Reflections on 18

A reflective essay on turning 18, inspired by wrapping a gift for someone else.
Gift with the number 18 on it

I’m surrounded by pieces of cellophane, shiny silvery paper, shreds of sticky-tape that belie my haphazard and imperfect method of tearing pieces with my teeth, and a bag of goodies that I’ve stashed away after having saved them from gifts received over the years.

Halfway through folding a piece of sticky-tape to hide carefully behind a silvery letter ‘1’, so that it will appear to be seamlessly, yet perfectly, attached to the royal blue tissue paper, a memory unfolds.

A memory of turning 18.

A memory of going out for dinner with my parents and boyfriend at the time.

Of mum and dad excitedly leaving early so we could go to the pubs and clubs around the town.

Of feeling this pressure to be a Late Night Party Girl, which I think my mum hoped for a while I’d be,; young, footloose, fancy-free.

Of an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and a yearning to just go home and read a book and go to bed and not be a grown-up.

Of a feeling that the fun times were behind me and that I was locked into a pattern that I didn’t know how to escape. It was mid-February 1998. I didn’t have any friends. The ones that I did have had escaped town to go to university in Melbourne, or Bendigo, or anywhere that wasn’t where I was. I had somehow ensconced myself in a toxic, co-dependent relationship during Year 12, and I felt like I didn’t fit in with my family any more, and I didn’t have any friends, and all I had was this young man and myself.

And at that point, I didn’t know if I wanted him any more either. There’s a little piece of knowing in me that says that I knew even then what it was going to do to both of us, and that I ignored it.

Folding the cellophane carefully and mindfully, with my full love and attention, as I had seen others in my life do the same since I was young, I remember waking up that morning.

Of my mum and dad and young sister bursting into my room with joy and congratulations.

Of my mum’s beaming face as I unwrapped the sexy, lacy lingerie that she had so carefully picked out for me. The type of underwear that made my dad blush, and mum excited that I was an adult and that she could spoil me with the kinds of things that were so inappropriate just one day before.

And I remember sitting there, feeling completely disengaged.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel.

I wasn’t excited.

I felt like this meant my entire life was going to change. And it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. At that moment, I wanted to unwind the entire previous year and do it all again.

To be on a totally different path.

But we’d all grown so distant from each other that I had nobody to say it to. Nobody to consult with.

And I didn’t even want to admit it to myself.

So I didn’t.

I smiled, and played as enthusiastically as I could… even as I didn’t know how to respond to the beautiful lingerie.

I still have it. I still wear it, 20 years later. It must be the most high quality lingerie my mother has ever bought, and certainly the highest quality I have ever owned!

Folding the cellophane and putting the final pieces of sticky-tape in place, I reflect that the past has made me who I am today. That I wouldn’t be the richly tapestried personality that I am, that I might be less wise, less wealthy, more encumbered, or someone completely different.

Memories float in and out, unlocking unexpected emotions.

Turning over the present, its shiny ’18’ gleaming out from under the cellophane, I smile and feel an anticipatory excitement for my niece, which was totally absent the day that I turned that age.

And I wonder what her memories will be like when she, like me, is folding gift-wrapping paper for children that she grows to know, whether her own or other people’s, when she is as old as me.