I was scrolling aimlessly through my various social media accounts like the tired, Facebook zombie I am on weekends when I came across a picture of one of my middle school friends and her baby. As cute as the picture was, I was horrified. For a moment, I felt like 11-year-old McKenzie, sitting at a table in my sixth grade teacher’s classroom, looking across the decade at the same girl sans nose piercing. We were both so small.
A decade feels like an ocean, yet I fell into that god awful, plastic chair so easily, without a splash, sucking in a lungful of water on my way down.
In the span of ten years, we’ve done what humans do: grown up and adapted. Some of us went to college and put off being a real adult; some skipped it altogether and dove straight adulthood. A few of my middle school friends kind of did both: started college then left it. A couple of these friends now have babies. They’re cute as hell.
But Jesus fuck, it always hits me that the people I graduated with, who are now out in the real world, are my age. I could be working on homework with one of my housemates and suddenly remember that some 21-year-olds have babies, and then I drop my pen and imagine–in terror–how my life would be if I had a baby. My townhouse and my housemate and my poetry homework melt into the void of what-ifs. None of that would be part of my universe. The main sticking point is when I remember the depressive episodes that last for day, how I forget to eat and/or shower. I can’t imagine caring for another human being, especially one so vulnerable and dependent and smelly.
When I took the mandatory health classes in eighth grade and again the summer before my freshman year of high school, they never told us how we would feel once the friends we had then grew up and had babies while we tried to remember the difference between trochees and spondees and why they’re valuable in trying to write poetry that isn’t completely shitty. They didn’t let us know anything about autonomy, how we don’t have to have kids just because we have a uterus. Every lesson about the human body and its mechanics was sterile of emotion and conversation because we hadn’t considered–couldn’t fathom–what 21 feels like, and perhaps our instructor couldn’t remember.