Literary as hell.

“Thirty-Teen,” a short story by Shaunna Quin

When I was a little girl, there was nothing I wanted to be more than a teenager.

I’m pushing forty these days and I still live like I’m a teenager. No, I don’t live with my parents. And yes, I have a job. But I live off of Lucky Charms, pizza and PB and J. I follow the latest pop bands and matinee idols.

I don’t say things like “matinee idols,” though. I say “bae,” “squad,” “fam” and “lit.” I keep up, but I still hold old favorites dear. As if I’d ever stop saying “As if!”

I’m a teen movie savant. Fast Times, The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused, Mean Girls, Lady Bird… I keep up with all of them.

With my pin-thin figure, occasional acne and chipped-tooth smile, I still look like a teenager. I follow the trends; Instagram-ready Kardashian-Jenner contouring and highlighting and overdrawn brows. I wear the same chokers I did in the 90s, and some of the same clothes. I get carded all the time.

And I’m always around teenagers. Yep, I rake in the big bucks as a high school English teacher! All of them love me – the popular bitches, the jocks, the artsy queers, the brainiacs, the stoners and all of those forgettable ones with interchangeable names like Jake and Josh, Emily and Emma.

On the first day of school, as I always did, I asked my seniors what the last book they read was. Typically, it was Lord of the Flies, the last book assigned in junior year. A few other kids piped up with like, whatever teen dystopian sci-fi series was gonna be the next big movie franchise. Usually, some kid in an Arcade Fire t-shirt tried showing off how edgy they were by saying, like, Vonnegut or Palahniuk.

But there’s always a standout. That one kid who I remember more than the others. Usually a senior whom I’d been watching since he was a sophomore. From still child-like to on-the-edge-of-manhood. They poured shameless, un-self-conscious, earnest truths into their writing assignments, like only teenagers and rock stars in the 90s could. I wouldn’t say they smelled like Teen Spirit, but there was always a bit of a Cobain-ish aura to them.

This year, it was Sebastian. They always had names like that; Dorian, Xavier, Julian… Sebastian stood apart on his own, though. Dark wavy hair covered half his face, grazing his Timothee Chalamet almost-unibrow. He had Scott Wolf dimples and the bone structure of a Skarsgard. His last name, Kimura, gave him his half-Japanese pale amber skin and Keanu Reeves eyes.

Keanu was one of my first crushes. Bill and Ted-era Keanu. That’s how old I am.

“I’m reading Girl in a Band,” Sebastian said when it was his turn.

Sebastian was the first kid to actually impress me in years. The last was probably Dorian back in 2011 when he said The Basketball Diaries. Too bad it ended up inspiring him to dabble with heroin when he dropped out of college. But we had a nice evening watching the movie together at my place.

“So, you’re a Sonic Youth fan?” I asked skeptically.

“I don’t really know much about them,” Sebastian admitted. “I just love reading about cool, kickass women. I’m almost done, and I can’t believe how iconic Kim Gordon is! I should definitely listen to them sometime.”

“Well,” I said. “Everybody says Daydream Nation is their best. My favorite has always been Goo.”

Sebastian emailed me later that evening thanking me for the recommendation.

Could you send me more cool bands from when you were a teenager?

Instead, I spent two and a half hours painstakingly curating a Spotify playlist for him. The perfect mix of tasteful pop, hidden alternative gems, and a little rap and Americana for good measure. I ignored the episodes of Scandal I’d intended on bingeing, and calls from my mother and from Mark, the guy I was trying to make things work with – even though he was still technically married.

A couple weeks later, Sebastian came up to me after class.

“Hey, Ms. LeBon,” he brushed back the hair hanging in his face with his black-nail polished right hand. “I finally listened to your playlist. There’s so much dope shit on it!”

Sebastian covered his mouth with the same hand, horrified.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to cuss, ma’am.”

“Sebastian,” I said with a breezy laugh. “I’ve heard much worse from much worse kids! I’m honestly more offended by ‘ma’am’ than ‘dope shit!’”

“Okay, cool,” Sebastian rummaged through his graffitied and patched backpack. “I made you a mix, Ms. LeBon. Here.” He put a cassette in my hand.

“Thanks, Sebastian! I haven’t seen one of these since—”

“Since the 90s?”

“Since the last time I was in Urban Outfitters,” I said pointedly with a wink, gathering my papers and walking away from my desk. Sebastian followed me, blushing.

“Have a good weekend, Sebastian!” I said, locking the classroom door behind me.

“You too, Ms. LeBon. And by the way” Sebastian spun on his heels and gave me finger guns, “You can call me Seb.”

“Sure,” I said, a little too dreamily. “See you Monday, Seb.”

Good thing my prized olive green 1976 Buick Riviera has a tape deck. The cassette was called “Mix #1.” I was elated that this could be the first of many. The packaging was nothing but chicken scratches of the names of Pitchfork bands whom I couldn’t keep up with.

Look, I’m not a Mary-Kay Letourneau. And I’m not one of those sad, lonely hot teachers who latches onto a teenage boy just to “feel something,” like in one of those indie movies that you scroll by (but I watch) on Netflix.

I get crushes, but I don’t let them go too far. It doesn’t go much further than Hitachi Magic Wand fantasies after a bubble bath and a glass of wine. Sure, Dorian and I cuddled under a blanket on my couch. But we didn’t kiss. And, okay, me and Julian made out once in the darkroom, but I was just a TA back then. And, yeah, I had sex with Xavier. But it was the summer after his first year away at college. It barely lasted two minutes. But I still think about it.

Nobody knew about my fixation on these 17-year-old boys. Not even my best friend, Bebe. She liked to joke around when we’d see them about town, bussing at Flo’s Diner or ringing up groceries. Now that she was finally divorced, she wanted to be a “cougar,” much to her tween daughters’ dismay.

That weekend, Bebe surprised me with Lana del Rey tickets and a joint for my birthday. They were shitty tickets, and it was an hour-long drive to the city, but I’d take any opportunity to see Lana!

We found our seats just as the no-name opener was finishing up. I felt a poke on my shoulder and turned around.

“Hey, Ms. LeBon!” It was Seb and his group of friends.

“I told you it was her!” Zoe Melton squealed, twirling her grey-purple hair. “We knew you were the coolest teacher, Ms. LeBon!”

“I’m not that cool! My friend Bebe, here, is way cooler than me,” I said, gesturing towards my leopard print-clad bestie. “Bebe, this is Zoe Melton, Lily Park, Connor Morgendorf, Jake—I mean, Josh Grant, Graham Chapman and Seb… astian Kimura.”

“Nice to meet you, kids!” Bebe yelled enthusiastically. “You should wish your cool teacher a Happy Birthday!”

Zoe jumped over and gave me a huge hug. “OMG! Happy Birthday, Ms. LeBon!”

“Guys, we gotta go,” Connor said abruptly. The group of teenagers all gathered their stuff.

“You’re not staying for Lana?” I said, incredulously.

“Oh, we definitely are,” Connor replied impatiently.

“Connor!” Lily said in a hushed voice. “We should invite Ms. LeBon and her friend. It’s her birthday!”

“Invite us where?”

“Follow us, ladies,” Seb said with a grin.

Connor defiantly led the pack down stairs and escalators, marching us to section 108.

“Just act like you know where you’re going,” Lily reassured me and Bebe. “This section was pretty much all still available on StubHub an hour ago!”

We had a blast in our self-upgrade! We swayed and sang along and tolerated Graham yelling “QUEEEEEEEEN!” over and over again.

Seb murmured in my ear, “I bet he doesn’t even know who Freddie Mercury is.”

Laughing, caught up in the moment, I gave him a side-squeeze. He returned the gesture, his hand lingering on my shoulder. I liked to think that everyone else was too captivated by Lana to notice. The weed haze, moody lighting and the music just… I could’ve melted and stayed in that moment.

But I didn’t. I moved closer to Graham just to be safe. I was thankful for my earplugs when he actually screamed between the set and the encore. I wondered if it was his first concert.

Oh God. My first concert was twenty years ago. Before these kids were born!

I made my way across my students and gestured at Bebe that I wanted to go.

“Hey, where are you going?” Seb asked as Bebe gathered her stuff.

“Oh, we just wanna beat the traffic,” I said. “She’s probably just gonna play ‘Video Games’ or something, anyways. See you at school!”

She’d already played “Video Games,” but that was the least of my worries.

I pulled Bebe out to the parking lot with me.

“Geez, it was just one more song, Cyn!” Bebe protested, lighting both of our cigarettes in front of her black Volkswagen Jetta.

“Don’t you wanna beat traffic?” I asked. “Besides, it’s my birthday!”

“Yeah it is,” Bebe raised her eyebrows and flicked her ash. “And you were helping yourself to a little cupcake, huh?”

Hoping to diffuse the situation, I said, “Um, Graham’s gay if that wasn’t obvious.”

“No… not him. The cute long-haired one you put your arm around,” Bebe said pointedly.

“You saw that?” I asked, trembling in shame.

“Is there anything going on between you and that kid, Cynthia?” Bebe loved using my full name when she teased me about my attractive students.

“As if!” I said, with a nervous giggle. “I’m a teacher. I keep it professional. It was just a little birthday side-hug. That’s all. Besides, I have a boyfriend, right?”

“Okay,” Bebe shrugged. “But if you’re not hitting that, lemme know when he turns 18. Oh, look, there he is.”

Zoe, Lily and Seb were rushing towards Bebe’s car.

“So glad you’re still here, Ms. LeBon!” Zoe exclaimed. “OMG, you smoke?”

“Ummm…” I stomped on the rest of the cigarette. “You caught me! Kids, don’t do this at home… Or at school…”

Ugh, ramble much?

“Don’t smoke, it’s hard to quit.” The kids and I shared an awkward laugh. I was their teacher again, not their concert buddy.

“We all chipped in and got you a birthday gift,” Lily said. “Not sure if you wear hats, but we got you the sailboat cap.” Lily handed me the Lust for Life ballcap that I’d toyed with buying from the merch booth.

“You guys!” I exclaimed, putting on the cap immediately. “You didn’t have to.”

“We wanted to!” Zoe assured me. “It was Seb’s idea! He said it’d go with that cute nautical dress you wore the other day.”

Seb gazed at his shoes, face bright red.

“Thanks. All of you. I love it,” I said, opening the passenger door. “See you Monday.”

“So,” Bebe said, starting the engine. “I wonder how often that kid thinks of you in your sailboat dress.”

“Whatevs, Beebs,” I mumbled, pushing my hat to cover my face and slouching in the passenger seat. But she was just saying what I was thinking. And she knew it.

When I got home, I ignored Mark’s birthday booty-call texts, smoked the last of my birthday roach and re-watched Point Break. I forgot about Mark and Seb for the rest of the evening and focused on my first crush, Keanu. At thirty-teen years old, Johnny Utah in a wetsuit is still the ultimate teenage dream.

 


Shaunna Quin is a writer from Toronto. She also hosts Pop& Down, a podcast about mental health and pop culture. You can find her online at dietcoke4breakfast.com; @dietcoke4brkfst on Twitter; and @dietcoke4breakfast on Instagram.

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