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Molly Furey: I had a quarter-life crisis when I returned to my old school

Growing up, the passage of time was an exciting, future-oriented thing – it spurred you towards your 20s and that glamorous thing called adulthood. Sitcoms such as Friends and Sex and the City had my friends and I convinced that after our torturous adolescence there was, if nothing else, the sophistication of coffee and cocktails to look forward to.

But as I edge towards 25, time’s passage has taken on a newly outrageous quality. On a recent trip back to my old school, I felt betrayed by the canteen’s new tables, not to mention the fact that the uniform jumpers were, unbelievably, a different colour to the one I had when I was there. I was confused by classrooms that had had the carpet pulled up since I last sat in them and the fact that the sixth-year common room had been moved downstairs. The changes felt egregious, like they were mocking me and my heretofore unchallenged assumption that I was still young in that wide-eyed, impatient kind of way we all are at 17.

As I stood in my old school, un-uniformed and unfamiliar, I tried to figure out how it could all have changed without me. More desperately, I wondered how I could have changed without all of it. Memories of my schooldays came flooding back to me and the minute, gradual ways in which I had maybe grown up since I left accumulated into nothing short of a revelation. Had that much time passed? Am I not too young to feel this old?

It feels like my mid-20s have just been charged by this sense of disbelief and deep suspicion. I cannot quite wrap my head around what it means to be this older-kind-of-young. It is unclear to me when this formless period technically begins or if it ever really ends but, standing outside my Junior Cert science lab on the C corridor and reflecting on time’s passage, I could see that I was in the thick of it.

Before the school visit, I had experienced glimmers of this quarter-life crisis. When my Google Drive ran out of storage recently, I was more concerned with the fact that I had existed long enough for that to even happen than with the €2 I was being asked to fork out for extra space. I remember setting up that account and the boundlessness its invisible cloud once promised. So much for that.

My realisation that most pop stars are now younger than me was similarly philosophical. When did that happen? It feels like just yesterday that I was fantasising about winning The X Factor but now here I am, suddenly edging towards the dreaded “over-25s” category.

The uncanny feeling of being an interloper in my old school, this place I used to know so well, was just another confrontation with this newfound sense of having grown up a little bit. Faced with real-life teens, I had to accept that, as much as I felt like it, I was not a 16-year-old trapped in the body of a 20-something. Their straightened hair and rolled skirts made it offensively clear to me that we were in fact very, very different.

Far from relating to them, I was overwhelmed by an embarrassing patronising sense of knowingness. Ah, the unfounded certainty of adolescence! The smallness of one’s sheltered world! The memories yet to be made! The life yet to be lived!

The school visit (a) made me insufferable and (b) gave form to my realisation that youth is a gradient. It was, in other words, my increasingly paranoid sense of time’s passage made manifest.

When I melodramatically expressed my terror to my cousin, she batted me away with a more optimistic read of this period as “a new kind of young”. She recently became a homeowner and agreed that it felt ridiculous to be old enough to be picking out blinds and floorboards, but pointed out that that was exactly what made it all the more exciting. The move was an accumulation of years of dreaming and hoping and its success was all the sweeter for it.

This seems like a better way of regarding time’s passage than the abject outrage that I had initially opted for. It is double-edged, she was saying. As you get older, it is as much about moving forward as it is about looking back and that is surely more interesting than whatever one-dimensional, sitcom-inspired imagination of the future one might have had as a past-less teen.

But I did not know this as I stood in my old school staring down the barrel of my adolescent youth. So I cringed at my sense of growth and stifled any sense of maturity I might have gained in the last seven years. The linoleum classroom floors felt cold. And I didn’t like the new jumpers.