It is my birthday. There is cake on the way and wine in the fridge. Life is more than good. This is the first birthday, perhaps in forever, that has rolled in very quietly and easily. I remember the years of carving out ridiculous and drawn-out lists filled with requests for gifts. Suffice it to say I was a bit insufferable. Of course I am not sans a plan this year. But, I didn’t ask for much more than for my friends and family to make the trek out to my apartment in Virginia and celebrate alongside me.
Turning twenty-four is sort of like turning 20; it’s the last year before shit hits the fan and something major happens. Age twenty-five is commemorated as a pretty special year which is probably why I have a host of friends already planning vacations for next year. After all, by that age you can rent a car without additional fees. Clearly that merits an international vacation, guys.
I renewed my apartment lease a few weeks ago and it dawned on me that this is the longest I have been in one place since I graduated. After hopping around the country for work, I am settled here for the time being. Being back on familiar territory, I’ve finally gotten the chance to fuse who I became during my stints in Massachusetts and Texas with bits and pieces of the people and places I knew before I hit adulthood. The fusion was not always easy or fluid, but it happened and it now feels amazing.
I hope I remember my 24th birthday and the weeks leading up to it as a time when I was truly happy. I hope I recall this as a time that was beautiful because it was marked by the kind of happiness that accompanies a serene existence. The kind of existence not fraught with arguments or tragedy or general unpleasantness. The kind of existence defined by living a simple life and working hard. The kind of existence that I can recall fighting for not too many years ago when my life was blemished with the scars of beasts.
Over the past year, if there is anything I have learned and tried to hold on to, it is having the audacity to both be and know myself. Earlier this week a few of my friends joked about me not understanding a term they were using, but I am well-aware that is who I am. I proudly wear the title of being the “Grandma” of our group. I do not try to pretend that I understand half of the hashtags they use. I do not try to pretend that I can hang at a club well past midnight. I do not try to pretend I can drink more than two glasses of wine before I hit the perfect tipsy. I do not try to pretend I understand a thing going on during a football game. I do not try to pretend I care about lipstick or pedicures.
I do not try to pretend I like people who I don’t. I don’t feign interest in activities that don’t appeal to me. I do not try to pretend I want to see movies whose previews didn’t interest me. I do not pretend to be interested in men who don’t excite or intrigue me. I do not sit through boring dinner dates just for a “free meal.” I can cook my damn self. And, by cook, I mean order out. Because summoning the emotion to pretend in any facet of your life is misplaced and wasted energy. That energy is much better spent on the things and people you truly love.
I stopped begging the wrong people to love me. Giving someone your everything when they do not have the emotional volume to return that investment is an emptiness that starts in the pit of your stomach and spreads to the tips of your fingers.
I do not hide my boisterous feminism, even when people disagree or it rubs them the wrong way or they “unfollow” me. I do not hide that I am impatient and overanalytical and aggressive. I do not disguise that I am a control freak, a perfectionist and an overachiever who doesn’t make enough time to celebrate my work. I have vulnerabilities, many of which I pour on to the screen and let people read about, drawing conclusions far and wide about who I am, what I think and how I love.
Some of these things I like about myself. Some of these things I can’t stand about myself. Some of these things I will change about myself. But, I am grateful that I know and accept them.
Because, there is a quiet and lasting peace in knowing who you are and refusing to apologize for it. There is unity between your head and your heart when you own your mistakes and honor your personal life history, even the ticks on that timeline that make you wince. There is a permanent anchor that secures your livelihood when you can look at your reflection and reconcile with the good and bad staring right back at you. Knowing yourself is the first step.