First Rebellion: Having a Dead Boyfriend 40 Years Older Than Me?

Annex - Dean, James_25
Whiny but tremendously hot while doing it.

In high school I loved the movie Rebel Without a Cause, but I had no idea what James Dean’s problem was. He was so twitchy and moody. And super cute. And dead, so even though he was years older than me (and about twenty years older than my parents) he hadn’t ended up being old and pervy (watch yourself, George Clooney). The perfect man, and from Indiana, just like me. I loooooooved James Dean.

But what did it mean to be a rebel, I wondered. It didn’t seem all that hard. I haven’t seen this movie in years now, and probably shouldn’t. It’s the “without a cause” part that troubles me now. He was just whiny and teenaged, wasn’t he? There was nothing of substance to him whatsoever, was there? Except those sideburns. Prrrrr.

I’m a rule follower, myself. (I know: short post, right?) Very pliant. If I’d been in charge, we as a nation would probably still belong to the British. I got good grades, I did my homework, I dealt with life changes pretty smoothly and good-naturedly. I went to college and did pretty well there, too. I got a job and started paying my own way in the world. I became the little gear in the great cog of life that I was supposed to be. So far, not so much rebellion.

And then I quit my job to get a graduate degree. I can still remember my dad’s dismay that I would quit my cushy desk job to risk the wide open like that. He didn’t understand it. No one in my family had graduated from college before me. Why would I make such a careless decision?

And then I did it again.

It all worked out. I managed to pay off all the student loans I ever accumulated. I have another cushy desk job. Maybe I didn’t need either of my two advanced degrees to get through life. But who just wants to get through?

If I’m a rebel, if I’m living any differently than anyone else around me, it might be this: I think life is too short, even when it’s long. If there are things you want to do with your life, do them. You don’t have to drop everything and dismay your parents. But what will you tell yourself if you never get around to doing the thing you always said you’d do?

Rebel a little. And see what happens. And maybe get a leather jacket. But take a few less risks than James Dean did, OK? He should have lived past the age of 24, to a ripe old pervy age.

Who were (are?) your angsty teenaged rebel crushes?

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

This article has 5 Comments

  1. OK, I’m embarrassed to admit this but as a pre-teen I adored young Elvis. I ate up his cheesy movies on Sunday afternoons, and begged my mom to order me compilation albums sets advertised on the television.

    Elvis was a rebel way back in his day. He even wore eyeliner!

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