The first time I was old was at a house party. That may not be so remarkable on its own—if romantic comedies and coming of age teen flicks are to be believed, life changing moments are commonplace at any party worth its weight in mom’s broken china—but this was a particularly strange party. For one, it was on a tiny island off Washington where I was living for the summer, tucked up in the cold blue waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca so far north that my cellphone insisted we were in Canada. This was an island of old farmers and older hippies; the quintessential rural small town, complete with a single K-12 school (that year’s graduating class was 11) and the Northwest quirk of sea glass artisans and a tourist population consisting mostly of bicyclists and whale watchers.
Certainly the hardest part of growing up in a small farm community is the feeling of being stuck there without options. This is made infinitely worse by the town being on an island, where that feeling is a physical reality. Interestingly, most of the locals that I got to know enjoyed growing up there, but I suppose my sample may have been a little biased as anyone who did not like island life surely had hopped a ferry and escaped to the mainland long ago. A common theme for island kids was to leave for a few years and then return in their late twenties when they had decided there were a whole lot worse places in the world than a small island of organic farmers. As I understand it, many Amish youth go through similar projections, but with much lower return rates—there was not great cell service on my little island but at least there were cars and televisions. The consequence of this trend was that there was a great dearth of young twenty-somethings on the island, and if you happened to be in that age range (I was freshly 23) you had to choose whether to hang out with much older or much younger peers.
I am young at heart (what cynics would call immature), and so naturally I fell in with the younger crowd. They were all (newly) in college and really not that much younger than me, but I noticed it all the same—such as when they came over to drink beers at my house and asked if my parents were ok with it. Cute. As an amateur anthropologist (what cynics would call a Nosy Nancy) I was curious to learn what youths did for fun here, but did not want to sound like a pretentious city dweller condescending to the country kids. So when I was invited to a party that was promised to be an “off the hook rager”, I eagerly accepted the opportunity for field research.
Before getting into the philosophical quandary I experienced, it is only fair to say that this party was pretty dope. Credit is due to whoever got lasers, and a smoke machine, and industrial sized speakers, and to the kid that was going hard on his DJ set. Sure there were only a handful of teens awkwardly moshing on the makeshift dancefloor, but the ambiance was spot on. Despite this, I instantly felt like I did not belong, and not just because in such a small community everyone knows each other and an outsider sticks out like a breaching whale. No, it was mostly because the average age was 18, and in terms of mathematical distribution I was an outlier. I couldn’t bring myself to care about what the teens talked about, I couldn’t drink like the 20 year olds, and I certainly felt uncomfortable dancing with any of them. Everyone there was very gracious, but it was also clear that they noticed the disparity. My cameo at this party was short lived, and as I was leaving one of the younger hosts gave me a hug and then laughed “you’re so old!”
I have heard that before from little kids that I have babysat, but never from someone so close to my age. I remember high school and college very well, and it is crazy that I am already so disconnected from the kids that are going through those experiences now. Mostly it is a mentality and a way of acting, this being old thing—such as calling college students “kids” and being too mature for vodka shots out of Solo cups—but part of it is totally out of my control: the inevitable passage of time, and all that it implies. It is not a bad thing to consider, but learning a lesson so suddenly is oftentimes hard to swallow. I guess I am old, but it is all relative. I need to start hanging out with 30 year olds.