Thursday, November 26, 2009
The Nice Thing About Being 15.
I’m not sure the year – it would have been 98 or 99. We, my 15 year old friends and I, were at a friend’s house for video game playing and pizza eating. This was the main highlight of our socialisation – it would be another 3 years until I kissed a girl and, bizarrely, another 7 until the amount of kissing I has done in real life outnumbered the amount of kissing I had done on stage – so at the time we just had video games. The Nintendo 64 and it’s Goldeneye four-player tensions, seemingly endless Final Fantasy’s, and the mesmerizing and bewildering genius-mess of Metal Gear Solid.
We were sitting on various couches in the living room. There were enough of us – smelly, over-looked boys, for some to have to sit on the floor in thrones of cushions. The Simpsons was on TV. It was for this reason and this reason only that we weren’t playing video games. Pizza was placed in the most diplomatic of positions, and we ate and watched while my friend’s divorced parents sat in the adjacent dining room, talking about the Australian Labour Party.
It was the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa fell for Nelson and they briefly started dating. By this stage the show was just falling from its peak, and the plots were just starting to unwind from their tight forms of the mid-early seasons, though they still had a long way to go to reach the mess of desperate, plot-less narrative that they occupy today. It was the scene in which Lisa and Nelson kiss for the first time – Nelson having the very nice line as a thought, pressing his lips to hers: “That oughta shut her up.”
As I noted, we weren’t particular popular boys, probably because we were all very intelligent and defined ourselves as somehow being 'very intelligent' (much to our later unhappiness). We never, as some strange, un-said rule, talked about girls. Perhaps it was to not point out the obvious: that it wasn’t an area where any of us weren’t having any particular luck – not because we were trying and failing, but for the fact that we were all largely very very shy.
Except one of us. He whose house this was, and whom we had seen in several high school 'relationships', and had this seeming innate way of charming women. Years later I would realise that it was simply having the confidence and calm to go and talk to them, then keep talking to them and not listen to any deep neurotic thoughts informing you to run away as far and quickly as you can.
But as Lisa and Nelson kissed, in that very Simpsons way of kissing, like two plungers smooshing together, he suddenly spoke up from his spot on the couch:
“That’s not what kissing’s like!”
A little too loudly, a little too vehemently, for no other reason other than just to announce to us that he, and only he, knew what it was like to kiss a girl, and he, and only he, recognised the severely un-realistic, yellow portrayal being shown to us.
I distinctly remember thinking, as my teeth bit into a triangle of melted cheese:
– but all the same, being impotent to argue with his actual underlying sentiment.
That same year we went on a high school science camp. It was our class, as well as the other “smart” classes from the other years. Because of this, many of the people there I had not met or socialised with before, but at the same time, I still had my own comfortable circle.
I had always hated school camps. Mainly because I loved, and needed, sleep. I have gotten progressively less sensitive to this need as I have gotten older (to the point where I was fine doing 4 or 5 hours a night when studying design earlier in the year – although that would have contributed to my unhappiness and thus helped make the decision to drop-out), but as a teenager it was still an absolute essential. School camps seemed like exercises in sleep deprivation: put all the kids together in one room, and eventually the actual practice of staying up, and thus flouting the rules, becomes the very challenge of the night. Losing sleep became some badge of honour, since it essentially was anti-authority. I grew up largely constantly petrified of breaking any rules (something I didn’t grow out of until uni, and until I discovered the great extent of rules cast upon you are almost entirely arbitrary), but I also simply needed sleep, so I was want to try and get some. Eventually, the monkey sounds and actions of the other boys would settle into a haze around me, and somehow, I would be able to fall asleep. They would stay up – the especially daring ones sneaking out to a nearby beach, where equally daring girls waited. I liked to feel I had my revenge though: the next morning they would all be dead, while I would be fresh and awake, ready and waiting for a brisk morning bike ride around the island.
Knowing all this, on this particular occasion I was very careful about choosing my bed and setting it up. Firstly, I wanted something in a corner, thereby restricting the directions that sound could conceivably come from. Realising too my sensitivity to light (I am awoken very quickly by brightness and find it difficult to sleep if there is a persistent source of light in visible range) I decided to take certain measures to ensure a comfortable night: I arranged some of my supplied blankets around me, in the frames of the bunk beds, more or less setting up my own, tiny room in the edge of a larger one. At the time I did it out of comfort. Looking back, it was clearly paranoia, and the sheer discomfort of sharing a space with other boys.
This time no one snuck away during the nights. We were the “smart” kids, and with that was a certain expectation to be on impeccable behaviour always, which most of us lived up to, prefects and narcissists in training as we were. But the boy’s and girl’s dorms were just too adjacent and thus too alluring for nothing to happen. Eventually, after some scouts ventured back and forth for a while, the girls flooded our dorm. Nothing really happened: we were still the good kids, but there was still a faint naughtiness about it which was no doubt exciting. Boys and girls on the same bed, a boy (the same boy from the above memory) stroking a girl’s hair as she lay with her head on his stomach, and casual conversation about making out. It was like the beginning of some sort of scene in some sort of movie: it was leading somewhere for everyone, but we weren’t quite sure where.
Except for me, it wasn’t. I was in my room, and I had not ventured out. I had parted the blanket somewhat to allow a view, and some conversation, to the rest of the room in – and it wasn’t something I did immediately either, because I distinctly remember the orange glow of torch lights from the other side of the blankets, and then when I eventually opened to peer out, the disarming clarity of the torch lit world around me. But of course there was no one else on my bed, and no one resting their head on my stomach – how could they, they’d have to clamber through my sheet set up, or my ‘wall’, and even if I would later learn that a few girls there did have crushes on me, it would have taken a daring beyond most teenager’s capacity to tear down my structure and attempt to get close to me. And so I lay there, looking out from my peep hole, and waited, like some East German.
Before anything happened though, the supervising teacher entered the room with such a immense amount of force and anger that she must have stood behind the door for a few seconds before, building herself up. The rest of the room went dead. Torches switched off – to little effect, as the teacher had her own, much stronger torch. She ordered everyone out, NOW, regardless of what they were wearing, everyone out into the cold. The torch went around the room to force the teenage boys and teenage girls out. Everyone complied, shuffling about in their pyjamas or underwear and standing outside, against a wall, with a flickering light above them which illuminated very little, bar the small flies which aired around in a seeming state of constant panic.
Everyone complied, that is, but me. For when the teacher entered the room, and the second I heard that booming voice, I tore back my peep hole and, with my remaining blankets, covered myself into an impenetrable log, and didn’t make a sound. Chaos was everywhere else, and not in my room. As the other students were being lead out to face their punishment, the teacher’s torch continued to flash around, trying to spot any stragglers. Eventually, it’s large orange got fell upon my wall. It stayed there for a while, perhaps because the teacher was slightly puzzled.
‘Everyone out, NOW.’ she repeated.
I remained silent. Then I changed tact. With all the acting skills I could muster (and these were, in fact, numerous, from other situations like this I had found myself in), I applied a groggy haze to my voice and, as if I had only been woken from a slumber of Sleeping Beauty proportions then and there, very gingerly said:
The torch light had moved. Again she repeated her command, but this was aimed to the general room and not just me. Soon, I calculated that I was the only one left. I asked, again gingerly, and just as she would have been leaving
‘Do… do we have to go out if we’ve been asleep?’
The line was a masterful one of powerless manipulation: it was delivered as she was leaving, so she would need a strong force to pull her back in, it was me asking her, thereby, through all appearance, giving myself up should need be, and finally, cementing the notion that I had been asleep all this time, and was somewhat bewildered as to what was happening. Looking back, my childhood and teen years are filled with these sorts of lines towards adults, and it’s a tremendous relief that as an adult I seemed to drop out of the habit naturally, and usually only speak with the most earnest and sincere of voices.
The teacher didn’t reply, she merely left. The orange light vanished. From outside, I could hear the other students being yelled at – how they had broken the rules, how they would be sent home, how they could be expelled, etc. (none of which, of course, happened – teachers are usually as empty as dry watering cans). And though it was cold outside, their snickers didn’t make the whole affair seem so terrible. Except for me, as my imagination focused on her yells and her anger, and because I was not out there to experience any of it, for me, tucked in safe under one blanked and behind another, it was all utterly, utterly terrifying.
Despite this, my main memory though was wishing so much that I was out there with them, that I had had a girl’s head on my stomach, and I had been forced to march out there in my underwear, and that I wasn’t such a coward.
This is the nice thing about being 15, being told to you by a 26 year old: that it truly truly only gets better from there.