I ran a straightener through my tangled hair and adjusted my shirt as I pulled on a purple denim skirt. Tying the laces of my low-top white converse, I looked in the mirror. My pink eyeshadow had smudged with the dark-black eyeliner below it, making me look like I had spent the afternoon sampling Sephora’s rattiest selections. This, I thought, I can work with.
For our first party of the school year, my housemates and I suggested people arrive with their “own snacks, attitude problems, and drinks. Preferably the sort of hard alcohol you’d steal from your parents’ liquor cabinet in 2008.” The theme: teen angst. I arranged the thirty racks of Pabst Blue Ribbon, reapplied mascara and blasted Drops of Jupiter from my speakers, wondering who would show that night and when and if we had enough alcohol and if maybe I should change my shoes.
Four hours later, I was shaking a cop’s hand.
“Great playlist, but the party’s over,” he said. Fully grown college students who two minutes ago had been scream-singing “A Thousand Miles” filed out of the house hurriedly.
I drifted to sleep feeling like I had just arrived home from my first middle school dance.
I have spent my lifetime growing out of things. I stopped listening to A*Teens when my brother introduced me to Smash Mouth. Then came Death Cab for Cutie — I would sit paralyzed as the words of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” washed over me, describing perfectly the avalanche of emotion I felt sitting at my family’s desktop Dell computer in the laundry room waiting for “darkness14” to message me back on AIM. Blink-182 lyrics wandered through my head as I learned basic algebra. I laid on my bedroom floor in a hoodie and white and black checkered Vans listening to Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak on my light blue boombox.
The boombox broke right around the time I got a laptop. At this point, my scratched NOW CDs had also made their way to the trash. I got an iTunes account and would spend the $20 dollar gift cards I amassed during the holidays to buy Bon Iver albums. Now, I know to turn my Spotify account to “private” when I want to listen to Taylor Swift.
My teen angst — technically behind me, at 20 years old — guided my most formative, painfully funny experiences growing up. When I was 13, I plucked my curly, overly illustrious eyebrows into thin, spiky lines that stood out painfully on my round face. I cried for days on end after a boy I’d kissed once in eighth grade stopped talking to me because I would “only give him side hugs.” My junior year of high school — when we should’ve known better — my friends and I paraded throughout campus in fits of hysteria and passion, complaining and crying because we felt owed something and glowering because we wanted nothing. Except for, maybe, good grades and our parents to let us stay out past midnight and boys who wouldn’t leave us to go to college.
Things, for the most part, have mellowed. My now 20-something friends have a little more life experience and slightly greater control of their emotions. We’re expected, as new adults, to hold ourselves together in public, not to throw tantrums or to descend into madness when we lose something or forget to eat lunch. I’m happy I no longer feel like crying at random or yelling at my mom when she suggests that maybe I should go to sleep instead of staying up until 4 a.m. to finish an assignment.
I woke up the morning after the party and descended the staircase of my new, adult home. I poured Cheerios into a ceramic cereal bowl, wiping beer and sticky spots off the counters. I floated on a cloud of teenage emotion for the week following, playing “Stacy’s Mom” as I walked to Wheeler Hall. I went heavy on the eyeliner. It felt great.
Teen angst, I understand, can’t hold onto us forever. We are necessarily and thankfully freed from its grips at some point on the path to adulthood. And while this is a good thing, I just think, occasionally, we’d all be better off if SAE would play Sum 41 at parties. There is something soothing about Blink-182’s nasally, insistent ballads and the feeling of unbearable, unspeakable wanting in Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.” There are times, though rare, that my 14-year-old self actually knew better than I do now.
Simple Plan once proclaimed, “I’m just a kid, and life is a nightmare.” Life can still be a nightmare. And sometimes, a little teenage angst truly is the only way to make it better.
Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected]