Oh, to be a kid again.
Wake up each morning, hop in the shower, do something with your hair that makes it look at least halfway decent, grab something to eat, and snatch your backpack before flying out the door to catch the bus to school.
Or, if you're at least 16 years old and you've got that official slab of paper that says so, you grab your keys before you get in your truck to go to school - hoping that you've got enough gas to give you a couple of days before you've got to fill 'er up again.
It's a funny thing, this age routine. When you're growing up, you can't wait to get older, see what life is like in this big old world, and "have it easy" like your parents made it seem sometimes. "Aw man, I'm gonna have money! I can go to bed whenever I want! No rules hanging over my head! I'm gonna live in a BIG house with THIS and THAT!" Yada yada yada, junior. Whatever you say, Mr. Money Bags.
The whole thing is such a double-headed coin, though. If I, a 36-year old man were to stand face to face with my teenage self at 18 years old back in 2003, literally slicing my age in half, I believe that conversation would be one for the ages because we'd both be clamoring for something that the other already has, but can't fully appreciate.
"Hey, older Derek, you're an adult now? That must be awesome! No one's rules to follow, and you get to do whatever you want for however long you want to do it!"
"Hey, younger Derek, you clearly don't have the whole picture about life. You're still a kid, you live with your family at home, both of your parents are thankfully still here, and all you have to worry about is homework, taking care of the horses out at the barn, and making sure you're taking care of your truck."
"Oh, well, maybe you're right, older Derek. But I want to be older and make my own rules in life! I want to go places and experience new things outside of this world that only seems to consist of Conquest, Outlook or Saskatoon!"
"Oh, you will, younger Derek. You'll go far, and I mean that literally. You'll venture pretty damn far in the fall of 2005 until the following spring. I hope you like West Coast living, and you better get a taste for seafood. But you'll learn soon enough. Truth is, younger Derek, I would absolutely love to go back and experience life again through your youthful sense. There's so much I'd love to do, or redo, if I'm being completely honest..."
And that's where today's topic comes into play. Do you remember life as a teenager? Those bumbling, fumbling years where you make all sorts of mistakes, experience new and exciting things in life, and start to grow into the adult you'll soon become? I suppose it depends on who is reading this and what age bracket you may fall into. If you grew up in the 60's or 70's, well, let's just say that it's okay if your memory went 'up in smoke'.
I vividly remember being a teenager. Making friends that you'll keep for life. Cracking jokes every day as a way to kill the time. Getting your driver's license and doing the cruise lap in town. Sleepovers where anything was on the table for discussion (Code of Silence is still in play, gentlemen...). There are specific instances that I remember, comprised of both good and bad memories, and I think about them from time to time because I have what I believe some may call either an episodic or explicit memory. Long story short - my memory is pretty damn good. God, if only I could go back in time and fix some things, you know what I mean?
I will share one specific incident with you that I think about now and then because it cost me the friendship of a girl that I really liked, both as a friend and, eventually, as the object of my affection.
It was Friday, September 6, 2002. There ya go, incredibly specific date and everything. Told you I had a hell of a memory! Anyway, I was 17 years old and my Grade 11 year had just started at Outlook High School. The entire school was gearing up for the football season home opener that afternoon, and I was set to be the guy announcing all the players at a rally in the gym. Cue the lights going out, some rock music playing, and I went to town on those names like no one else! Apparently, I did such an animated, wowza, bang-up job that I became the go-to guy for announcing gigs for the rest of high school. Anyhoo, moving on...
I wish I could tell you that I remember who won the game that day, but I don't recall. Let's just say for the sake of this column that Outlook won in convincing fashion, shall we? Anyway, after the game it was decided that an afterparty would be held at another student's farm outside of town. I was invited to go out with my buddy Jared, and I was pretty psyched. When he came to pick me up, I grabbed some beer and we were out the door. (Hey, it's small town Saskatchewan, people - kids drink. Get over it already.)
We arrived at the party and I soon saw a mix of kids. Kids I went to school with, kids from a grade or two down from us, older kids, and even a handful of those who'd already graduated. Quite a potent mixture of immaturity all bundled together, that's for sure. Soon enough, the bonfire was lit up, some music started playing and the drinks started flowing. On that night, they went down real easy. As it turned out, a little too easy for me.
At some point between Beer 1 and Beer 8, I had lost a little bit of control over my faculties. You know the routine: the voice gets a little louder, the dialogue a wee bit slurred, the feet don't know what the brain wants them to do. Suffice to say, I was feeling pretty darn good and living in the moment. I'm laughing, my friends are laughing, and we're all having a good time just being teenagers who haven't become boring adults yet.
Then I saw her arrive to the party. For the sake of privacy, let's just go ahead and call her "Rachel". Rachel was one of my classmates at the time, and someone who I'd considered to be a friend over the three years that I'd gotten to know her at that point. We had some of the same interests, and I'll always remember goofing off with her in Grade 9 Home Economics class since we sat beside each other. She was a good friend of mine, but at that point, I'd secretly been harboring a crush on her since the previous Christmas. I didn't tell a soul about my crush, and as far as Rachel knew, we were still just good buds who laughed and joked around.
Until this night, when the levy broke and the dam blew everywhere.
So, you know those beers I was talking about? Well, they'd been doing their damage to my brain's core function centre, and after seeing Rachel arrive with her then-boyfriend to the party, my heart just couldn't take it. I wanted to be that guy with her, and I let that fact be known to those sitting with me around the bonfire. I had a few sympathetic ears, but unfortunately, one of those pairs of ears heard my drunk, emotional anguish and decided to go talk to Rachel about it. I can remember seeing this girl talking secretive with Rachel by the bushes, almost out of the fire's eyesight. I can even remember thinking, "Ummm, she's not telling her what I said, is she...?"
Well folks, that's exactly what she was doing. My beer-slicked, heartbroken angst that fell out of my dumb, teenage mouth was being relayed to Rachel right then and there. I remember being dropped off at my house later that night and going to bed thinking, 'What have I done?'
That following Monday, the tension was weighing immensely on me, but the damage had been done. Rachel wasn't mad or anything, she didn't laugh, and in fact, she didn't do anything. Neither did I, for that matter. The whole thing was just too uncomfortable for either of us to confront or talk about. You see, friends, that's the thing about being young - you don't necessarily have the life skills to combat those types of situations. You're just a kid. You're going to approach things in life like a kid. That's not a dig or anything, it's just a simple yet heartbreaking fact of life.
Rachel and I didn't really talk to each other for the rest of high school. I'd say we probably exchanged words maybe twice until we graduated 21 months later. It was just too awkward and neither of us knew how to approach the situation or how to move past it, so we just avoided everything and, as it turns out, each other.
I'd give anything to go back in time and have a heart-to-heart with my younger self, tell him to keep his feelings in check and find the right time to talk to Rachel. But until Doc Brown gets that DeLorean time machine going, I guess I'll have to accept that some things can't be changed or corrected. Our personal histories all have wounds that perhaps didn't heal, and there's no changing that.
Still, I'd love to one day get in touch with Rachel and possibly reconnect. We've got so much catching up to do.
For this week, that's been the Ruttle Report.