I am turning thirty. I can no longer joke with my friends that “I’m not an adult! I need a more adultier-adult!” Nope. I am the adultier-adult. There’s no way around this: at some point in the past ten years, I grew up.
I find myself relating to the parents more than the kids when I read a book or watch TV. I no longer panic in the face of responsibility. The idea of retirement planning does not scare me away. I know how to fry an egg without burning down the house. Hell, I know how to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal without burning down the house!*
I also know how strong I am. I know that tragedy does not prevent tomorrow. I know how to rebuild from rock-bottom.
It wasn’t easy – change and growth never are. Now, about to turn thirty, I find myself ruminative of those years that molded me into the person I see in the mirror. My twenties were as tumultuous as they were transformative. I’ve decided to explore them through ten, short reflections: one for each year in my twenties. These are personal, snapshot entries of a moment in time, but I want to share them with you. Life is messy and weird, but often unexpectedly beautiful. In the next two weeks preceding my birthday, I will post each one on this blog in remembrance of the girl I was and the woman I am now.
I cannot wait for my thirties. I finally feel at home with who I am, and I am excited for the adventures that await me in this new decade.
So here’s to my twenties; it’s time to say goodbye.
Butterflies flooded my stomach turning the world upside down. Dark locks peaked out from the hood of a gray Sublime sweatshirt. He swept a hand across his brow, his gentle amber eyes catching mine. I bit my lip and looked away, but I could feel his gaze as it lingered. The air was thick and humid, threatening August rain. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, aware of the burning crimson in my cheeks. I had to look at him again, so I stuttered out my name, melting in the summer heat. Eyes crinkling at the edges, his mouth curved into a half-grin.
I shoved papers, pen caps, and smashed crackers mixed with broken crayons into a trash bag. This wasn’t my school, but the smell of pencil shavings reminded me of the one I’d walked away from. I flicked the lights, locked the door, and drove home in a borrowed car, listening to the lament of silence. A folded newspaper filled with scratched red circles waited for me at home. I rubbed my eyes and pulled into a convenience store advertising ninety-nine cent coffee.
The smell of caffeine promised a sleepless night of “not talking.” I filled a twenty-four-ounce cup with regular, listening to a wall clock tick above the head of an employee squeezing mayo on a sandwich.
My foot smashes the provolone and turkey as I leap upon the counter and rip the clock from the wall. I twist its hands back a season when evenings were spent in laughter, not lies. I spin its gears to a year before, grab the shoulders of a doubting blonde, and shake her awake from the nightmares. I scream a strangled sob and peel each number from the clock’s frozen face to fashion the future I’d fractured.
I blinked and paid for my coffee in pennies and dimes.
I gripped a bouquet of roses, their thorns trimmed until the flowers were as painless as they were pretty. I couldn’t breathe in my dress so heavy with promises. So I cut off my own thorns and stuffed my bleeding heart into a corset of ivory. Perfection came with a price.
The guests were hanging from the ceiling, their smiles turned into frowns. I thought about running. I’d gather all my skirts and stumble down concrete stairs away from the lies. Then the music started, and I caught his eye: the man who had turned my world upside down. I met him at the altar and gave him my heart.
Long after our guests had gone, moonlight reflected off a white-gold wedding band. I pulled my cold hands away from the sleeping boy with the half-smile. I closed the bathroom door and let my tears fall. They were growing back – the thorns. Would I be able to scratch them off forever?
A prickling fever rose from my stomach. I heaved again, my eyes squirting out searing tears. Choking on stale air, I coughed up bile.
I was empty.
Wrapping my arms around my swollen body, I began to bargain with God. I offered him everything I had and everything I was from the yellow-tiled floor of the bathroom. My voice cracked as I asked for forgiveness. So I lowered my head and begged for grace.
He didn’t care. No one cared. I closed my eyes and listened to the beat of two hearts echo in my dreams.
And so did I.
Roots. They sprang from my body and buried deep within the ground. I felt them bloom, burgeoning around sacred earth, their tendrils twisting with the bones of women before me. Wrapped in an ancient embrace, I saw every colored braid, every vibrant fiber, every magnificent stitch. Threading the tendrils of my heart, I added a ribbon of gold to the woven tapestry, tracing the past, present, and future with shaking hands. Contact, connection, and purpose rippled through my body, planting strength in my soul. Inhaling the valor of every woman before me, I opened my throat in a sacred wail and ripped her from my heart.
She was perfect.
The bulky doors shut out the noise of a heavy world. I took off my shoes and stretched my toes beneath multi-colored socks. After placing my sleeping daughter in her pink bouncer, I moved with soundless deliberation to set up my computer for the day. The stuffed walls of the basement library felt like drywall ramparts lined with thousands of paperback soldiers. My shoulders relaxed; we were alone.
Wandering through shelves of testimony, I considered forgiveness. Memories of the years past left a bitter, fearful taste in my mouth, their thick scabs still healing. I knew I was ugly and covered in scales, but I could change; I would change. I lifted a heavy stack of books back to my desk. As I cleaned their covers, changed their labels, and cataloged their contents, I searched every page for grace.
A hiccup – she’s awake. I grabbed a picture book about Noah’s ark and propped it up in front of her. Little arms and legs wiggled at the sight of elephants and lions, two by two. I returned to my work, every book I placed on the shelf a rock upon a new foundation.
Underneath the leaves of a Genesis Tree, I began to grow.
A shaking hand turned the key, and I felt the engine roar to life. Looking into the rear-view mirror, I checked my bold lipstick once, twice, a third time. Sweat broke out across my forehead and ran down to my chin. I considered turning off the car, going back inside, and begging to return to the books. Maybe I had made a mistake? Three years and thousands of pages later, I thought I was ready. Now, I wasn’t so sure.
I shifted gears, took a deep breath, and pulled onto the road. The empty car seat felt loud, and the feeling that I was forgetting something – someone – kept punching me in the gut. I pulled over, dialed my mother’s number into the phone, and demanded reassurance. Why was everyone so sure I would fly when I knew I was going to fall? My hands fumbled with the radio, finding a familiar song, as I pulled back onto the road.
Merging onto the highway, I drove twenty miles in the right-hand lane and talked myself out of taking every exit back home. This was too much change, too fast. My brain repeated the events of last month over and over again. Could I have done something different? Should I have done something different? Did I make the right choice when I left the books behind? I already missed their murmurs. I already missed the sanctuary of the basement library.
An alarm buzzed as I pushed open the door. The smell of fresh coffee invaded my nose, and I heard a peal of laughter from up a long flight of gray, carpeted stairs. I took a deep breath, spread my wings, and jumped.
Love is madness. Love is waking up to fresh coffee every morning. Love is a kiss on the forehead when you think I’m asleep, but I waited up to feel your lips against my skin. Love is tangled legs, a pint of ice cream, and two spoons. Love is a look from across the room that makes everyone else disappear. Love is snorting, shaking, heaving laughter at one in the morning because I can’t sleep either. Love is letting you have the last bite. Love is you letting me have the first. Love is looking at the world through two eyes, two hearts, two minds, and two souls. Love is planting roots with you.
Love is a choice. Love is a worried phone call. Love is kissing bitter tears away. Love is listening when you want to talk. Love is sweeping clean shattered glass. Love is picking up the pieces you can no longer carry. Love is helping you walk, stumble, crawl, move. Love is a clean band aid and a promise. Love is refusing the silence. Love is looking at your demons and helping you look too. Love is opening every slammed door. Love is swallowing your pride. Love is strong hands that refuse to let you fall – I refuse to let you fall.
And I am madly in love with you.
Green jello wobbled in a plastic cup. I stuck a spoon into its gooey center for another jiggling bite. My mouth watered for the taste of chemical lime after a day of no food. I leaned forward, trying not to move my left arm where an IV burned inside black and blue skin. The woman in the bed next to mine coughed again, the noise a hacking, wet rattle. I turned up my music, adjusted my headphones, and focused on the laptop in front of me. I’d written two-thousand words; I only needed a thousand more.
I shifted the jello aside for my American literature textbook and squinted at the tiny print. It was almost ten o’clock, and the essay was due at midnight. My brown-haired nurse stuck her head in and pointed at my arm. I shook my head, and she gave me a thumbs up. Pain medication would put me to sleep, and I had to finish this paper.
I put the thick volume filled with essays on freedom, democracy, and revolution to the side. Lifting my shaking, right hand to the keyboard, I began to pound out another sentence – one letter after another. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing my degree this time.
A fluffy grey and white cat stretched across the cozy cream carpet beneath my feet. A chirrup escaped from beneath her long whiskers as I ran my hand over her feathery fur. The sound of a contented cat purring made even the longest to-do list manageable. Returning to my work, I highlighted a sentence and typed a comment about showing the reader instead of telling them. Rain sputtered against the window, sending an autumn chill through the room, and I grabbed my cup of coffee for another sip. Cold hazelnut and cream passed my lips; I’d been lost in another world for hours. Shifting aside my computer, I stood up and stretched my back.
My eyes lingered on a frame above my bookshelf. I read the words of my diploma, listening to the sounds of each sentence in my mind. It reminded me of something – something I needed to write down. I returned to my computer; the coffee could wait.
There were stories to tell.
Thank you for reading and walking with me on this journey of reflection and growth. Tomorrow begins a new decade, a new adventure, and a new story.
*As long as wine is not involved. 🙂