This was an assignment for my AP Lang class last year. I still feel like it’s entirely accurate.
Seventeen is the simmering potential of ignition in an unstruck match. The heart is flammable, the mind is volatile, and the body is teetering on the edge of life, ricocheting between uncertainty and comfort. Seventeen is an almost constant fleet of goosebumps trickling down arms and endless constellations reflecting in eyes, but being restrained by the unwavering grasp of doubt whenever you try and ride on the back of Ursa Major.
Seventeen is realizing that looking and seeing aren’t synonymous, and neither are desire and value, but it’s still blurring the two and painting over the lovesick bruises blooming in the mind and on the skin like tattoos. It is also realizing that when someone reaches towards you, it may not be you they want to hold in their calloused palms. It could be a bottle. A pill. Another person. But their hands, outstretched in the dark, found you first.
Seventeen is scrubbing your car because the echo of his cologne still smothers the memory-stained interior. Seventeen is despising the cliché teenage heartbreak (soft hearts don’t shatter, they’re tossed) but acknowledging that your life story may not always be picturesque. Or poetic. It’s also remembering that he could make you smile like a puppeteer tugging on strings stitched to the corner of your mouth, but you’ve never been fond of puppetry.
It’s discovering that maybe you’d rather be bookish than beautiful (although wouldn’t it be nice to be both?) and wondering if Superman ever removes his mask and waits for someone to save him and what the difference between a virtue and a vice is. It’s understanding that people can have sore knees from kneeling at altars but still point their holy-water tainted fingers at those who sin differently than them. It’s also knowing that there’s no use trying to be an exclamation point when you’re a parenthesis.
Seventeen is forgetting invincibility is a fantasy.
Your hands are quick to hide your teeth when you smile, your fingers trained to flick away tears. Because at seventeen, you’ve been taught that the weakest thing a person can do is feel something. Every streetlight is a ghost of things you’ve done and there are days when it feels like your feet cannot touch the floor without crumbling and spilling like the sand in an hourglass, but every time you think something sad you can think something else instead. Seventeen is realizing that you have complete control over that.
At seventeen, there is an acute understanding that life is an illusion, but you appreciate the artist who painstakingly sketched it. The Sun never rises, the Earth just spins, and darkness is the natural state of the Universe. Life contradicts itself, so at 17, you stop looking for patterns and symbols and divine order because the world does not arrange itself to be convenient, it arranges itself to be honest. Lots of things are beautiful if you refuse to lie about them. Good people can be bad people and bad is sometimes good. After all, picking flowers is a massacre, plucking petals is romanticized Russian roulette, and sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is break them. Maybe the most reckless thing one can do is use caution.
At 17, all I want is to be immersed in paraffin wax and set aflame.
I hope I burn brilliantly.