This is a piece I wrote in the summer of 2016. It’s unpolished and unedited, but that’s why I’m publishing it.
By Sofia Sears
I confront adolescence through a soccer ball.
The wind breaks and cracks against my neck and the unsparing humidity of the Rhode Island summer night stifles the soft panting of tracheal discomfort into heaving gasps. Loose feet dazedly stumbling over one another and the startlingly unfamiliar omnipresence of youthful, raucous laughter shove me into an abrupt lightness. The ball moist against my bare feet, grass alive with unkempt dirt and insects and an entire unearthed natural universe. I possess no athletic prowess, nor, any basic skills fitting even to a fourth grader, yet this night, the world opens into a trembling cavern of innocence unblemished by the irreparable toxins of insecurity and self-doubt. I am only fifteen, it is summer of 2015, and my body burns, my psyche spins, and my heart breathes possibility. I am teeming with covert neuroses and insatiable craters of longing, but tonight, I am more than fifteen, more than the acres of acne and glasses and spidery frame and knobby kneecaps. Tonight I am more than my age and myself.
This is the elusive, almost chimerical taste of recklessly indulgent adolescence evading my grasp since the day I turned thirteen. I buried my aching between pages of literature and headphones braided perpetually around my neck. An alien-like existence, every world I inhabited, I entered a new cage- childhood, puberty, gender, sexuality, high school– and I could not find the means to fit myself into the claustrophobic spaces of identity, of what it meant to be a child, a teenager, a normal, functioning human being in this incomprehensible sphere of collision and chaos. I cried myself to sleep yet I also clung to solitude like damp skin clings to bone and blood. People emptied me, swallowed me whole and hollow, until detachment made me nauseated with sticky, pungent loneliness. I did not belong anywhere. I wore black and green striped tights through the topsy-turvy social meltdowns of second and third grade, until I shapeshifted myself into the identity of enigmatic, goth girl in fourth, thus constructing a perpetual pattern of constrictive identities to shove myself into. Each identity became a shaky yet palpable safety net for the blur of lunacy that adolescence is composed of. I needed each one to merely survive.
Tonight, I run. The bouncing heartbeat crackling like a defective firecracker, vast worlds sprawling inside of my sternum. I flee from the oncoming fleet of collectively merciless teenagers and faceplant into the warmth of a boy’s tee shirt, the words “Brown University” faded across the damp cotton. The ball is stolen from the unstable clutch of slippery feet and tossed into the dark air. I am looking at this boy and I am feeling something miraculous, something like weightlessness. He is smiling back and we are more than alive, more than magical, in our small summer camp, with the bodies and the breeze and the burn of human heartbeats.
I miss childhood, miss the taste of cherry popsicles and scraped kneecaps and Maggie & the Ferocious Beast. I miss the Sunday lull of the Rolling Stones in the backyard and lithe limbs worn with fatigue from play. I miss the illusory, transient lightweight existence of being so young and so unthreatened by the sharp edges of my thoughts not yet there. I press memories into finite sensory details, categorical implications thick with scents and images. To think of the person I inhabited in my ephemeral age of quick-witted, bookish nonage is to see the person I once was, and know that somewhere inside of me, that person still resides.
But I am here, with the stars dampened by the flush of artificial lights lining the university halls and the stillness of the nighttime echoing with the crackling of unruly youth and sparkling inexperience. I am here wearing a grass-stained pair of shorts and a tee shirt, and each neuron blooms with the potential of existence, the joy spontaneously combusting into courage, and I am frantically kicking the ball to the bright-eyed boy and he is grinning again, like we are all in this together, like this world is ours to claim. For the first time in my alien life, I think he is right.