If anyone offered me a million dollars to go back to when I was 16, I wouldn’t do it.
I was 15 when Mum kicked me out of home.
I lived by myself first in a small bedsit in a boarding house that was notorious for housing suicidal and depressed men, drug addicts and alcoholics. After six months I moved into a one bedroom flat in a bad part of town.
Given the choice between the bedsit and the flat, I would choose the bedsit any day. In the time that I lived there I felt completely safe and I was never bothered.
The boarding house was built in 1886 and was a huge, three story brick building with numerous stairwells, corridors and courtyards. You could wander through those corridors at night and smell and hear other people, but you rarely ever saw anyone. It was a ghost house and it had a lonely feel to it, but I was happy there… partly. Everyone kept to themselves and if you passed anyone in the long, rabbit-warren corridors, you smiled and nodded and continued living separate lives.
I moved because I wanted space. I think. To be honest, I can’t even remember.
I was 16 by the time I moved into the one bedroom flat.
It was an okay size, the kitchen was outdated, the oven was from the 1970s and the hot water only lasted for two minutes. The place was partly furnished and there was a green 1960s Kelvinator fridge and a double bed with a large blood stain on the mattress. I remember staring at the stain and figuring that someone had been murdered on it. I flipped it over because I couldn’t do anything else, I didn’t have the money for even a second hand bed.
I had a few attempted break-ins in the time that I lived there but I still think I was saved by the fact that they tried to break in through the kitchen window. Underneath the window was a pile of dirty dishes, plates and cups and I’m pretty sure they saw it and figured that 1. I had nothing worth stealing and 2. It wasn’t worth making so much noise to try and steal nothing.
It still scared me and I had a lot of nightmares and waking dreams. Waking dreams are when I actually wake up, but I think I’m still dreaming. So I’m awake, but still acting out the dream as I walk around. In this state, similar to sleep walking, everything is unfamiliar and foreign, even the lay out of a room, so I would get confused and then panicky.
Once I woke up, naked, thinking I was at a strangers house. I was in a strange bed in a strange room in a strange house and I didn’t know how I’d gotten there. I froze, listening for any noises, waiting for someone to come in and find me and throw me out. I started panicking, I couldn’t remember where my clothes were or my keys or wallet. I didn’t know where I was. Eventually I got out of the bed, I couldn’t hear any other noises outside the room so I decided to risk turning on the light. I groped around the wall for the light switch but I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know where it was. I began feeling the wall with both hands until finally I found the switch and flicked it on.
My panicking escalated, my heart was beating faster. I felt like crying. Then slowly my foggy mind started clearing, the dream started fading until I was no longer living it. I realised that the light switch didn’t work because I hadn’t changed the light bulb. I remembered that my clothes were at the end of my bed in my room in my flat. Nobody else was here with me.
I imagine waking dreams might be a little like having Alzheimer disease.
It didn’t help that I was already scared, depressed and unhappy. When I was kicked out of home, my world shattered. I think it’s a cliche, but it was true. For the first month I lived at a youth refuge and I was in a state of shock. I stopped having dreams, none of it felt real. I would wake up each morning with this odd feeling of loneliness and fear – it’s something that I can’t describe properly. My stomach would feel heavy, my heart would hurt. Once again, cliched, but it was very real. It was like overnight all my feelings would clot together into an overwhelming ball of desperation and fear, waiting for me to wake up and go through it again and again. It wouldn’t go away until I’d had a shower and woken up properly and even then, it didn’t go away completely.
Over the months those feelings numbed, so by the time I moved into the one bedroom flat I thought I was okay.
I slowly stopped going to school. I didn’t do much during the day, I was mostly sleeping and watching TV. There wasn’t anyone to force me to go and my school knew they couldn’t do anything, I was my own guardian. When I did go, I would burst into tears and storm off at the smallest of things and I started to detach myself from my friends. They were great friends, but I felt like I wasn’t worth hanging around.
I was very lonely. I had three other friends going through something similar so I eventually felt a little less lonely, but we were 16 and hormonal. There were fights, drama, one of my friends moved in with me and one day she just disappeared.
I started smoking. My friend was still living with me and she already smoked. We would sit in the afternoon sun in the driveway and have cups of tea and talk and after awhile, I started smoking too. There was something comforting in the sun, the tea, the cigarettes, the talking. The feeling of laziness and comfort.
One day the neighbour two flats down was working on his car and drinking beer. I made a deal with him that we would make him as many cups of tea as he liked if we could have some beer. He gave us 6 cans of beer and I got drunk on all of them by myself. It was the first time I’d gotten drunk and it was my first and only hangover. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was convinced that I was dying.
One of my friends parents didn’t want me hanging around her because they thought I would be a bad influence. Then they met me and changed their mind. My friend told me that they couldn’t believe I was the one who was kicked out of home, they’d been expecting a proper rebel, a drug addict, someone with tattoos and piercings and a big attitude. My complete opposite.
Another time one of my friends came over to my house and we went out to a party down the street. Her mother was supposed to be out that night and the plan was that we would go to the party and then I would sleep over at her house. I wasn’t too excited about the party, I would have preferred going back to her house and watching movies because I’ve never been social, but we went. There wasn’t much to drink and after an hour or two we caught a taxi to her place.
Almost as soon as we got through the door her mother appeared. She’d been at the neighbour’s house and was still holding a glass of wine. She was furious. I can’t remember everything that she said, but I remember her turning to me. She didn’t yell, her voice was only slightly raised but it was tense.
“You’re only 16. You might live by yourself, you might have independence, you might think that you’re an adult but you’re not. You’re only a kid.”
I remember being disdainful. I saw where she was coming from, I was upset that I’d helped to hurt her because I liked her, she’d always been welcoming and kind and generous towards me. But I felt like she didn’t understand. Of course I was an adult. I was living on my own, I paid the rent, I paid the bills, I made all my own decisions. That was the first party I’d been to, I never went out. How could she say that when she was only going off assumptions? Clearly she didn’t know me at all.
I was most definitely an adult at 16 years old.
On 21 April it will be my 28th birthday. 12 years later I look back and I realise that my friend’s mother was right.
I was a 16 year old pretending to be an adult. I went through the motions but really, I didn’t know what I was doing. I barely paid the bills, I barely went to school, I didn’t eat well, I rarely cleaned up after myself. I was living in a severe state of depression and I didn’t realise it.
I was a 16 year old failing to be an adult. Most of the time I felt like I was living in a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. I retreated into a fantasy world, waiting for someone to come rescue me.
I ended up rescuing myself accidentally, but that was another two years away.
Now, looking back, I wouldn’t do it over again because everything I went through, everything I experienced helped me to get to where I am. I’ve learnt a lot, my experiences have helped me to build my confidence. I don’t know where I would be if I could change it all, but where I am now isn’t too bad. It’s not perfect. I could still do things differently in my life now, but at least I’m not where I was when I was 16 and I’m grateful for that.
Although if I could, I would give 16 year old me a hug.
Daily Prompt: Only Sixteen – appropriately enough, this is also my 16th post on my blog
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