Twenty-three. Twenty-three is where I find myself. Alone. Homeless. Wandering. Experimenting. Aimless. Arrogant & humbled. Reliant. Confused. Emotionally unaware. Hypersensitive. And on and on it goes.
Twenty-three hit me like a rogue train, jumping the tracks and shoving me into uncertainty. I used to have motivation, direction, dreams. Now I’m just an unhoused vagabond. Bobbing in, and backing out of safety, of security. Constantly distracted by the idea of consistency.
Twenty-three wasn’t made for me. Twenty-three is the stuff of nightmares. Not the big, scary ones, with carnage and loved ones dying off, getting lost forever, not the ones where you say things you don’t mean while chicktopuses pass nonchalantly in the background. No, I’m talking about the kind of nightmare where you’re all alone, the kind where there’s no such thing as the ground and yet you wake up with a sharp, terrified inhale, a cold sweat covering your entire body, because in your sleep you were falling. You were falling and you had no perspective, things were loosely changing shape, size and distance, things weren’t ever as they seemed and yet your stomach is sinking deeper than your physical body and you know the ground is coming, fast and hard and deadly. But you know that the ground doesn’t exist, which doesn’t make a difference until you wake up. But when you open your eyes, you’re still twenty-three. And even with your eyes wide you have no idea what’s next.
The night I turned twenty-three I was 25 miles up a winding mountain road in an expansive dirt turn out, just me, my newly lavender hairs and my little green truck. Out above the city, below the stars. Lying face up on my lowered tailgate, alternating between counting shooting stars and catching up on tumblr shitposting. I wasn’t talking to anyone, just reading silly things and looking at pretty pictures. I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to spend such a night with, so I left them all down there, the lights of their homes, apartments and cars littering the coast splayed out in front of me.
I thought of birthday’s past when I would turn off my phone, log out of my social media, and refuse to check any of it until the following day, to allay the onslaught of well wishes and good tidings on the anniversary of my independent existence in this world.
I wondered if this year anyone would remember. I always do though, wonder, that is, how many people will forget or remember me, how many people will take a minute to think of me and celebrate my continuity in this life.
Birthdays have never been a big deal to me, and this one wasn’t my saddest, but it was, however, my most insignificant. At the end of the day, I found myself looking at a whopping tally of three in-person well wishers, one phone call and one instagram comment. Only one of which was related to me. My parents remembered, fortuitously, nearly a week later. A stark contrast to years gone by, with overwhelming hundreds of similar wishes scattering my ‘wall’, blowing up my inbox, crowding my voicemail. It was a strange feeling and it was a truer introduction to my twenty-third year than any I could have imagined.
Twenty-three is the night you fall asleep, before you hit the bed, in all your clothes, but it’s also the following morning when you wake up, stark naked, without any recollection of the in-between.
Twenty-three is when you spend all your money on gas and food, and restaurants, and beer that you didn’t want, for the friends who won’t ever fulfill you. It’s wondering how you’re going to survive this month. It’s counting how many people will invite you over for dinner and how many weeks you can survive with one meal a day. It’s not wanting to ask for help, but needing it desperately.
I’ve only been Twenty-three for half a year, six months, 25 out of 52 weeks. I’m twenty-three and a half, and I 100% understand the motivation behind Blink 182’s memorable song, “What’s my age again?” The song in which they claim that nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three, because we’re just adult children, who still don’t want to grow up.
I’ve couch surfed, camped and lived out of my truck for my entire twenty-third year. I worked two jobs that rarely added up to part time, and paid just pennies over minimum wage. I don’t have any savings because even without rent and other frivolous bills, I wondered almost every day how I was going to feed myself the next week. I wondered if I would run out of gas on my way to work. I considered dating recreationally in order to feed myself on the nights I wasn’t sure what I would eat.
Maybe I was being a little dramatic, or worrying a little too often, but I’ve never seen my bank account so consistently empty in all of my adult life. I spent so many days in parks, up mountains or on beaches because my home was a little green box, and I didn’t feel like I belonged anyplace else. I dyed my hair on a sandy beach, rinsed it out in the ebbing tide. I went days, and weeks without a shower, jumping in the ocean every day or hunting down hot springs. I showered at work, or at a different friends place whenever I didn’t recognize the color of my skin. I couldn’t even afford to sit in coffee shops most days, but sometimes I spent my last few dollars on a drink anyways, so that I could escape the blistering heat outside, hiding in an air conditioned Starbucks until the sun began to go down.
It wasn’t all bad. In fact, I stubbornly chose that life this year. It never went as planned, and it wasn’t at all what I had expected. Sometimes it was lonely, occasionally it was scary, cold, usually it was dirty, and always it was unpredictable.
Twenty-three is that craving you feel for someone who understands you. It’s that sweet, distant, fairytale of a person, or dare I say, people who know what you mean when you say life is too much. When you say that you need physical contact, but you won’t let anyone hug you. People who know why you cry when you witness mothers and fathers still adoring their adult children, when you watch a movie and the father apologizes for the hurt he’s caused and the mother sits down her child, staring intently in their eyes, tenderly holding their hand and reiterating her deep love for them, until they get it.
Twenty-three is wishing for those people who know why it is that I hate people. For those people who know that I don’t hate people at all, that in fact I love people, too dearly, too intensely. That I love them but I’m ill-equipped to stand in the deep end of love, to express how much more than a feeling it is. Those people who comprehend the pain I feel when my people are hurting, rejecting love and feeling alone; the disparity of watching the mistreatment of hearts, the callous, uncaring, flippant remarks we chuck back and forth at each other, in the name of sarcasm, or humor, when really it’s simply uncalled for rancor.
Twenty-three is filthy rap, and angsty punk rock playing loud enough to shake up your brain or bust your speakers. Either outcome is fine, because it means something has changed. It’s a reminder that the world is fucked, but it’s also beautiful, and you’re not required to be a poet to express your frustration, or glee with the whole mess.
Twenty-three is remembering the good times and wondering if there will ever be more, wondering if all our best friends have faded into the future without us, or just the ones we thought we’d have forever.
This year I’ve gathered that all of my best friends are growing up and growing away without me. We didn’t fight, we didn’t choose to stop caring about each other, we just got busy, distracted, involved in our separate lives. Living so differently than when we were together all those years ago, that when or if we do talk, it’s vaguely like discussing your life with a perfect stranger. Quietly asking yourself, as you hold the phone to your ear, “Are they listening? If so, are they hearing me? Do they still get it? Do they even care anymore?”
I’m happy for them. I’m a huge advocate for change, change is good, it’s healthy. I don’t know if ‘friends forever’ is a real thing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s right up there with the idea of ‘the One’. Maybe we’ll always talk, maybe we’ll never lose touch, but even so we’ll never understand each other the way we did when we were young, when we were growing up, together. It’s a loss, a tragic, sometimes heartbreaking loss, but it’s also a new beginning.
Twenty-three is remembering how easy it was to be 18, when we had the rest of our lives in front of us. When we still stayed up until dawn because the magic of midnight hadn’t yet disappeared. When we could wear anything, do everything and be anyone without direction, because it never mattered that we couldn’t tell east from west, because everything was fresh and new and ready to be discovered. The world was our stomping grounds.
Twenty-three is old enough to know that life will happen without you if you don’t participate, but it’s still so young.
Twenty-three is the pregame for 24, and pretty soon we’ll know what it feels like to exist for a quarter of a century. We’ll look back at all we’ve done, all we’ve passed up, all we’ve skipped over, dashed around, hid from, and danced through, the magic and the misery we’ve experienced. Shaking our heads in disbelief we’ll visualize the notion that we could have as many as three more lifetimes ahead of us, barring death or dismemberment. Three more slots of 25 years a piece. Three more opportunities to use 25 years wisely, splendidly, and recklessly.
Twenty-three is being creative and forgetting that you can be bold. It’s treading water without any arms and praying for the strength to keep your head above water. Twenty-three is the perfect shoe, for the perfect price, that’s a half size too small; it’s the Cinderella story that ends in tear soaked ashes, mucking up the one shoe you didn’t lose, for the dress you accidentally dyed pink in the wash.
Twenty-three is realizing that your family is worlds behind you, and even though you can’t talk to them right now, your love for them is blinding. They would never understand your parallel universe, they wouldn’t even try, because we’re all preoccupied with our own lives, our own experiences. And that’s our own fault. It’s not okay, but we’re all guilty. I’m guilty, too.
Some of my sisters have been twenty-three, they survived and I’m sure it was vastly different and remarkably similar to me. I’m sure they sometimes wished to be older or younger, I’m sure they got lost, they cried, they drank, they hoped and lost hope in a vortex of of unimaginable losses and triumphs, spinning around like a tornado that never rests. I’m sure twenty-three had them on their toes in a permanent pirouette; not the dance they’d practiced for, but sensational, nonetheless.
My younger siblings are still years off from the horror and brilliance of twenty-three. They have so many things to do before they reach this dreadful age of distraught, and electrifying emotions. They have so far to go, but they’ll be here before they know it. Spouses already in hand, it’s going to be a breathtaking ride, unique from the rest of us, but still unrelentingly, twenty-three.
My parents won’t ever know what it’s like to be twenty-three, even though they’ve done it before. They won’t know because they refuse to let their minds go back there, and I can’t really blame them. I wouldn’t want to relive twenty-three, either, not even if you asked me nicely.
Twenty-three is broken dishes and whiskey teas, for headaches that don’t subside and dull, sleepless night with your newfound pal, anxiety. It’s ripped jeans, stained t-shirts, and cheap department store blazers. It’s trying to impress self-absorbed employers who see you as disposable. It’s watching the boys, and the men who once wanted you, want someone entirely new. It’s being a single in a world full of doubles, and full houses. It’s not being able to keep anything straight, but fighting like hell to keep your breath steady.
Twenty-three is still living with roommates, and making it through each day with the mantra, “When I grow up, I’m living alone.” I’m living alone.
Twenty-three is not for me, but one day I’ll be 24, and I’ll just keep counting from there. In an upward spiral I’ll define each age, and then I’ll burn the dictionary. Because life doesn’t fit inside a neat description, with evenly spaced lines, and measured confines. Life is always less and more than we’ve bargained for. None of us asked to be born, but we’re all demanding to live.