About once a week I get mistaken for a teenager – mostly when I’m buying ibuprofen in a supermarket run by morons and once when two men in a van stopped to ask me to get in their van but on closer inspection thought I was fifteen and left me alone (true story – avoid Holloway Road at all costs). It’s a weird one because I know I look young, and my voice is enthusiastically high-pitched, and I get excited about practically everything, but I’m not a teenager anymore. I stepped out of that skin a long time ago and into a new one. Somewhere along the way I shrugged off all the fear, the shame, the discomfort, the maybelline dream matte mousse and started a fresh version of myself. With hair straighteners and sarcasm.
But the perpetual identity crises that happen when you turn twenty-six and haven’t made it yet have got me thinking – which parts of my teenage self are carved into my identity now, ten years later, still running through my veins, tripping me up or propelling me forward? And if my teenage self – in all her insecurity and hope and hysteria – could see me now, what would she say?
When I started secondary school, there was this girl in year eleven who used to terrorise younger students in the toilets by throwing soap at them. I think she was probably responsible for a lot more threat in the school than toiletry-based aggression, but that is the lasting memory I have of her and it has stayed with me. She had her comeuppance on her final day of school when someone else in the year threw an entire jug of water over her at lunch, years of repression and inferiority surfacing in the most iconic aquatic tirade since Titanic. Meanwhile, in the bathrooms, the unspoiled bars of soap breathed a bubble of relief. It was the last time I ever saw her, an image I hold dearly, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in Mean Girls.
In my second year I was so desperate not to make a fool of myself on sports day (despite not even being terrible at sport) that I faked a blackout in the middle of the 400m race so that if there was even the remotest chance of me coming last, I would become a medical hero instead. What actually happened was that during my pretend blackout, an ice cream van arrived on the field and everyone fled to load up on 99s with flakes and those 10p bags of crisps called prawn balls and no one noticed me. God help my mum having to fake-comfort me the whole way home because I couldn’t even bear to admit to myself that it was all a sham.
A bit later, aged fourteen, I got run over on my birthday by a crazy Italian motorcyclist who’d just got out of a coma. I wasn’t seriously injured but I milked it a bit and distinctly remember feeling excited that something big-deal-enough had happened to me that I might feel like I fit in, or get even a sliver of attention from the cooler girls in my form. Instead, one girl laughed and another asked whether I had drawn the tyre marks onto my calves to be edgy.
To be fair that does sound like something I would do.
I was pretty tame. I still am. Finding out what dry humping is was enough to send me into anaphylactic shock. The only embarrassing things I posted on the internet were Casualty and Holby City fan fiction on pretty hard-to-come-by forums, spilling all my fears, hopes and dreams into fifty minute medical dramas. I once spent an entire term dancing with ribbons for PE and couldn’t sleep at night worrying I wasn’t sexy enough in my gym leotard – despite being at an all-girls school with a teacher who had a mullet and a long string-like plait down her back that looked like the rope you use to turn the hot water on in the shower.
To be completely honest I’ve only partially moved on from that. Except when I’m lying in bed now I remember I’m 26 and the only thing I need to worry about these days is one day buying a house and spending seven hours detangling my tights after they’ve been in the washing machine. All of which leads me to thinking, what in hell would 15-year old me think of my life now? Of who I am, what I’m doing, even what I look like? What makes me laugh, cry, scared, angry?
Maybe something like…
I can’t believe you’ve actually bought yourself your own crossword puzzle book AND you’re wearing a pac a mac in public on the train. What if another human sees you? Of all the things I thought you’d grow up to appreciate, linen spray is not one of them. Really? A teapot’s on your Christmas wish list? You drink BEER now. You’re such a dad. Don’t you have any Malibu? Why don’t you like any cool bands? As if you take your make-up off in front of a boy. Have you no shame? What do you mean, you don’t hang out at stage doors anymore?You’re so boring. What even is council tax? I’m so sad you’re not famous. WHAT? THEY DON’T DO PRAWN BALLS ANYMORE? I never thought you’d grow up to be someone who thinks a sign of a good night is Nutella on your pyjamas. I can’t believe you talk about tampons in public. And I’m sad you still can’t shave your legs. Really, you’re considering taking up knitting? Why do you insist on wearing patterns that clash? Why don’t you just go to Jane Norman? Maybe you should fake your own death to see what happens.
Aside from jesting, and the horror that I am 1000 times less cool now than I was in 2005, actually I think teenage me would be happy with how it’s worked out ten years later. That I found the confidence to be me in the end, that my two best friends then are my two best friends now and one of them works for Lindt. She’d probably be relieved that I ended up in a school where I did fit in, loved university and am working in theatre, which is what I always wanted to do after I stopped wanting to be a vet slash acrobat slash paramedic slash Lara from Casualty slash zookeeper slash Desperate Housewives slash famous.
She’d be fucking mind-boggled and then positively delighted that the boy I fell in love with and told everyone I was marrying and stalked from afar is now my boyfriend and we fart in front of each other and I go to bed with Sudocrem on my spots and he doesn’t care. She’d be sad that I’ve given up singing but happy that I took a ten-year break from writing scripts and am back to it although disappointed there’s not even one scene set in an emergency room. She’d be proud I can talk to strangers and not be ashamed of my hair colour and wee up a mountain and more.
Being a teenager was super crap but teenager girls have it harder these days – the only confidence crush I got online was someone not thinking my ambulance crash story was realistic enough. Teenagers these days probably think I’m really weird when I listen to their conversations on the bus and smile over my shoulder at them like a knowing grandma. But it’s because all that faking blackouts, trying to be cool, telling stories, caking on the make up, wanting to be loved, that all stops in the end and I want them to know that. That the girls who throw soap will always lose out.The ones who get it thrown at them will learn to brush it off, come out cleaner, stronger, smarter, funnier and smell better on the other side. You will grow out of Malibu and grow into your body and you’ll grow up to be you and only you.
And I bloody can’t wait to learn how to knit.