I descend into 22.

I walk across a stage, holding my head high and beaming with pleasure, the words and shouts of my classmates and family mingling in my head with an incredible happiness. I walk across that stage daintily, heavily. I sink in my heels, I flounce. I want every moment to stay with me, tucked in my sneakers, sewn into my handbag.

It means walking away. It means walking away from a womb, from a community that didn’t know me when I arrived but whose bricks and columns know my smell, their heads turning when I walk by. We all cycle through, I realize, we realize, as we laugh together and give each other hugs and wish each other the best. We walk away, feeling dispensable, feeling lightweight and proud and melancholy. We celebrate and we mourn.

I watch friends marry. Marry! I watch them join their lives with special people, and we all wonder what it means. We dance and eat cake and laugh and swirl around in the delectability of it. We talk about forevers and promise commitment and think about the grand future, the length of it stretching before us.

I make moves. I pack my bag and search for a pay phone on the other side of the ocean; I don’t speak the language. I meet people. People of flighty and hilarious spirit, people of adventure, people whose worlds fit in such small bags but whose hearts belong to every continent. They teach me how to laugh, they teach me how to sing, how to drink, how to enjoy sweaty moments of endless toilet cleaning and laundry folding. I walk up hills, I board trains, I lay on beaches. I swim in cold, cold water and observe the tanned skin develop outwardly as my independence develops inwardly.

I leave, moving home in an expected way. I doubt my abilities, I turn down jobs, I wonder, really, will these dreams come true, and what are they? As I write and color and gnash my teeth and create in my journal and read. I do meaningless work. Strange work, guiding people to spend money on things they don’t need. I hear the register ring, the scanner scan, the workers gossip.

I eat, good and bad, bad and good. With family, newfound family established just before I left. I wonder at the happiness and laughter that now abides in my home. I sink into it, I enjoy the swishing of the fountain, the music of Christmas, the smell of candles burning. I enjoy.

I make new traditions with old friends. I watch as the sieve of life sifts out my friendships- which ones were convenience, which ones are substance. Which ones are present? Who really cares? I drink coffee and stare at books, I think about small town life, I revel in drunkenness and gluttony. I ask forgiveness. I stand up straight and make my own decisions. I sort through all of the grey tones and choose the one that looks best on me. I paint trim and laugh over mugs of beer and eat freshly crisped hot wings.

I go back to high school. I become giddy over a new opportunity. Instead of looking back, I learn to look forward. I archive my belongings, I pack, I sort, I label. I think of every single thing I want to accomplish in life, and fight feelings of inadequacy. I pray for a new child, I pray for many new children. I cry often over blogs with photos of Elsa. I MEET Elsa. I come to this land of a thousand tacos and I squint with unfamiliar surroundings and I don’t know what way is north to this day.

I learn necessary phrases, but not enough of them. I harass myself. I rest. I read. I snuggle the best smelling child on the planet. I love her. Endlessly. I love her in a different way every day. I become a part of the landscape that is daily life in Mexico. I live the daily intimacies with my family. I savor the reality that these memories will be with us forever. I laugh. I harmonize. I observe. I love the love I see here and snatch up what I feel I am allowed. I treasure the responsibility of community, I respond to it like I have never responded before. I mature. I deepen into myself. I am here, 23. I’m ready for you.

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