A fearful farewell to the dragon of childhood
A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is a line from Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Here I am, three days before I turn 18, saddened by these lyrics.
I can’t help but compare myself to Holden Caulfield, my favorite antihero. “The Catcher in the Rye” is the only book north of 50 pages that I have read more than once. Holden informed so much of who I am today, and as I’m in his position, I can’t help but mentally compare myself to him.
My troubles come at what should be a more lax part of my high school career. Last night, my parents set a curfew for me — the first time this has occurred in high school. In my second semester of my senior year, three days before I turn 18, two months before I graduate, my parents imposed a curfew on me.
After a long argument with my dad, I left the house in frustration, not understanding the sudden and, in my opinion, untimely rationale behind this. Although my dad said it was because he felt I was partying too much with my friends, I think he’s trying to cling to what little childhood I still have left. “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.”
Senior year can be a joyous time for many, full of celebration; for others, it can be disappointing and discouraging. It’s second semester of senior year, I should be taking school lightly — which I am — and be locked into a college — which I’m not.
The college acceptance process didn’t work out for me as well as I had hoped it would. They say it’s random, but I have no one to blame but myself. My options are consequences of my own actions. Those nights I chose to go bowling instead of studying, or to watch another episode on Netflix instead of going to sleep finally caught up with me.
I guess after my fight with my dad the other night, I really started to realize that. I kept on telling him that he has two more months of parenting, and then he is done forever. (I’m the youngest.) I am working at a special needs camp in New York this summer. Then in early September, I head off to yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. After that, who knows what lies ahead?
I guess what I’m really getting at is I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. I’ve accomplished a lot in my high school career. To be immodest for a moment, I started a minyan at my school that is the largest student-led minyan in the country. I wrote an article about a major contemporary halachic issue, which received more than 25,000 hits on my school newspaper’s website. Today, a junior told me his class discussed how I was the epitome of the leader they wanted and needed, a compliment I do not take lightly. Yet as I sit at Shabbat meals and talk with family and friends, I do my best to avoid the subject of what I’m doing for college.
Again I think about that line, “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.” I don’t even know if I fully understand it, but it forces one troubling thought into my mind: My childhood is coming to an end, whether I want it to or not.
It feels ironic to me. Somehow the fantasized fire-breathing dragon I pictured while listening to this song as a child is the part of my youth that continues to live on, while my actual young and innocent self is leaving forever. The Noah who used to spend Shabbat playing wizards and jedis with his cousin Avi has been outgrown. The priceless memories live on, and I get to share them with those around me, but I don’t get to play the game anymore.
Holden Caulfield knows this, too. He’s the one who first showed this to me. I know why Holden wants to stand at the edge of a cliff as a protector and make sure that not only the “dragon” lives forever, but so, too, little boys.
And yet, the little boy in me is soon to be no more, plain and simple. The “dragon” of childhood will live on elsewhere, and it will no longer be my place or turn to access it. It feels like 18 years of childhood is being pushed over a cliff. Eighteen years of good times and bad times are soon to be sealed.
One of the scariest parts is I feel as though everything is happening to me, like fate, like it’s not me controlling my life. Whether I like it or not, and as scary as it is, I have to move on. I don’t have a choice.
I am no longer a little boy. Never again will I get to experience being a child, and the unknown of what is to come terrifies me.
NOAH ROTHMAN has just graduated from Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. A version of this article previously appeared in The Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s student newspaper.