I never met Elliot Rodger. I’ve never watched his whiny YouTube videos, never read his oh-woe-is-me manifesto.
But I like to think I knew Elliot Rodger, because like billions of other little boys, since the dawn of time, since that very first pubic hair sprouted from the scrotum of young Cro-Magnon, that very first Vesuvian zit erupted, that very first faulty falsetto of uncertainty croaked from the choir of childhood’s comfortable conformity, I used to be Elliot Rodger, a little man-child besieged by what Fitzgerald liked to call the “chemical madness” of youth: adolescence.
Yet like those billions of boys-to-men throughout history, picking up a gun and killing people I thought didn’t like me, girls who wouldn’t talk to me, grown ups that didn’t understand me, was never the answer to all those thousands of unanswered questions. It never is as simple as that. When the answers do eventually arrive, no matter how difficult they are to hear, they always seem to be the right ones.
Driven by unbridled lust, insurmountable hopelessness and the uncontrollable urge to make myself heard, I also did some horrible, regrettable and embarrassing things on that treacherous rickety bridge between youth and young manhood. Miraculously, though, no matter how close I come to looking over the edge, I got to the other side, more or less in one piece. A little bruised by rejection, eternally scarred by love affairs gone bad, horrible little told-you-so life lessons written up against my name, now always there to remind me not to ever do those things again.
Of all the chemicals, the drugs, the rivers of beer, the weird smelly sweat, in the average young male body, testosterone is the most potent; it makes you do weird and stupid things. It makes you drive fast, wear stupid t-shirts, it makes you stay up late listening to loud music and picking fights with the world.
More significantly, it makes you fall uncontrollably into love (lust, actually, but that’s how love generally starts out) with every woman you see. It breaks your heart every time they walk on by, gone forever, but then you see another, and that lovely cycle of joy, pain and heartache continues to turn, until one day, she stops and looks back at you, and it all seems worth it, after all.
And there, boys and girls, is the first step towards becoming old and wise, and trust me, it’s not too bad, sometimes.
Today, as I reach the age of thirty… (here now is an uncomfortable pause that seems to get longer every year, much like the shadow of death) …eight…wait, what?
Eight? Eight?? Eight!?? Eight!! Eight. Like the various stages of grief.
What was I saying? Oh yes, at age 38, the mind starts to wander, and you start to lose it regularly. Time ceases to exist on any conventional plane; it becomes droopy like everything else about you: last week was a million years ago. 1994, last week. 2001? But that was just the other day, wasn’t it? What is happening? Where did that time go?
George Bernard Shaw famously said that youth is wasted on the young. It’s a cliché, I realise, but you know why it’s a cliché, because it’s damn well true. Suddenly, realising that time is running out, regret becomes a big part of your aged life, like going to the bathroom three times a night and getting grumpy every time Justin Bieber is on TV. Regret is a killer, regret makes you think your life has been futile; regret is nature’s way of telling you you haven’t grown up yet.
I have friends; same age as me, some a bit older. They’re in the autumn years of youth, 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars, great job, generally happy and comfortably confident in their lives. But put on a Morrissey song, or tell them Pulp Fiction was made twenty years ago, or remind them that in 1993, they could go out for night on the town with R20 and still have change for a pack of cigarettes, and they turn in blubbering, nostalgic idiots trying to design a time machine on the back of their mortgage statement. Regret is a horrible gut wrenching feeling, but the memories that come with it are heartbreaking.
I like to think I’ve grown up a bit. I wear those silly striped golf shirts old men like to wear, I try to drive a little more carefully and make an effort to do sensible things at a sensible time of day. But sometimes whenever I hear an old Pearl Jam song, or see an old Batman comic, the memories wash over me and regret sets in. Getting old is really hard, but remembering being young again is sometimes a lot harder. That old drunk Bukowski, who never really grew up himself, got it right when he said: “What a weary time, those (youthful) years. To have the desire, the need to live, but not the ability”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy. I’m glad I grew up, hit the big 3…eight. (cringe). But sometimes late at night, after checking that the dog and the boy are safely tucked away in their beds, doors are locked, bills are paid, it’s just me and set of headphones full of memories. Not as cool as a time machine, but gets me halfway there.