I decided at an early age that I would never grow up. Death, it
seemed, would be preferable to turning out like the ber-grown-ups
of my childhood: June and Ward Cleaver, Dwight and Mamie
Eisenhower, and, most terrifying of all, my parents. Grown-upness
seemed to be a sort of final destination, a dead-end state
populated by a bunch of boring people whose primary obsessions were
life insurance and Getting Ahead. Their only fun--if you could call
it that--came in the form of nightly cocktails, followed--in our
household--by bouts of screaming and accusations that made Who's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
look like dinner theater.
To assure that such a terrible fate would never befall me, I
memorized 'I Won't Grow Up' and all the rest of the lyrics from
Peter Pan by the time I was 6, became a beatnik at 12--dedicating
myself to Poetry and Life--and at 19 hooked up with an
artiste-cowboy who was a dead ringer for Bob Dylan and had a taste
for mind-altering substances. Together we bummed around the globe,
living in Volkswagen vans and liberating T-bone steaks from
supermarkets as part of our mission to crush capitalist pigs
For a while I really believed I could break free from my
middle-class roots by becoming a batik artist, a craftsy lovechild
who earned her bread (homemade, 107-grain) with her own hands. The
plan worked brilliantly until lack of sales (and even barter) made
it obvious that I had absolutely no talent. Before long I set our
cabin on fire with my cauldron of hot wax and I was out of
It seemed that the universe was trying to tell me something.
Like: grow up. I decided to give it a whirl, praying that there was
some middle ground between stultification and irresponsibility,
between June Cleaver and Squeaky Fromme.
Here's what I did, more or less in order:
- Had a son, got indoor plumbing.
- Held down a succession of real jobs, including publicist for an
outpatient leper colony--an especially challenging position for a
- Quit the colony and became a freelance writer, a move that
would indicate a serious relapse until you factor in a new husband
with a good job, a 401K, and practically no interest in illegal
- Took on a mortgage (in progress).
This last feels like the nail in the coffin of what I used to think
of as grown-uphood--the pi?ce de r?sistance that turns free spirits
into Father and Mrs. Knows Best. And even though I no longer
believe that you have to be holed up in a garret to hold on to your
soul, I still expect the mortgage broker to call any second and
say, 'Sorry, we've found you out. We know you're an impostor. We
only give mortgages to real grown-ups.'
Barbara Graham is a contributor to numerous
magazines, as well as the author of Women Who Run with the
Poodles (Avon, 1994). To her shock the mortgage has been