Eleven years ago. I am eighteen years old and I am about to turn nineteen and I am in my brand new college dorm room with my brand new college dorm stuff, and I am so so so very homesick. I am feeling lost and feeling sorry for myself in a self-indulgent, adolescent way, and feeling so disconnected from everything I know.
The phone rings, and it is my friend Trevor, calling to wish me a happy birthday. And he asks how I’m doing, and I lie and say I’m great, and he asks what I’m doing that day, and I lie and say I’m busy. And he asks me to look out the window, and I do, and there’s my mother, holding a bunch of balloons, standing with a group of my friends that she had piled into her car that morning, looking a little exhausted from an early morning three-hour drive with a bunch of teenagers, all for a birthday surprise.
I think it says a lot about my mother, that she would do that for me. That’s where I come from. That’s the lady who made me.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning thirty, and I’m typing this on the last day of my twenties, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. I mostly feel some irksome, lingering doubt that I didn’t achieve enough, that I didn’t accomplish more, that I am headed into this new chapter of my life without having done the kinds of things that dot everyone else’s “Thirty Before Thirty” lists. I can’t speak another language fluently, I don’t have a retirement account, I’ve never been skydiving or cliff-jumping or parasailing. I can make a pie, but not coq au vin or a turkey dinner; I have no tattoos and I’ve never learned to tango. I’ve never gotten my passport stamped in Paris or Barcelona or China or Greece, and I’ve still never seen The Godfather (or The Goonies, for that matter). My ass is fatter than it used to be and my back often hurts in the mornings and my boobs are beginning to slope downwards at an alarming rate and I understand, finally, why sensible shoes are a thing. I haven’t read all of the Great Classics. I can’t drive a stick shift. I don’t have a partner, a master’s degree, a kid or a home. I’ve never sang karaoke. (Please, no one, ever make me sing karaoke).
On the other hand.
I’m typing this from my bedroom, where the windows are big and everything is filled with light. It’s messy in here, sure, but mostly it’s cluttered with books and ideas and mementos and scraps of memories and art projects and more books and clean bedsheets and last night’s dress on the floor and I don’t want it any other way. It’s cluttered with a thousand small reminders of the life that I have built for myself — the thank-you cards from friends and colleagues, the notes from my dad living on a stack on my nightstand, gifts from friends, photos, ticket stubs. Paper flowers from my friend’s wedding, magic-marker-scrawled drawings from the kids at summer camp, dotted with hearts and generous with love.
I didn’t write the Great American Novel and I didn’t hike the Great Wall of China and I can’t scuba-dive and I’ve never seen the California coast. I’m shit at replying to emails and there is an entire forest of zits dotting my chin.
I’m also cleaning my bedroom right now, so that the same childhood friends can visit me, celebrate with me all weekend. I’m about to call my parents and go to the grocery store and maybe buy myself some flowers for my kitchen table, just because I want to and I can afford it now. I’m going to take a hot shower and then go for a walk in the city that I love. I’m going to read a bit more of my book, and write a bit more for myself, and breathe a bit deeper when the air starts to turn. I’m going to read this bit of writing that my brother sent me, and I’m going to smile at my baby brother’s youtube videos, and I’m going to miss my family terribly, and I’m going to figure out when I can see them next. I’m going to read the comments on this blog and smile at the wondrous thought that strangers are reading this — how beautiful and strange the internet has turned out to be, what role it has played in my life.
I’m going to spend tomorrow surrounded by people that I love.
Eh, okay. So I forgot to spend my twenties doing a whole bunch of stuff.
There’s always another decade for that.