The Mountain Times

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Hey, 19

Reflections on an age, 'normal' life-circumstances and a changing time?

"Hey, 19

No we got nothing in common

No we can't talk at all

Please take me along

When you slide on down"


Recorded by Steely Dan and written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (who, on a side note, was a surprise drop in guest when I had the great fortune to attend a Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm's famed barn in Woodstock, NY). There are differing opinions on what the song means, though all agree the 19 refers to an age.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is 19. He is lying in a hospital bed recovering from wounds sustained in a shootout with police. He is facing federal charges as one of the Boston Marathon bombers. What possesses a 19-year-old with his entire life ahead of him to want to carry out such an unspeakable act? I can't seem to wrap my head around it.

In 1973, I was 19. A student at SUNY New Paltz, my thoughts were focused on juggling studies and socializing. I was living away from home for the first time in my life and enjoying my independence. I was forming friendships that would last a lifetime. My whole future was ahead of me. I daydreamed about life after college graduation - starting a career, finding a husband, buying a home, having a family. Yes, I felt the same stresses as most college students at times - navigating finals, doing research projects and learning to live on Ramen noodles until the next monthly allowance check arrived. But overall, I was one happy girl. The world was still my oyster.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's brother, was the other bomber. He was 26 and now he is dead.

At 26, I was newly married. We made a decision to relocate to a place we felt would be safer than New York City. At that time, our biggest crime fears were being robbed. Our major annoyances of big city life were traffic, being squished on the subway and having to wait on long lines for everything. We pondered what life would be like in New York City when our children were teenagers and made the decision to raise our future family in a less-populated area. We moved to South Carolina based on reviews from a cousin who had settled here. At the time, it was still small town Americana and apple pie.

This was 1979. We could not even fathom the events that would occur in New York City over the next  30 years including the World Trade Center bombing and the horrific tragedy on 9/11. While I was pregnant with my first daughter, John Lennon was assassinated on a busy Manhattan street in front of a posh apartment building. Someone also attempted to kill President Reagan. Shortly after she was born, an attempt was made on the life of the Pope. The world was going a little crazy.

At 27, my first child was born. I knew there would be at least one other child - maybe even two.  Try as I might, I was unable to do the math that would produce the average 2.5 children that each family supposedly had. I loved decorating the house we had purchased and Saturday mornings were reserved for cleaning. Saturday nights we entertained friends with dinners and barbecues. We installed an in-ground pool and grew tomatoes every summer. We traded my MGB convertible for a Datsun station wagon. We were living the American dream along with all our coupled friends who were focused on the same things. We talked about our jobs, our kids and planned our annual vacation to the beach. Our husbands played softball for the church team.

We couldn't get more Norman Rockwell-ish if we tried.

In my mind, these are universal thoughts and actions for people in their mid-20s. So what wires get crossed in a youth's life that result in the heinous actions as those carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers? What makes a young man become focused on killing, maiming and causing bloodshed instead? Why were these brothers not content with a simple life - enjoying friends, family, sports and plain old fun?

I know times have changed, but there will always be commonalities that carry from generation to generation. My older daughter just turned 32. Her life revolves around her husband, her home, her nursing career and my two beautiful grandchildren. She gets excited over dinners with the other moms and making cupcakes for birthday parties. My younger daughter will be 30 in a few months. She worked hard to become a dental hygienist after realizing a career in hospitality was not going to provide the financial rewards she sought. She schedules time at the gym, dinner dates and weekend trips out of town to see friends. Aren't these the normal things that people that age do?

If I were 19 today (oh, what I would do differently knowing what I know now,) I believe I would still be focusing on the same goals I did back in 1973. I don't believe I would be picturing myself a bomber or an assassin no matter how much the world situations frazzled my brain. I worry about what life will be like when my grandchildren are 19. I can only hope and pray.

Cindy Phillips is a freelance writer for The Mountain Times. She can be contacted directly at cphillipsauthor@yahoo.com