“…and I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” – Emily Dickinson
(photo taken at Lake Gaston on my 20th birthday.)
20 years old felt like the beginning of burning out.
It felt like working 37 hours a week and taking 6 classes because free-time scared me. It felt like dropping out of a sorority and a boy ultimately choosing someone else. Like living on Hell Block in a small, dark loft-style room that couldn’t even fit my full-size bed–a space my friends lovingly deemed “Anne Frank’s Attic.” It felt like a lot of nights spent alone in my bed, eating nachos and drinking $2 red wine from Trader Joe’s, and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. It felt like wanting to drop out of college and deciding to apply to study abroad instead. It felt like using my friend-of-a-friend’s fake ID for many months, like holding my breath each time as the waiter or the cashier or the bouncer studied my ID, then studied me, then gave me my drinks. Like deep, dark panic attacks in which I would drive myself to Patient First, convinced that this time I was really dying. It felt like writing this question in my journal: How can I be so young and already so tired?
21 years old felt like the south of France.
But at midnight on my birthday, it felt like 5 shots in 5 minutes followed by singing ‘London Bridge’ by Fergie at karaoke. 2 weeks later when I moved, it felt like showing up in a country where I didn’t know anyone, intending on staying for 4 months and instead delaying my college graduation by a year so I could stay for 6 more. It felt like the freest I’d ever been, the freest I could ever possibly be. Like fresh baguettes and rosé in the sun at noon and crêpe after Nutella-oozing crêpe. To learn another language deems it deeply necessary to learn a new way of thinking that far surpasses grammar and dives deep into culture, deep into the foundations upon which we live our lives. 21 felt like taking a closer look at everything I’d ever known to be true. It felt like traveling to 15 countries on a shoestring budget, only eating street food and drinking whatever was the cheapest in that part of the world and sleeping on trains and in creaky hostel bunk beds. Not caring, because we were in Berin and Prague and Lisbon and we were young and the world was absolutely and unconditionally ours. It felt like learning how very many lives we live within this one that we have. They are all both temporary and eternal.
22 years old felt like coming home in every sense of the word.
It also felt like leaving home. It felt like the house I grew up in being sold and reinhabited while I was gone. It felt like 100 years of reverse culture shock, relearning things I can’t believe one year in another country had erased from my memory: the streets of my hometown, my cell phone number, how to drive. How big everything is here–people, cars, coffee cups. 22 felt like moving into an apartment with my artist friend, Miriam, and her orange cat, Argonaut, and beginning my 5th and final year of college. It felt like taking my first creative writing class ever, and sitting in a small room of people feeling like I finally connected to something, like I finally belonged somewhere. It felt like alchemy. Like drinking a lot of Rolling Rock and Devil’s Backbone and merlot and bloody marys, and eating a lot of vegetable omelets for breakfast and nacho mountains for dinner. It felt like wondering what the fuck I was going to do when college was over; half-heartedly applying for things and being rejected and applying for new things. It felt like a hazy health crisis that left it difficult to eat or think clearly all summer. It felt like too many doctor’s appointments, too many unanswerable questions. It felt like deciding to move to another country anyway.
23 years old felt like Amsterdam–
an intricate spiderweb of winding streets and crooked houses and tiny revolutions. It felt like trying to understand how Family functions. It felt like trying to somehow fit into the one I was working for and living with, that I could never truly be a part of. It felt like teaching two small humans–ages 6 and 8–an entire language. Like trying to learn an entire other language myself. It felt like compromise. Patience, understanding, trying and trying and trying and trying and trying. It felt like sometimes looking up flights home. Like bicycling everywhere, cooking dinner in Celsius, sitting on the ground of the central train station for hours listening to travelers stop and play the piano that said, “Play Me.” So many people did. Sometimes a crowd would form around the music and everyone would sing. It felt like witnessing many miracles the size of a human palm. It felt like volunteering some nights at a storytelling space that obliterated my heart and made me feel more human every single time I left. It felt like spending Christmas in England and the 4th of July in Greece. 10 days in Greece, which felt like a lifetime of its own, falling in love with 60 people from all over the planet. A time too perfect to believe. It felt like seeing the midnight sun in Iceland while alone in my hotel room. 23 felt like going to museums and movies and bookstores alone. It felt like the first step to trying to be my own friend.
24 years old feels slippery.
There are still 2 months of it. It has felt like a lot of things I don’t have words for or understanding of yet. It has felt like the end of the world several times: November, January, March. June. It has felt like cleaning out my mom’s storage unit, spreading all the drawings from my childhood on my dining room table. Saving a few. It has felt like writing classes and a job in an office and learning news ways to live in this city. It has felt like being honest. It has felt like many trips to the mountains, to the ocean, to the forests of Virginia, like cabins and camping and that tiny writer’s room an hour away. It has felt like meeting a lot of people that I didn’t know I needed to meet. It has felt serendipitous. It has felt like hiding and like staying. It has felt like not having a sip of alcohol for 84 days in a row. It has felt like spoonfuls of almond butter and cans of sparkling lemon water. Like handfuls of stones and wildflowers. Dreams of a big, black snake biting my left ankle. It has felt like I’ve had a chronic illness for 10 whole years now, because I have. Almost 11.
It feels like a lot has happened and that nothing has happened at all.
It feels bewildering and impossible and promising and intriguing.
It feels like I have no idea what I’m doing. But it also feels a lot like Thank You.