You know those teen movies where the adult goes back in time to relive their pubescent years, acne and braces et al, swapping places with their kid? Somehow, that happened to me.
Okay, not exactly like in “Freaky Friday.” There was no magical fortune cookie that swapped me for someone 25 years younger. But here I am at 40, reliving my not-so-sweet 16.
I used to wonder what would happen if I got my redo. Would I decide to be a cheerleader, instead of wearing all black all the time? Would I go to university somewhere other than New York? Have that whole college campus life? I’ve been obsessed with looking back and thinking, “What if?” But it never dawned on me I’d actually be reliving my teen years again, at my age.
At 16, I was living out in the desert Southwest with my parents, my teeth covered in braces, sleeping in headgear and wearing glasses (my lasik came later). I was also learning to drive. Remember those days? Being so excited and eager just to take the car out of the driveway, despite my dad yelling at me for being a terrible driver.
Fast forward. I now live in a different part of the desert Southwest with my dad, am learning to drive, again, and yes, I have braces.
The universe is a funny thing, and if this were a movie—my movie—I’d also get the freaky high metabolism and gravity-defying body from back then. But it’s not, so I have to make do with my curves and age-worn joints.
Late last year, after two decades in New York trying to make a living as a writer and editor, hustling for ever smaller payouts on articles and always increasing rent, I wanted a break. My dad, in his eighties, was living alone outside Sedona. My mom had passed a few years earlier and he was by himself. What could be more perfect than the two of us being roommates? (This is where there’d be a massive bolt of lightning in the movie. Dunh dunh dunh!)
As a New Yorker, I took advantage of the city’s many ways to get around and never had to drive. Living out here in what used to be part of national forest land, I have no choice. It’s drive or be a shut-in with no food. Or Amazon packages. My mailbox is even a couple miles away. And I watch too many movies, so I know being able to get away is essential. What if someone breaks in and tries to kill us?
I would have loved to sign up for driver’s lessons but that’s not a thing here. So it’s just me, my dad and the car. It’s taken me months. He yells a lot less now, but he still likes to tell me I’m terrible at driving and he’s not wrong. I can handle the winding backroads and have even driven around town. The main highway is too terrifying. And I still need to master parking and reversing. Piece of cake, right?
Then there are the braces. I swear, teenage me wore her retainers diligently, but I’m convinced teeth are like the universe, always moving and expanding. I was forced into the orthodontist’s chair by my popping jaw and super old permanent retainer. While my teeth were still relatively straight, my jaws were misaligned, contributing to my TMJ and migraines.
This time around, I got Invisalign, because every time I see an adult with braces, I stare. I can’t help it. So I’m currently writing with my trays in, complete with rubber bands clamping my jaw nearly shut. I can barely get water in. Fun times!
Unlike in my teen years, my dad and I are getting along a wee bit better. We’ve always had a testy relationship, and in this redo, I’m seeing why. I’m very much like him in what I do, what I like, and mostly, what I don’t like. He enjoys the quiet and being alone out here and so do I. He gets tired of other people easily — me also.
It’s not just one thing — there’s a lot more self-awareness about all of them. And that’s the point.
The plan was when I blew out the candles on my 40th birthday cake, bam! Everything would be back to normal, but I would have a deeper appreciation for everyone around me. Instead, I ate a low carb dessert in lieu of cake because I’m not really 16 anymore. And happy for it.