Getting Older, Growing Up

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There was a moment on the morning of Christmas Eve, as I flung my head out the door of my dad’s moving car, having improperly nursed the previous night’s hangover and spewing vomit onto the street and perhaps a few unlucky passersby, during which I thought to myself, Wow, it really sucks to be me right now. And in another moment, as I stumbled out of the car still dry-heaving, my thought process changed to, Wow, it really sucks to be my dad right now. And then, in the moment I sat back down in the car, red-eyed and quite embarrassed, I remembered that this was not my father’s first rodeo. I actually have quite a long history with this kind of thing.

I got carsick as a kid. I got carsick a lot. These days I’ll maybe feel seasick or a little nauseous if I go on too many amusement park rides, but otherwise I don’t ever have to worry about it. When I was a little boy, though, every ride to the grocery store presented a new challenge. Back then, if you put me in a car, I would vomit. Period. If it was a ten-minute ride, you could give me like eight and then it’d happen. A two-hour road trip? I’d vomit as we were pulling into the parking lot at one hour and 59 minutes in. A personal low point may have been unloading hot dog chunks onto the man who sat in front of me at my sister’s JV basketball game. My parents even kept a boot-bowl for me in the back seat for those windy roads near our house that would inveterately put me over the edge. So, while there may have been quite a long hiatus, Christmas Eve was definitely not the first time my dad had heard that dreadful request to pull the car over.

Carsickness was constant throughout my childhood. Another constant was a baseball cap. When I was in elementary school, my grandfather found this white, Boston College Eagles hat on the side of the road while he was walking one morning. He picked it up, gave it to me, and (after washing it, of course) the hat became the centerfold of my wardrobe. I don’t even know why really – I wasn’t that big of a BC fan, and I know I owned baseball caps that hadn’t been found in a ditch – but the BC hat never came off my head. Going to school? Wearing the BC hat. Playing outside? Wearing the BC hat. Watching TV? Wearing that same hat. For whatever reason, I just loved the thing. So this one time, in the prime of my carsick days, as nausea hit me suddenly on the highway and I began to feel, you know, that feeling – the feeling that says firmly, I am just not going away until you throw up, and that, sir, is final – as I desperately reached for my boot-bowl and could not find it, and as I ballooned my cheeks, holding back the certain, sour spray I knew milliseconds later would burst from my little body, I happened to be wearing, of course, the BC hat.

Sitting in a car, cradling in my lap a baseball cap full of my own vomit: definitely an all-time low. Even worse was watching my dad take the hat and fling it into a ditch adjacent to the highway. Funny how that thing went full circle, I suppose. Needless to say, however, I was devastated. I couldn’t be mad at my dad for throwing the thing out; nevertheless, I was super upset about losing it. The BC hat, at that time in my life, was about as much a part of me as my left lung, and leaving it behind, covered in regurgitated Beeferoni, felt like tearing away a sliver of my identity. It stung hard. Yet, years later as I sit here writing, I’m happy I still have my left lung and I really could give a fuck about that baseball cap. Whatever meaning it once had in my life is gone – and that’s a good thing.

Since I’m already indulging into aspects of my past life that I’m not proud of, I’ll tell you also that I used to make girls cry. This was freshman year of high school (and in total disclosure I’ll admit I relapsed a bit in my first few weeks of college but that’s beside the point), and the thought process behind it was this: I had always been told to be honest, so I decided that I’d be honest 100% of the time. That meant if a friend asked me if they looked good, I’d say they did – or I’d just as soon say they didn’t. That meant if someone’s mom took me to a movie and asked if I’d liked it, I’d tell her I did – or I’d just as soon tell her I didn’t. That meant that when a girl who I really was fond of in many ways asked me why I’d stopped spending time with her, I was dead honest and told her, “because you’re too dramatic and always cry over the stupidest things.” And of course, when I said this in the middle of our high school cafeteria, she began to cry. I realized, in that moment, that I wasn’t only being honest. Mostly, I was being an asshole, and that was the last thing I wanted to be. So I changed. Honesty is great, I realized, but while there are times to be honest, there are also times, though less frequent, to hold back the truth.

Some things, like my carsickness for example, we grow out of eventually. There wasn’t a particular instance in my life in which I realized I could safely take a ride in the car. It just happened, and at some point I noticed. Other parts of us, however, like my favorite BC baseball cap, have to be ripped away. Both those methods of change – that is, the things that happen over time and those that happen with some kind of force – constitute growing up. Coming from a place of not much experience, but enough to know a few things, my urge to you is to not shy away from the latter method. If there is some quality you have that you don’t like, don’t assume it will change on its own. I’m not saying I didn’t love that baseball cap, but I’m happy I’m not still wearing it everywhere I go. Likewise, at one point in my life I thought I was totally cool because I told it exactly how it was all the time. It took a friend crying in front of my eyes to rip that part of me away.

Character is fluid. I heard this once and it stuck with me. All of us are changing, maturing, and growing as human beings all the time, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Perhaps some things happen in us without us knowing. For example, I was a huge Red Sox fan as a kid, and then at some point over the past few years I realized that I just didn’t give a shit, even while they were winning the World Series. I used to throw up every time I took a car ride, and then at some point I noticed my carsickness had gone away. The most important moments of change in my life, however – the ones that affect me most deeply as a person – are the ones that happen all of a sudden, like loving a hat one moment and throwing it in a highway ditch the next. If you see a part of yourself you don’t like, get rid of it, even if it seems engrained in your very being. It isn’t. As we enter together into 2014, don’t be afraid to throw things into the ditch.