Many of my memoir posts have had a Tom Sawyer-ish tone, provoking “Oh, you had such an idyllic childhood!” responses. But in the last couple of months, there’ve been darker entries. In the past two weeks, I spoke of a tragic incident and a near-death experience that resulted in a terrifying phobia. And before that I wrote about a recurring nightmare that continued into my early adult years.
In a word: puberty. Not that all of the joy drained out of my world when my hormones kicked in. It’s just that my world became more layered, more complicated. I’d always lived in my head (still do), but when puberty struck, I moved from simply feeling and thinking to feeling and thinking about feeling and thinking. I no longer simply asked what the world thought I should do, I began asking what I thought I should do.
An incident that stirred up a ravishing hornet’s nest of feelings occurred when I was leaving my buddy Rory’s house. A fence made up of redwood slats separated his yard from the neighbor’s. I caught a glimpse of light between the slats, so I moved closer and peered through. The pretty twenty-something-year-old lady who lived next door had just stepped out of the shower.
It was my first lesson in female anatomy. And much more. It was the blossoming of desires I didn’t even know I had. I fought with the voice in my head, shouting, “Shame on you! It’s wrong for you to look!” But I’m admiring her! I told it. Granted, she might not have liked knowing an eleven-year-old boy was watching as she shaved her legs and powdered her body. But if she didn’t know, what harm was there? What should I do?
I felt guilty afterward. And giddy. And a dozen other things. As with the death of my friend’s dog, my own near-death experience, and my recurring nightmares, I was trying to process thoughts and feeling I’d never experienced before—and trying to process them on my own. Why? Because my teachers, society, and even my parents couldn’t tell me what to do. I needed to decide for myself.
At puberty, science tells us, the two main chambers (cerebrum) of human brains switch from working in unison to carrying on an ongoing “conversation” with one another. And as a result, puberty isn’t just a physical transformation, it’s a moral one. Theologians call it “the age of accountability,” the age at which we begin asking ourselves what we should do.
So what did I think?
I thought it was wonderful.
And everything in between.
And the only thing I knew for certain was…
I would never be the same again.