By Leila Sackur
We didn’t expect it to be this hot. It’s 35 degrees in Chicago, despite being mid- September. It’s the middle of the day and we are on the boardwalk of Lake Michigan. The pale concrete reflects the light of the too- bright sun and we are squinting as we walk. My hair is clinging to the back of my neck.
My twin brother and I are here for 6 days before we move on to Detroit, and then Ann Arbor, and then Grand Rapids, and then back again. And then we will go back to university- second year, and restart everything all over.
It feels weirdly poignant to be in the US now. We were born here, in Washington D.C., but we haven’t returned in years. The only thing I have left to show of my American identity is that I’m still able to recite the pledge of allegiance; an old patriotism learned in kindergarten turned sour by a teenhood political awakening. But still, it feels odd to be back in the country where I formed my childhood memories in the summer before I turn 20. Because I judge the age of 20 as “Official Adulthood”, so this feels strangely circular, a rite of passage.
I’m pretty terrified of being 20, a statement which is absolutely Not Relatable to most people. But to me it seems like there’s a definitive break between being 19 and being 20. When I’m 19 I’m still my mum’s “teenage daughter”; when I’m 20 I’m The Child Who’s All Grown Up and Applying for An Unpaid Internship in a Neoliberal Startup. And then there’s the fact that I’ve totally wasted my teenhood- so many crazy teen things that I didn’t get to do! I always wanted to steal a car and drive out to a random field in the country and drink warm beer with my friends, a wholesome vision from an indie music video made in circa 2012, but I have NEVER ACCOMPLISHED this pinnacle of Real Teenhood, which in my books (as it should be in everyone’s) is a wasted youth.
Obviously I was never going to accomplish this goal- for one thing, I live in a city and I don’t know how to drive, and for another thing, beer is shit. But this was my summer to try it! Before I turned 20! And I wasted it- I’ve had the most traumatic summer of my life, taken up by my parent’s divorce and the sudden death of a friend. I spent the majority of the summer in bed; avoiding a mountain of work, avoiding my friends, and avoiding getting a job.
Until now. I am in Chicago with my twin brother who I love more than anyone else in the world. Chicago looks nothing like Washington, but we traipse through suburbs to find cinemas and theatres and the clapboard houses remind me of my childhood. Even though it is hot, autumn in America is more intense than the UK; the colours are more vibrant and urgent and the air is thick with the scent of dead leaves. In the centre of the city, surrounded by skyscrapers, I feel so, so small and free. One night, we eat dinner from a foodtruck and sit outside and the night is cool and the air sits nice on your skin. We buy alcohol without being ID’d and we are fourteen again and it is illicit and there is adrenaline at first but then when it hits there is just peace and your limbs are slow- moving and I am tired now and my eyes are drooping shut and this is what true happiness feels like.
We’re back on the boardwalk by Lake Michigan. It’s the evening now and the cicadas are singing. It’s loud and peaceful all at once. My hair is sticking to the back of my neck. Our trainers slap on the concrete surface of the footpath. And I am born again, renewed, young, young, young.