FOURTEEN

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 I just celebrated another birthday and I realize I’m fourteen years old.

I was fourteen last year, too. And the year before that. In fact, I’ve been fourteen years old since I was fourteen.

Not that fourteen is the perfect age. Fourteen is a pretty rotten age. It’s in-between everything. You want to be big, you want to be a man, but you’re still a punk. When I was fourteen (as I am now) I was a freshman in high school. Ninth grade. Bottom of the food chain. Thirteen was better—I was in eighth grade and the oldest kid in middle school.

When you’re fourteen you think you’re gonna live forever. You think you might be a doctor or movie director or the president of the United States. You think you’re going to make a huge amount of money so you don’t really need to save. You live for the moment.

I realize I’ve never left this mindset. I know I’m going to make a huge amount of money, one of these days. Probably when I’m twenty-five. I know I’m going to direct a feature film, too. I intend to do that before I’m forty, because I hear Hollywood’s a pretty young town.

There are drawbacks to living fourteen. Like, you might buy a house without any money, using something the grown-ups call a zero-downpayment loan. But they have this great feature called a negative amortization payment and that’ll help, for a while. And then they got this even greater thing called a short sale. I guess there’s always something to look forward to.

Other things come up that are tough, you know, when you’re fourteen. Like, those things they put on bananas in the sex education class? You might want to wear one. Otherwise, well, all these crazy things happen that are just a bit too much for a fourteen year old deal with. I didn’t wear one and now I’ve got kids and a wife and I had to get a job for, like, a really long time, and I had to do what people said without talking back and the times I did talk back they said I was fired and when I went back the next day they said what are you doing here we fired you and I said oh.

Now I’ve got two kids. One is eleven and one is thirteen. The eleven year old is thirty-two. The thirteen year old is fourteen. We say the eleven year old is the wise one. He tells the rest of us to save money. We don’t know what he’s talking about.

My wife is fourteen, too. So, that’s cool. I think my thirteen year old will be fourteen for a long time as well, but then I think he’s going to get older and end up around twenty-one. And I’m hoping that our eleven year old becomes fourteen someday, maybe after his fiftieth birthday.

It’s not for everyone. I’m not even sure if it’s really that healthy, you know, in a psychological sense. I read in a book in my freshman something class that it’s called “arrested development.” You get stuck in the year where you had some kind of trauma. When I think back on it I remember that fourteen is how old I was when my dad left my mom. I remember waking up one morning to find my mother in the kitchen crying over a bowl of cereal. She’d been up all night. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Your father left us.” I told her not to joke around. “Your father left us and he’s not coming back,” she yelled. Later that day my dad picked me up at soccer practice and cried, telling me he was leaving my mother to marry the woman he’d been seeing for six years.

Fourteen was the year the world came crashing down. It was the year I was expected to grow up, to take it like a man. I did all the things they told me to do. Things got really hard after that. I tried and tried and tried and tried.

What’s great, though, is that you have this awesome imagination when you’re fourteen, so you can fall back on your dreams and ideas and stories and the little movies you keep in your head. I think that’s how I got through it all. It’s a good thing I wasn’t the age they said I was or I don’t think I would’ve made it.

So, now I’m fourteen again and I have no idea how the rest of my life is going to play out. I know I’m going to direct a feature film someday and I know I’m going to make a lot of money so I won’t have to worry about how to pay the bills they keep sending me for all the things I like to do, like watch TV and go to movies and eat at restaurants (that’s really cool, I LOVE eating at restaurants!) and taking road trips with my fourteen year old wife and our kids. I know I’m always going to live near the ocean because I’ve wanted to live near the ocean since before I was fourteen and it’s one of the things that everyone told me I couldn’t do until I had enough money and I always thought hell why not. Come to think of it, that’s what I’ve thought about pretty much everything everyone told me I’m not supposed to do. I guess that’s why some people call me Peter Pan. That’s okay, he always was my favorite.

But a couple years ago I found this really cool group of other fourteen year olds. They all write books and together we call ourselves “authors.” I always thought I was strange and out-of-place and doing things the wrong way and then I met these other people and they’re just like me. It’s like camp for fourteen year olds forever. Thank God most of us have children to take care of us when we get into trouble. Because we can get into some real messes.

Anyway, it’s really good to finally have this figured out. Now when my accountant yells at me for spending money on things that don’t make sense I say, “Why would anyone trust a fourteen year old with that kind of money?” Or when my lawyer says disagreements should be handled in the courtroom I say, “Why do you think God gave me fists?” I’m starting to talk this way to all the grown-ups in my life. It’s really fun but I find their responses disturbing. I like hanging out with the authors the best.

Anyway, I feel a lot better now that I know the reason I do the things I do is because of my age. It doesn’t make things easier, I still get in a lot of trouble, but it explains a lot.

It’s funny how you gotta wait until these later birthdays to figure out the really obvious things in your life. I guess that’s why they say that youth is wasted on the young.

22 thoughts on “FOURTEEN

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Laughed all the way through this. Not sure what age I am – sometimes it's 16 and often it's somewhere in college, I guess 20, and very often it's late 20's. Definitely not 14, though, thank God – I was barely functional that year.

    Whatever age, it's a relief to have a whole community of friends who act their age.

  2. JT Ellison

    I'm definitely 14. That explains so, so much. I had a huge trauma that year too – not nearly on your scale, but my parents moved me to D.C. from the backwoods of Colorado. Innocence lost. All that. That sort of dislocation forever changes a person.

    Superb post today, Stephen. Made me laugh.I have no doubt your dreams will become a reality!

    And Happy Birthday!

  3. Eika

    I've been 15 for years. I was stuck at 9 for a long time, then jumped straight to 15. It's cool– it means I never experienced Middle School, which is where I'll go when I die if I was bad. But can I still hang out with all you fourteen-year-olds? (and hey, 15 was when I completed my first novel, and was awesome because my sister was at college. So.)

  4. Mike Dennis

    Good post, Stephen. I'm sixteen, you know, and it's much cooler than fourteen. I can drive and everything. I even have fake ID so I can get served in the bars and nobody suspects that I'm really underage. I can even buy older girls drinks and get them drunk and…

    You should turn fifteen next year, because then you'd be sixteen the following year just like I am, and you can be cool and go out and buy a Porsche, which of course is your birthright.

  5. Allison Davis

    I am definitely 18. Just want to be 18, no younger no older (ok, I actually liked being 40 a lot) but so long as you can still look ahead, dream and not let that day to day stuff get you down in the long run, you're 14. And yes, you are right at home.

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, Carole and Blair!

    Jim – I will be your cool not-much older brother. Wanna learn how to make dynamite from a hundred Black Cat firecrackers?

    Sarah – Tell that to my accountant.

    Alex – I certainly didn't choose 14. If I had my choice I would choose 25.

    Louise – We gotta get you to the youngster gym. I see you as a very wise late twenties.

    JT – I didn't know you were a Rocky Mountain girl. I used to ski in Durango every winter.

    Eika – we homeschool our boys, saving them from the tragedy of middle school.

    Mike – sixteen was real, real good for me. I took a two-week road trip from New Mexico to Southern CA with a buddy of mine – all by ourselves. The best times. We did not, however, have a Porsche. Can you say wood paneled station wagon?

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Hey guys – I'll be traveling today and won't be able to respond again until late tonight. Thanks for checking in!

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison – I'd love to be eighteen…but the world has chosen me to be 14. I get the good and the bad of it. I hope you have a fake ID at least.

  9. Timothy Hallinan

    I stopped at seventeen because it's a prime number. It's a new and mathematically subtle form of ageism. But I mean, hey, if you're HAPPY at fourteen, well (he snickers openly behind his hand) be mu guest.

  10. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hey Stephen

    Wonderful post. I've no idea what age I *think* I am, but I may be getting younger as I go on. Perhaps I started out old and am working my way back towards adolescence …?

  11. KDJames

    Happy Birthday, Stephen!

    I always wanted an older brother. So I could date his cute friends. I realized at some point that this imaginary brother would probably have friends who were . . . perpetually 14.

    I think I got stuck at 19. Um, you don't happen to have a slightly older brother, do you?

  12. lil Gluckstern

    Happy birthday. I don't know if fourteen sounds good to me, but if it sounds good to you, enjoy. Right now I'd like to be 40 again, and in my mind somewhere I'm about-ageless.

  13. David Corbett

    Happy Birthday, Slick. Sorry to be late to the party (yesterday was a bear, and no sooner was I home than I was unconscious.)

    I got a little tangled up with the math here, but I sure got the message.

    I think I'm stuck in my mid-thirties. Which ain't half bad.

    Be well, my man. Many happy non-returns.

  14. Laura

    I think I'm 16. At that age where I still believe I can be anything I want to be, and where it's ok to watch trashy teen dramas on TV. Pretty sure I'm 16 because of all the young adult fiction I read when I was younger… Life always seemed to instantly become interesting and dramatic at 16 (when I actually turned 16 I was bitterly disappointed) so now I think I'll stay 16. πŸ™‚ great post!

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