I Won’t Grow Up

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
    world-class hypochondriac.
  • 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
(Avon, 1994). To her shock the mortgage has been

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