I wrote the prologue of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up two summers ago on a prep in between summer school classes. I had just recently watched Dead Poet’s Society, and, as I wrote in the September 2, 2014 post “Rediscovering my Protagonist in ‘Dead Poet’s Society'” it inspired me:
Once I was done with the kids (or maybe a bit before), I roughed out a draft where I focused on establishing the narrator’s (and protagonist’s voice). My intention was to draw the audience in by revealing the death of the protagonist’s best friend. The circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery by design; the last thing I wanted was to paraphrase the story the audience is about to get into.
‘DPS’ is the quintessential substitute teacher go-to movie in high school, and it reminded me of the innate sense of rebellion in teenagers that originally inspired (and continues to inspire) ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young To Grow Up’.
The book is so much more than bitching and complaining and belly-aching about the plight of a high school kid whose life is devoid of responsibility and privileged in every way.
While that’s part of ‘Knowing When’, it’s not the whole story. It is the anatomy of teenage angst, from the protagonist’s upbringing to his history with his friends and the secrets they keep from each other to his choices and the consequences they yield.
I killed my best friend, not with a gun or a knife or a car or a bomb or a poison, but he died and I lived and it was all the same in the end.
He didn’t know until it was too late. And I guess I didn’t either at first, failing to consider that my actions could so adversely affect him, could eventually destroy him. But they did. And that’s really the only thing that matters here.
It was over a girl like so many ends of friendships are. She had taken him away from me, and I wasn’t ready to let him go. In my mind girls came and girls went, but friends like me and him, we lasted and endured, through college, graduation parties, weddings, christenings, and Christmases – that’s what I thought when I was young and naïve, when I thought the world revolved around me.
My first friend in high school, he was the only one who had accepted me in the beginning when I was an outcast, a loser, a fag, and whatever else they called me. He had given me credibility; if I was his friend, I couldn’t be that bad of a guy, which was the reasoning of the “in crowd” who instantaneously acknowledged my existence once I was given clearance to their section of the cafeteria. Then, he met her – after I met her – and life as we knew it changed. Forever.
There was something about her, though; she was stunning, an Aphrodite way out of his league, that whole bit; it was more than that too. She was an adult, and he was supposed to be forbidden to her. He was supposed to be.
If I had told someone, at least before I was complicit in it, it might’ve changed things. Sure, she was irredeemable, but he might have been saved. I just couldn’t wait for human nature to play itself out in the only way it could. No, I had to play God and, in the process, violate the natural order of things, dictating the terms of their separation through my selfishness, and he, not I, not she, was the one who stood to answer for my misconduct.
What did I think would happen when I poached what he loved the most in the entire world – his Julie? That he would just come back to me without any recollection of her and we would magically be better and everything would go back to the way it was? I might’ve thought that – how naïve – but deep down I knew it couldn’t.
I just wanted to hurt her like she hurt me. Now, I can see it was never about him or her. It was about me. But I didn’t – I couldn’t – then when I tried to teach her a lesson, to show her there were repercussions for pervading the minds of kids, the world of kids. That’s what we were, kids, but I was trying to be the adult. And I thought I was helping him and I told myself I was, but how could I help him if I couldn’t help myself? So consumed in my anger, burning in torrid jealousy like the vicious vodka I was drinking, I unleashed a lustful fury that had lain dormant up until then on the Pandora who had opened a box I could never close.
And he wasn’t the same after it – just like I wasn’t – for without her his world didn’t rotate the way it always had; it was stunted. And so was he.
We all were after Italy. We had seen too much, we had done too much – too much had been done to us. We weren’t victims, though, or we didn’t realize if we were; no, at the time we were the victimizers, heartless users and abusers of life who lived according to our own morals, no morals, “suck[ing] out all the marrow of life” like Thoreau said, but never appreciating it – only demanding ravenously, unendingly more, more, more. And it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.
At that age, there was no end.
At least that’s what I thought.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin