On Being an Adult and Avoiding Quicksand

I know someone who is my own age, and who knows how to do taxes. This, to me, is nothing short of arcane magic. Something forbidden and locked away. A knowledge so base and powerful that even a vague understanding threatens to undo a carefully calculated peace in the universe. If you are a millennial and you know how to do taxes, what’s next? Alchemy? Necromancy? Horcruxes and 401K’s?

Things like taxes and retirement funds are not things that my childhood adequately prepared me to face as an adult. What my childhood DID prepare me for, and what I have discovered to be a startlingly absent threat in my day-to-day life, is quicksand.

As a kid, I had a handful of major concerns. Most of them had to do with Sailor Moon and the number of chocolate chips in my chocolate chip pancakes. All the rest had to do with booby traps, the most prevalent being quicksand. To me, quicksand was a very real and frequent threat; it might be anywhere, including:

  • Under the playscape at the park (the one on Fern Street, not the one at school) which is exactly the last place you saw that one kid before everyone said he moved away, but you know better. He died. Sucked into the earth when no one was looking. And you have one of his shoes to prove it
  • In my grandmother’s cellar, beneath that old mattress, which your grandmother keeps on asking your father to take away, but he hasn’t, because he probably also knows that it’s the only thing keeping the house afloat above a vat of gelatinous, sandy death
  • Egypt, in general (I’ll get to this in a moment)
  • The Rainforest Café (duh)
  • Any boiler room
  • Tidal pools (and I might have been right about this one all along, actually)
  • Macy’s, specifically the lingerie section

I don’t know where I got started on this, except that my paranoia of quicksand also matched the incredible distress I felt whenever I saw any artifacts from Ancient Egypt. This, I’ve reasoned, stems from the 1999 movie The Mummy, staring Brendan Fraser.

I was absolutely terrified of The Mummy, and I watched it constantly. I’m not even sure that quicksand is a prevalent theme, but it didn’t really matter. Anything resembling an ancient Egyptian artifact was something I shunned proactively, lest the thing be cursed, and lest some ancient pharaoh come steal my body parts should I touch it.

And this shunning even extended to things I knew were not actually Egyptian. One time my brother told me that a cane I was carrying around was likely an ancient artifact, and I’ve never lost interest in something so quickly. And don’t get me started on those goddamn scarab beetles.

But, thinking about quicksand, I can date my fear back further, all the way to Gilligan’s Island.

Most people were able to differentiate between horrible situations that took place in a comedic way (like on Gilligan’s Island), and horrible situations that were simply horrible. As a kid this distinction was lost on me, and there was very little anyone could do to convince me that Gilligan’s Island, which was obviously a Lord of the Flies adaptation, was a sitcom.

So far as I can tell, quicksand was a fairly frequent device on the show. Always it was handled with a sense of urgency, horror, and—ultimately—laughter, but I was not so fooled. As I watched these idiots bumble into mucky, sinking traps, I vowed that I would never be so careless as an adult. I researched quicksand. I learned about the phenomenon of liquefaction, and, ever wary, I avoided areas in which sand and water combined.

(Oddly, this excluded the beach, which on numerous occasions actually put me into contact with quicksand. And it wasn’t until my stepfather actually got dragged into quicksand on a morning run in Cape Cod that I remembered my childhood nightmares about the stuff. He survived, which made me proud.)

But thinking about the unreal threat of quicksand, I’ve realized something else: growing up, quicksand was never the threat of being sucked into the earth; quicksand was, and still is, and entirely different battle against the gravity of dread, which is the sort of dragging I feel when I think about taxes and budgets and other adult things. The adult quicksand isn’t a booby trap; it’s the present threat of an environment that will pull you down and consume you quietly the moment you let it.

But, because I was an eccentric and paranoid child, and because I vowed to be prepared for this sort of thing, I have kept myself diligently nimble atop the liquefaction of my responsibilities. And this doesn’t mean shirking them or denying them. It just means letting them drag you down enough to scare you, and then solving them one by one. The trick is to not struggle, because that only makes you sink faster (which is actually not true, but it fits the metaphor, so please let it go, you nerds).

However—metaphors aside—you will NEVER catch me setting foot in any goddamn pyramids. I’m not an idiot, you know.

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