IN exactly five months and eighteen days from the time I’m writing this, I will be eighteen years old. Like many other starry-eyed young girls, I used to believe that reaching that age would solve all of my problems and grant me everything I could possibly want, including a certain wisdom I falsely assumed came with that milestone. I could do anything, be anyone, and go to any place, perhaps indulging in just about everything my mother had forbidden. The world would be mine for the taking. My only obstacle would be the presence of college forcing me to study instead of coming alive at night with the bass in catchy club music keeping me awake.
My ideal adulthood fantasy would change from month to month, influenced by the latest books I had read and movies I had watched. One day, I would dream of transforming into a leggy beauty and run off to Manhattan or Los Angeles to become a famous runway model or actress in my spare time. I would collect film awards like I did Beanie Babies, sip fabulously expensive champagne, and, when the sun fell from the sky, retire to my luxury apartment across the street from a string of designer stores. Though I never considered myself much of a romantic, that was certainly a lifestyle I could fall head-over-heels in love with. Never mind my less-than-stellar working memory and complete aversion to the vulnerability that comes with celebrity.
Sometimes, I dreamed of being a witty corporate lawyer who sashayed around in sharp Armani suits and had a reputation for never losing a case. What better career for a talkative, brazen young woman than one that involved arguing in courts all day? My mouth never fatigued—and neither did my thirst for the satisfaction that came with being proven right. Of all of my occupational fantasies, that one seemed the most plausible, until I discovered just how many more years in school I would have to endure simply to get my foot in the door and how little arguing I’d actually be doing.
Though I am long past the days of clinging onto such idealism, my zest for life and the many possibilities for mine lives on. I did not entirely subscribe to what I sometimes considered my mother’s borderline paranoia about the world beyond our block or the Greta Garbo-like seclusion she found blissful. I awaited the day I could venture off to Whole Foods alone without constantly checking my watch to ensure I returned home by the time my mother designated. I salivated at the thought of Sunday brunching with friends and moving around my city according to my own whims. For years, I have longed to do these things—elegant and exciting things befitting to the woman I will grow to be.
But in all honesty, I’ve never been completely unable to do many of those things. So long as I offered her ample reason and the event took place within a “decent” neighborhood, my mother has allowed me to engage in the many outdoor activities that come to mind when one thinks of things teenagers typically do. I used to take advantage of that privilege with near-reckless abandon. Now, it remains untouched.
I can’t recall when exactly the change occurred or why I can’t remember how I felt about making such a severe alteration to my lifestyle. But I’m coming to understand that it has been much easier to use my her as a scapegoat (“Sorry, I can’t go; my mother won’t let me!”) than to come to terms with the fact that deep down, I, too, share her fears about the world beyond my residential block. I assume my request to attend a party or go to the zoo or shop with my friends at the local mall will be denied based on her fears, some of which I have projected onto her. Perhaps I’ve done so for so long that I’ve truly begun to believe that my isolation has been imposed upon me and there is little that can be done about it.
I never imagined that one of the first things I now consider when I think about turning eighteen would be the loss of a coping mechanism. Though I had aged out of my idealism in my tweens and the realities of adulthood truly sank in around my mid-teens, what the world has become for young women was not included in those realities.
I knew the basics; avoid walking alone at night, stay out of the “bad” neighborhoods, never accept drinks you didn’t see the bartender make. Pepper spray was just enough, but one could use their heavy purse if extra force was necessary. But those rules relied on the freaks only coming out at night. Now, they walk the streets as shamelessly as average people do, committing petty crimes against lone citizens without blinking an eye and wielding high-powered weapons with the carelessness of a toddler dragging a teddy bear. Younger teen me hadn’t planned for that. And tween me didn’t ever think America would be so cavalier towards the number of atrocities happening on a daily basis. So as that special birthday creeps closer and closer, I find myself becoming the one thing nearly every teenage girl wishes to avoid with all their heart: their mother’s daughter.
Like her, I cling to my purse just a little bit tighter when passing groups of men, noting all possible things on my person that could be used as weapons while recalling the many instances women who hadn’t done so lost their lives. Before I venture off to a certain area, I check the news to ensure there hasn’t been a recent uptick in violent crimes. And whenever it’s time for me to go to the store, a small part of me wonders if I’ll be caught between an AR-15 and an even harder place when just trying to buy some milk.
On most days, I perish the thought and remind myself not to linger once I’ve picked up my groceries. On others, my worries get the better of me and I think it best to remain home, mumbling to myself that I’ll get whatever I need on another day. Sometimes, I never do. These days, it is hard to identify the proper balance of safety and curiosity as it relates to exploring life beyond my home. It is even more difficult to veer towards the former side on the thin line between healthy cautiousness and paranoia.
I wish the solution to my newfound problem was as easy as locking myself in a dark room and doing some self-psychoanalysis. I’m familiar with that; I can maneuver around my innermost thoughts with the grace of a ballerina. I wish every solution I could think of didn’t resemble the fictions my mind weaved in my younger years about what adulthood would be like. I wish the solution was entirely within my control. But—as the local news reminds me on a regular basis—it isn’t.
Regardless of all tactics I employ to protect myself, I still run a high risk of falling victim to the whims of some morally depraved lunatic with a gun and a vendetta against society at large. I can take self-defense classes, carry pepper spray, and use my keys like brass knuckles, but the only real weapon that will guarantee me protection against the physical malevolence of the world is good luck. So, as I shut my laptop and prepare to grab some matcha powder from my local supermarket, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope that Lady Luck continues to be my bestest friend.