Twelve hours ago I was 15; now I’m not. One more invisible boundary passed; one year closer to adulthood... or death, depending on your outlook. Recently, the birthday ecstasy of my childhood has been replaced with an assured adolescent indifference. Birthdays were genuinely exciting. The prospect of consuming inordinate quantities of sugar and buzzing about manically was rivalled in enjoyability by nothing. When the day ended, I would collapse from a combination of physical exhaustion, over-eating and sadness; the greatest day of my year was irreversibly finished, and would not repeat itself until the next.
Yet teenagerdom ushered in a new attitude. Each carefully selected gift is met with a Neolithic grunt, possibly based on the words 'next' or 'boring'. If it’s money, I’ll pocket it and go and buy crack cocaine or the hottest new punk albums, allowing me to pass many a sad hour moping wistfully, as all teenagers do.
But I’m 16 now. This birthday feels different. My fear of demonstrating compassion pales in comparison to a much greater reality. Now more than ever I am aware of something both exciting and terrifying in equal measure: growing up.
In a matter of seconds the burden of responsibility thrust on me by society increased tenfold: I can marry, vote or die for my country. I can fly a glider, ride a moped or sell scrap metal. I can even make the grand transition from school to full-time work with the assurance of an hourly rate over £3.87– aren’t I lucky? Already the limits of my adulthood have been tested when two fresh-faced teenagers, not too dissimilar from myself, asked me to buy them cigarettes. Yet, for reasons unbeknown to myself, I feel thoroughly unprepared for my new life as a husband and father of two. How am I expected to sustain my family and gliding hobby with the pitiful earnings from my career as a scrap metal scavenger?
Truthfully, turning 16 isn’t like every other birthday; it’s somewhat more meaningful. For the first time in my life I feel like I exist in a state of developmental purgatory: neither an independent being nor a fully-shackled child.
For such a monumental non-event, my birthday is having a disproportionately large psychological effect. In six months I’ll likely know where I’m going to spend the first few months of my post-school life. In one year I’ll begin the process of moving away from home. And after that? Commitment, stress and imminent death – one after another in quick succession. Perhaps I ought to use my new right to instruct legal counsel in order to outline the nature of my will: what colour shall I make my urn? Who should I trust with my punk rock collection and treasured glider? I’ve been 16 for one day and I am already pondering the brevity of life and my own mortality; and to think teenagers have a reputation for being hysterical.
But am I really being that hysterical? Sure, I’m not in any 'imminent' danger of vitae finitur or corporate slavery, but when you’re on the cusp of such a colossal lifestyle change you must think to the future, and to the past. In all honesty, I can’t wait to leave home. After 11 years of spoon-fed schooling, being plunged into a world of licentious partying and pot noodles will make a welcome change. Yet it is not entirely without sadness that I leave behind the safe confines of home-life.
What happened to the reassuringly terrifying rasp of Mrs Sutherland? She may have used my first name and 'numpty’ interchangeably, but never again will I coexist with someone possessing the power and will to organise my every move, meal and pen-stroke. What happened to the routine and enforced runs up Bourblach? No longer can I live with the assurance that someone else will tend to my fitness. What happened to the contained freedom of the playground or the guarantee that your curiosity would be rewarded with some form of answer? I was guided through life as if it were the most gloriously blithe 'free trial' I have ever experienced, and there’s no chance of a repeat.
My childhood is tainted by my own affection for it. I am in a unique position to appreciate the insignificance of my own moments of juvenile tragedy whilst possessing a deep understanding of the strong emotions felt at the time. I can laugh at the ridiculousness of my past self from a position of superior understanding, without ever forgetting the significance of that funny little mind with its funny little problems to my current identity and outlook. I’ve aged, matured and developed at a rate which will not be matched for the rest of my life, yet it’s impossible not to hark back to days past and think: what if I could go back, what if I didn’t have to move on?
So whilst nothing material has changed in my body or personality, despite having consumed considerably more food today than yesterday, I feel remarkably more aware of my finite time in this world and the irreversibility of the ageing process. I’ll only ever have one childhood, and this birthday has made me all the more aware of the fact that it’s over. So as a new era begins, I think not only of the rightly anticipated future but of the glorious past I will only ever be able to view through the lense of nostalgia. This is my bitter sweet sixteenth and what I gain in independence, I lose in the comforts of youth.
Life is a free fall, and today marks the removal of my parachute: I’m going to keep on falling until I go splat, but from this point onwards it’s all a little more exhilarating.