23 & Me

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?
-Stevie Nicks, Landslide

 “I’m in a minor existential crisis” I texted my family group chat. “I feel like I’m crossing the invisible between young and not-really-young and I’m not ready for it”. 

That was a couple weeks ago, about a month before I turned 24.

My family (4 people older, 1 person younger) consoled me accordingly, though I’m sure they were also laughing a little bit at how inaccurate that statement is. My mom asked me what the most crisis-inducing aspect of turning this new age was.

It’s this:
When you’re young, all your checkmark moments are laid out for you, and with a few exceptions, you check them off at the same time as everyone else you know. Finish elementary school, check. Finish middle school, check. Get your license, check. Graduate from high school, check. College if you choose, or your first job, check. College graduation, check.

And then the prewritten list ends and it’s fill-in-the-blank from there on out. 

You’ve spent the past seventeen years arranging your life by the tidy ebb and flow of semesters and summers, and unless you decide to go to grad school or are becoming a teacher, that schedule is over, too. You stop leveling up every May, you don’t move into a place with a countdown of when you’ll have to move out. 

It’s just life for the foreseeable future, and you can either panic about it or you can lean in. Out in the real world, I’ve been leaning in-I do a lot with my church, I work with town government, I am connected in my community. But in that moment, in the shower, in the text thread, I was panicking. The part of my brain that keeps track of feelings and not dates (that’s how brains work, right?) didn’t feel almost-24, it felt 22 and freshly out of college, 16 and flying to Paris by myself, 10 and wanting to move back to the home I had just left, 4 demanding my mom not just be near me while I was on the swings, but be actively watching me. 

To get the facts side and the feelings side of my brains on equal footing, here is a list of self-made checkmark moments from year 23: 

1) Become an official citizen of the state I reside in. I have been to the DMV three times in my life. Once when I was fifteen to get my permit, once when I was sixteen to get my license, and last September, to update my ID. My old license had a picture of sixteen-year-old me, from the first day I had a license. It had my parents address on it. I haven’t truly lived at my parents house since the day I left for college, and while I still occasionally look like a teenager, it’s not the one pictured. 

Even though getting a new license was something I had been meaning to do for a while (I have since been told that legally I should have switched it like months before), after it was done, the process seemed abrupt. There was no asking “Are you sure about this?”, no calling North Carolina to see if I came highly recommended as a citizen or not. I just went, paid twenty-five dollars, they took a picture and, bam, I’m someone new, another page of my past self torn from the book. But it feels nice to have taken that step of independence, to have my legal identity match my in-person one. 

2) Did not let anxiety affect outward interactions. A couple weeks ago, some friends of mine invited our friend group to their parents’ mountain house-conveniently, in the same mountain town where I had gone to college. I had left my packing until the last minute but wasn’t worried because I had thought it through and knew exactly how many books to bring, which food to arrange in my cooler, and how many layers of cold weather gear to cram in my duffel. But as I was going through my checklist, one thing was missing-my favorite hat, a navy Patagonia beanie that I’d gotten at the store where I’d worked in college. It was sweater-y on the outside and fleecey on the inside, a perfect combination for subfreezing hikes or windy runs down the ski slope. 

I called some family members to see if they had taken it with them from the last time I had used it, over New Year’s break in Asheville. No one had, with my dad pointing out I was on the way to Boone and could therefore swing by Mast and get the exact thing I was missing.  Runningout of time before I started the trek northwest. I gathered the rest of my snow gear, threw everything into the trunk of my car, and set off to pick up the crew. I had spent the entire week leading up fantastically enthused, so giddy to show off my college town to those who hadn’t seen it before. 

But instead of being excited as I crossed Charleston, I felt inexplicably unsettled, like that hat was the bow tying the weekend together and now that it wasn’t there, everything would be unraveled and it would be all my fault.  (Spoiler alert: nothing did. The weekend was fantastic.) spending half the trip praying that this newfound anxiety would leave and the other half on the phone with my mom. I honestly can’t remember what I was saying to her-I know I was still excited to go, but in that moment did not feel excited. I didn’t cry, though I did come close to it. 

My mom’s final advice as I pulled into where my friends were waiting to load their bags into my car: Take a deep breath. Say another prayer. Eat some chocolate. Put on good music. Explain to your friends that you’re out-of-sorts, if you want. I did not want, and instead plastered on a smile and a giggle as we piled bags and people in, having to try twice to get the trunk to close. Someone else had volunteered to drive the car, so I moved to the passenger seat, thanking the Lord above I could relax and let the chit-chat of my friends get me back in my groove.

3) Told (well, hinted to) a boy that I liked that I liked him. This will not be expanded upon further, just know it was bold for me. 

4) Created a solid friend group. I used to be obsessed with this series of books called Trixie Belden. They’re along the veins of Nancy Drew-a 1950s teenager solves mysteries- but less fussy. The main character is a 13-year old named Trixie, and she was a part of the world’s greatest friend group. It was her, her two older brothers, two other girls, and two other guys. This friend group not only had a name, they had matching embroidered jackets that proclaimed it. They hung out together all the time, they had all these inside jokes, they went on trips together, they didn’t knock at each other’s houses.  As a preteen reading these books, and then a teenager thinking about them, I didn’t have a friend group like that. I had a lot of good friends, but never a solid unfluctuating crew. 

Though one of my biggest prayers upon moving to Charleston was making good friends, it never occurred to me that I still wanted a tight group like Trixie’s until I found myself part of one. It started out intentionally- I vetted the people in the church group that I joined, finding the best candidates and then inviting them to do stuff. I came to their level- a walk across the bridge, Frisbee in the park. Before I knew it we were spending nearly every weekend doing something-mostly just games at someone’s house, but also bigger things like kayaking. 

My friend group neither has a name nor matching jackets, but we do have plenty of inside jokes & quotes. We have gone on a trip together (see above) and discussed more. They no longer knock on the door when they come over. We don’t hang out per se every weekend because life is busy and we have diversified stuff going on, but most Sundays we stand for at least an hour in the church parking lot talking about life. 

5) Expand my cooking resume. This has been a New Year’s resolution since I moved into my first apartment junior year of college, and lo and behold, I’ve finally done it. I asked everyone I came into contact with for their favorite recipe, put them all into a Google doc, and systematically made everything on the list. Now I’ve expanded into trying to recreate my favorite restaurant meals, ACP currently. I’ve learned that while I like making a variety of good food for myself, I love making it for other people. There really is no joy like someone getting up unprompted to get a second helping. 

There are other checkmark moments, but either they will stay with me, or have already been written about. Either way, the panic is gone and the future is ready to be stepped into. 23, you were good to me, and like butterflies from a box, I release you from real life to the wilds of my memory.  

24, you’re up.  Let’s fill in some blanks.