All names have been changed in this essay, not for each person’s privacy — just for fun.
I’m under the impression, based on the stunning aggregate of books, songs, poems, movies, and even body sprays about the subject, that I’m not the only person who truly was at a crossroads at age 17. By way of possible explanation, for many more years of my life than I’d like to admit, I labored under the very firm and very erroneous impression that I needed to be perfect in order to deserve love. What is even more absurd is the fact that, to preserve this external façade of imperturbable perfection, I believed I had to hide, disguise, or elaborately lie about most of who I was.
But by 17 years old, this had reached something of a fever pitch, the world having grown so much more complex and rife with nefarious but terribly desirable options. For example, I was a newly-minted cigarette smoker, having discovered that cigarettes were the missing piece in my anxiety repertoire. They created a self-reinforcing feedback loop in my neuronal network in which I smoked to relieve anxiety, and then smoking made me more anxious — a glorious oscillation that kept me jangly and on the edge of my seat, but also hiding episodically in the Harbormaster’s bathroom during school lunch to smoke, so no one would know I was a smoker.