and some random toys and knick knacks. One shelf held a Simpsons trivia game in the box, as well as other assorted Simpsons-related stuff. There was also, on the very top shelf, a two foot long rubber crocodile. Everything was dusty.

The walls were utter chaos. They were baby blue, but you couldn’t really tell. Nearly every inch of available wall space had something pinned on it. Apart from full size posters of bands, there was a mass of tiny tear-out posters from magazines and ones I’d gotten for free. A lot of video games. There were drawings too, things I’d drawn that I considered fit for display, though my method for picking involved little thought. I had flyers from punk shows, magazine and newspaper articles I thought were amusing, even ticket stubs from movies. My walls were an assault on the senses.

The bed… was not interesting. It was a twin bed with a navy blue comforter and no head or footboard. Moving on.

There were two configurations of the furniture in my bedroom that made any conceivable sense, and I would switch it up every couple of months so that it felt dynamic. It also motivated me to keep it halfway clean. Imagining the room today, as I did last night, the furniture arrangement toggled back and forth.

The vision of my old bedroom became so vivid and detailed that I started to be able to feel what it was like to exist as a 17 year old. I remember it all. Being so, so skinny, how sparse my beard felt and how it wouldn’t grow in some places, the overall feeling that I was walking into a blind date with adulthood, into a world that could be anything.

During the Summer I would stay up late, lying in that plain twin bed, watching Leno (for some reason), and occasionally peeking through my wooden shutters at the lamp lit street outside. I would watch for… anything really. People walking. Cats. Car headlights getting brighter, then flashing, then dimmer. I think maybe I was waiting to see something really bizarre – to bear witness to things that could only happen on a dark street at night. My neighborhood was not that interesting.

My bedroom in those days was a reflection of my youth more than any other single thing could have been – perhaps even more so than Halloween. It was me – my personality and interests, haphazardly drenched all over every surface. There was no organization, no unifying theme to it all, and no direction. It was just the life of Jon the teenager, uncut, unedited.

Going back to that place in my head was so vivid that for a moment I felt as though I was actually time traveling, and I could communicate to my younger self, show him things. Show him what his life would be like in 13 years. Being 30 would have seemed like such a distant future to him. The first thing I’d tell him is that it isn’t – time passes so much more quickly than you can prepare for.

I opened my eyes and looked at my bedroom today, and then I thought that this entire house is now my bedroom. Except it’s quite a bit different than before. Who I am is still represented truthfully (and of course, I share it all with somebody else, who is represented equally), but now it’s so… refined. Everything goes together, everything has a place. The furniture doesn’t really move around, because we’ve agreed on the ideal configuration; there is no need to change it. There is no crumbling, hand-me-down furniture. Nothing is serving as furniture that oughtn’t to be.

And it’s not that youth doesn’t intrude in my present homestead here and there. I still have the same bass guitar covered in stickers that I had at 17, except now it hangs on a wall with a few other decidedly non-stickered instruments. In the same room is an orange sofa and an arcade machine that I made myself. There are still video game consoles in active duty, and countless others in storage. If you look hard enough, you will also find PEZ dispensers (quite a few actually), and even a Nerf gun or two.

But still, I can’t help but think that if my eyes could show the 17 year old me what I see now, would he be surprised? Impressed? Maybe terrified, in a way?

I don’t get anywhere with that question. And that’s probably because it’s a pointless question to ask. There is no “17 year old me” when there is a 30 year old me. I can’t look around at the life I am living now and be shocked, as much as I kind of want to. This is just my life, and I’m doing the best I can at it.

Jon's Room

Comments (2)

  1. I love it, Jon. And your writing. 🙂

  2. BranDamn

    Bravo! This is my favorite thing article that you have written. Maybe it was because i knew you during those years, but also because you described a certain… zeitgeist that i (all of us) could relate to. you’ve definitely found your voice and your rhythm wIth writing. I felt like I was in a chapter of a Douglas Coupland novel (whom Mr. Ward introduced me too many years ago…) This would inspire me to write if it didn’t make me so jealous of your skill…. again, Bravo.
    Lastly, as an aside, I remember walking the loop of your cul de sac on restless nights trying to draw you out…

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