Passing through

Launching into Limbo

You can pass through a doorway in as few as 0.21 seconds. I know because I spent an afternoon timing how fast I could sprint, jump or dive across the 9-inch margin between my bedroom floor and the hallway outside.

Conversely, if you take time to relax and admire the wooden jambs along the way, you can tiptoe the passage in as many as four seconds. Six, maybe, if you really drag your feet.

No matter what divisions they mark, thresholds feel categorically narrow, often crossed instantaneously. So why then have I used that same word to describe my current state of limbo between childhood and adulthood — a path with no clear end in sight? A rather egregious misnomer, don’t you think? The label gives the impression of a fleeting and mindless transition, when really, it’s been just the opposite.

Unlike the doorway of my room, the threshold to adulthood is not one you can simply dive right through. In fact, it isn’t even hollow.

Akin to a mirror that has been shattered and then glued back together, this threshold is a mosaic of countless smaller thresholds, all of which have been fitted together to form an uncertain but cohesive whole. Every shard remains distinct — each a different window into a particular experience that dots our journey toward the future. We must take our time with them all.

At age 19, I’ve already crossed many of the most notable ones.

Voting and drinking ages, for example, are two supposedly significant milestones. I passed one of them not long ago. Using age to mark maturity is simple, in that all you do is shoot for a number: Reach it, and you’re instantly inducted into the Great Hall of Adulthood. But as straightforward as these achievements are, they feel rather uninspired because they are automatic. Everybody turns 18, and everybody turns 21 too. Where’s the fun in that?

If you’re in search of a more adventurous benchmark, look no further than your first electricity bill. I called PG&E a few weeks ago to manage the account for my new apartment in Berkeley — what I presumed would be a simple and routine process.

It was not. In the time it took me to deny 12 products offered to me by their salesman (all of which I didn’t need or want), I could’ve installed a new power line outside my window and a new gas line behind my stove — and then made myself a steaming plate of scrambled eggs. I’m telling you, if you can survive the PG&E customer service line, you are fully equipped to tackle whatever adulthood might throw at you.

Unwanted small talk, however, is an even harder threshold to cross. Small talk is a detestable chore that, for most of childhood, we are lucky enough to avoid. As kids, we used to run around beneath the grown-up voices, fall asleep to the colorless grown-up stories and hang behind our parents’ legs during all the grown-up handshakes. No longer. Now we find ourselves stuck above, jealously watching the kids down below and knowing full well our glorious time among them has passed.

Enter credit cards. Now that’s a grown-up thing I can get behind! Since opening an account, building my credit score has presented an exciting opportunity to work toward an independent financial future. And the leap, however big, seemed successful. That is, until I learned that my credit balance isn’t the amount of money I have, but the amount I owe. Oops. Sorry, Wells Fargo. You know, you really shouldn’t let children open those types of accounts.

But financial ignorance or not, it’s easy to feel like a child when, at 19, I continue to receive goodnight hugs from my parents. Really, nothing seems more juvenile than that. And while I actually do embrace these childhood rituals (hugs from my parents are most welcome), a part of me can’t help but feel as though I’ve moved past our nightly send-offs. Is there such a thing as outgrowing a hug and kiss?

Maybe. I’m not sure. That line is one that we, as college students, have not yet been forced to cross. And there are lots more like it, enough that it could take lifetimes to discover them all.

Find as many of these thresholds as you can, and cross as many as you’d like. Or, if you’re like me and enjoy lingering in the liminal spaces, don’t cross them. Simply keep one foot on each side.

Either way, there’s no need to rush. Nobody’s timing us.

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]