I am sitting in the back seat of my mother’s car as she drives us to Target for a “ladies’ only!” shopping excursion on the day after Christmas. My grandmother, her slightly younger sister and I are squished together in the back seat, pretending we are cozy, not cramped. My 13 year old cousin sits in the passenger seat. I sometimes think of my grandmother and great aunt, who were born during the interwar period, as whooping cranes: graceful, majestic relics of an earlier time who find the modern world perplexing and beyond comprehension. Unable to find their place in today’s rapidly shifting environment, their kind slowly dwindles, forced to quietly recede to the margins of history. Usually, this image is fleeting but today changes that.
Presently, my mother, grandmother and great aunt are animatedly discussing campaign finance reform. Meanwhile, my cousin and I feign obliviousness as we listen to a local pop station on the radio. One of my cousin’s favorite songs begins to play. She unabashedly turns up the volume and joyously sings along. Embarrassingly, I know this song and enthusiastically sing along as well. For a moment, they try to speak over us before my grandmother politely asks, “Who sings this song? I don’t think that I’ve heard it before.” Moonlighting as a grown up, I begrudgingly tell my grandmother the name and artist of the song. My cousin sneakily steals a glance at me and rolls her eyes. We both want to say, “of course you don’t know this song – you’re old”. But we don’t need to say it; the sentiment rolls in around us like a thick, disorienting fog obscuring everything but our difference.
My mother begins to complain about the vulgarity of the lyrics, while my great aunt prattles on about her aversion to popular culture. My cousin responds by raising the volume even more. We try to tune them out as much as possible. My cousin has much greater success with this goal than I do. To me, the cloak of disaffected youth in which I've enveloped myself is all wrong, it's too snug, too rough and it chaffs under the arms. Yet, in this moment, the generation gap between us - my grandmother, great aunt and mother on the one hand and my cousin and me on the other - has never been so wide. The fog of difference suddenly transforms into mustard gas. By turning up the volume on the radio, my cousin has encircled us with barbed wire and trenches. My scratchy, garish cloak, though incredibly irritating, affords me protection from artillery fire. I feel as if we're at war and, for better or worse, I've sided with youth. At 26 years old, I felt too old to be a useful ally to my adolescent cousin but too young to side with the adult forces. Or, more accurately, I'm too cowardly to proudly stand with the adults in the car. I want the freedom to make mistakes that youth allows and the certainty of my convictions that only comes with adulthood. Yet, I'm unwilling to completely let go of one set of privileges for the other. And that’s how I found myself in no man’s land en route to Target.