I recently experienced what I consider to be the pinnacle of adulthood: getting a flat tire.
I was not remotely prepared for this experience. I was already running late to my brand new big kid job at the local newspaper. I had already spilled coffee on myself. My bad days always run in threes though, so I was expecting a setback at work or tearing my pants (which actually did happen later that day.) Nothing prepared me for a flat tire.
I had literally no idea what to do. In the back of my mind there were details about spare tires and roadside insurance, but what order does that go in? I remained calm long enough to remember to call my dad.
But my father, the endlessly patient man that he is, somehow did not comprehend how traumatizing this experience was for me. Maybe it’s because he actually is an adult and has had sixty years of dealing with flat tires, but his calmness and flippance with the situation was frustrating.
“I have literally no idea what to do dad, do you realize how pathetic it is to be a 21 year-old with no knowledge of automobile contingency plans?” But I didn’t say that, because his answer would have been “just call me.” But how can I be a big kid going to a big kid job and wearing (very expensive) big kid shoes if I still have to call my dad every time something goes wrong?
Next I had to call AAA. Judy, the incredibly perky woman from Minnesota who helped me, did not seem to comprehend how traumatizing this was either. My complete inability to give her the exact address of the parking garage I was in did not seem to phase her. I wanted to yell at her.
“It’s a metaphor Judy, can’t you see? I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where my place in life is. Help me Judy, show me the way.”
But Judy didn’t understand. “Can you give me the nearest cross roads?”
In the end, I ended up giving Judy the directions to a nearby Pizza Hut. I don’t know where I live, but I know where the Pizza Hut is. I think that could be a metaphor too.
When Moe (I shit you not, his name was Moe) the very friendly repairman showed up, he was unfazed. He found the spare tire that I didn’t think I had, put it on my car, and got everything up and running in less time than it took me to run back and forth from my apartment in a crazed, late state.
“This happens all the time, don’t worry,” Moe told me. “Just be glad you were in a safe location.”
Moe’s smile was not comforting. But, with his help I was able to get to work, where I did not tell anyone about my flat tire. I was quickly becoming aware of the fact that real adults just don’t get worked up over flat tires.
But that night I went back to my apartment and collapsed on the floor and practically cried over my frozen pizza as I recounted the woes of the day to my roommate. And she stood up, gave me a hug and said “that sounds terrifying.” My other roommate bought me Reeses.
It was then that I realized that no matter how professional I dressed or how many big kid jobs I had or how mature I acted, I was still 21 years-old and inept at dealing with a very normal aspect of adult life. It doesn’t matter if I get along fabulously with adults or hang out with 28 year olds regularly. No matter how positive I may be that I’m prepared for the world outside the bubble of my college and parent’s house, there will never be anyone who can understand how terrifying the prospect of adulthood is other than fellow children.
Instead of beating myself up for being traumatized by this experience, I need to move past it. Accept that I’m still a kid. Accept that I will probably always find flat tires terrifying (whether I’m 21 or 61). And accept that sometimes the only people who are going to get it are going to be fellow 20 somethings.