I turned 22 yesterday, or so they tell me. I'm feeling rather existential these days, so I have to ask--what is a birthday, really? Wait, no, I turned 22 two days ago. This is embarrassing, I don't even know what day of the week it is. Clearly I am not prepared to be 22, nor am I good at being existential. A birthday is obviously the day you were born, what kind of question is that? I don't really feel older or wiser, although I generally feel more tired, and I've noticed that my metabolism has already taken a nose dive since the big day, so that doesn't bode well for the future of my waistline, now does it? Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I have eaten three quarters of a carrot cake in about 36 hours, so that could explain the metabolism drop. I'll probably go polish it off here in a minute, right after I get done with this. I have horrific self-control when it comes to things I really like to eat--like, for example, carrot cake. Actually, I don't know if it's my self-control so much as my resignation to the fact that at some point, I know I will eat the whole thing (if it's cake) or all of them (if it's reese's pieces) eventually, so I might as well just get it over with while it's still fresh and delicious. Also I have a bad habit of leaving a fork right next to the cake at all times, so whenever I pass by I can just eat one bite--that's not so bad, right? Well one thing leads to another, and twenty minutes and 12 passes through the kitchen later equals half a cake down. Sometimes my friend and roommate Lindsay will say You can do it, Brucey! when we're eating cake or other things that aren't healthy, from that scene in the movie Matilda. There's a part where Brucey has to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the whole school, because he's a greedy little kid and Mrs. Trunchbull wants to teach him a lesson about excess. So she tries to force him into hating cake (he has to eat the whole thing or be locked in the Chokey), but instead, with the support of his classmates (you can do it, Brucey!), he eats the whole cake and loves it. I think you can guess which character I am here. Except my cake is carrot, and not chocolate, because I have an invested interest in improving my eyesight. Also cream cheese frosting and walnuts are my kryptonite.
Anyway, back to my failure of being an existentialist 22-year-old. Well, here's the thing. I'm feeling a little concerned about my level of preparedness for my impending adulthood. I think I've said this before, but I have to say it again, because I am just really astonished as to what has happened here. I just thought I would have it figured out by now! Whenever I think of being an adult, in my immediate future, it's not actually me I see. It's like this better dressed, pulled together version of myself, who seems capable and witty and fun, who doesn't use sarcasm as a defense mechanism and who can actually stick to a day schedule. This person also happens to be like a foot taller than I am, and she has, I am not kidding you, a killer wardrobe. She also doesn't look like someone who forgets to put deodorant on in the morning, and she probably also doesn't have to hang signs all over her house that say TAKE YOUR PROBIOTIC. She really seems like a great girl, a real go-getter, and she walks around in a classy office setting looking professional and murmuring indistinct comments to people, and those people laugh and do exactly what she says because she very obviously knows some things. And you know what the real kicker is? She looks like the type who knows what her signature drink is!
She probably also is aging really gracefully, and I just cannot say the same for myself. Do you know how I decided to think about my 22nd birthday? As the first anniversary of my 21st birthday. I am only slightly better than those people who say they're counting down instead of up once they hit 30 or whatever. That thought in itself is demoralizing and makes me want to throw in the towel and live in my parent's basement for the rest of my life.
Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, but you know, I was really looking forward to my birthday as a day of rest and relaxation and reflection, and it was anything but. Instead, life handed down a one-two punch of bad weather and zero fun, and that was depressing. Here's what happened: my house and car flooded on Sunday morning, so I spent the morning of my birthday trying to wet-vac about six gallons of water out of the bottom of my car while it continued to rain. Then, while I rolled around in the bottom of my little silver bullet, covered in dog hair from a dog that died like three or four years ago and flood water, which is the most disgusting water in the world, hands down, I looked up and said, you know what, it's time to get out of this city. And burn this car, because I'm never going to get all the water out and as we speak it's molding and bugs are hatching in it, I just know it. So then, naturally, I called my Mom and told her that, and she said don't worry I'm on it, which was a relief--but the saga was not over. She found a nice man named Tyrone who could help me with the water/car problem, but Tyrone was out in Metairie. Metairie is far, and I was out of gas and my debit card got stolen last week so I had no way to pay him, so I had to go to Loyola to get money from the Credit Union. While I walked over I realized I was hot because it was so humid, and it was raining, and everyone I knew called to tell me Happy Birthday!! in such bright and happy voices, and I didn't know how to say it's my birthday and I am so sad, and I know I should be happy because it's my birthday, but I hate this day because it doesn't feel like my birthday, it feels scary and really, really sad. Because my car flooded and I have to take it in and spend my afternoon waiting in a mean cold room for someone to get the water out, and I feel too young to be this old, and I feel totally and utterly helpless in the face of the future that is racing towards me at an alarming speed, and I don't understand the world anymore, because I was sitting in traffic listening to Alanis Morrisette and then someone put a bomb in a bag and killed a little boy at a marathon, and Whole Foods forgot to write happy birthday on my birthday cake. And where in this day is there any room for me?
I know that in my life I have been lucky, exceptionally lucky, to have always had beautiful, wonderful birthdays. I love my birthday. Every other birthday has felt like the world has stopped to smile at me, say hey, you're doing alright kid, happy birthday! We love you. And I love that. Who wouldn't? So this year, as I sat in traffic and cried and cried because I was lost trying to get Tyrone in a car that sloshed every time I hit the gas, on a day that I was supposed to be in love with a world that was in love with me, running errands and dealing with a situation that was totally out of my control and just not fair, I started to think, is this it? Is this what being an adult is like? Is it always this miserable and will I always be dealing with something? Is this awareness? Because if it is, you can have it back.
Later, I walked around Target for an hour and a half while Tyrone fixed my car, and I started to feel better. There is something infinitely soothing about that kind of solid, middle-class commercialism--everything was normal, everything looked familiar. I found a shirt on sale. The world hadn't completely imploded, Target was proof. But I still felt so tired, and I'm still working out that feeling, I think. Because you know, I'm not the girl in the vision, I'm still just me. And it's just me that I will forever be dealing with things with, if that makes sense--I can't be anybody else but me, and I guess I'm the kind of person that breaks down on birthdays when nothing goes as planned, and I didn't know that about myself until Monday. I'm a little anxious about this kind of thing, because what will happen when it's just me and my Mom can't help, and I have to do all these things that happen when you're in control of your own life? Who will be the responsible one? Who will know what to do? Surely not me. I still squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube! I eat entire cakes single-handedly! I forget what day it is on the regular!
Perhaps I'm dragging my feet as I move into this next phase of my life because I am all too aware of my own shortcomings, and I don't know how much I can change about myself, or if I want to at all. Where's the fun in being six feet tall and an indistinct murmurer? What would you laugh about if everything was ok all the time? What would I tell my therapist if I had it all together? Right? I think my only option is learning how to be ok with me, which is sort of an unsatisfactory answer but the best I can do right now. And you know, I think I have to just keep reminding myself that everything is not happening all at once, although it might feel that way. Life is gradual, so I just have to take it one little piece at a time. And if that doesn't work out, I'll maybe cry about it or laugh about it, or maybe do both, and when someone comes over and asks if I'm ok like they did on my birthday, I'll put on my sunglasses and say I'm fine, I'm just having one of those days. And then I'll have to pep talk myself, which will involve the phrases "white girl crying" and "in public" and "pull yourself together, this is pathetic".
Also perhaps I'll just take the advice of Michael, who told me after I complained for an exceedingly long time about my day that it's high time I figured out that the world doesn't stop just because it's my birthday, and that's the way it goes sometimes, so what I should do is make the next really good day I have be my birthday. And I really couldn't respond to that without sounding like a completely self-centered whiner, so I said ok. I'll just have birthday life. Every day a birthday. And that weirdly made me feel better. So I guess I'm feeling better about being 22. I don't know if ya'll know this, but Taylor Swift wrote a song about being 22, and I think it's really obnoxious. This may have colored my opinion on the day too, because everywhere I went she stalked me on the radio. It was tough.