“I thought you were older than you are,” the doctor told me while I sat perched on the paper-lined bed. She leaned back in her chair as she said it, crossing her arms with a studious look on her time-wizened face. I thought she seemed confused, as if all of her upcoming questions had shifted under the knowledge that I wasn’t as old as she’d made me out to be.
“Yeah,” I wanted to say. “My age puzzles me, too.”
Instead, she asked, “Have you tried to gain weight at all?”, switching gears with the deftness of someone practiced in the art of delivering awkward questions.
I deflated a bit, my fears abated. “Yeah, many times,” I said. I could feel myself slipping into the routine of explaining college exercise regimes (yoga, weight lifting, kickboxing) and my large snack intake. This, at least, was familiar territory, a place where we didn’t have to explain why being in your twenties is weird.
“Oh my god. She’s twenty-four? How is she twenty-four? She’s got a kid already!”
I stared at a Facebook picture of a girl who graduated before me. Her pale, rounded face half-smiled at the camera, identifiable by the dyed streaks of bright red in her choppily cut hair and the solid black dot of a nose ring in her right nostril. The notification to wish her a happy birthday still sat in the box at the top of my newsfeed, making sure I wouldn’t forget not to be rude — and to let me know how old she was now.
Clicking into her page, I scrolled through a few of her photos until I found one or two of them where she posed with her son. He couldn’t have been more than three or four years old, with a moppy head of brown hair and the still-soft roundness of children’s cheeks. His gray-blue eyes, a mirror of his mother’s, called my attention. I marveled at the way his pupils stood out from his irises the way his mother’s nose ring stood out from her nose.
“How is she twenty-four? I thought she was older.”
“What are we supposed to look like when we’re in our twenties?” I asked my mom. The question was mostly rhetorical, but I expected an answer.
She gave me this pursed-lip smile, nodding slowly where she’d sunk into her leather armchair and counted crochet stitches.
“I really don’t know,” I told her and then laughed. The confession sounded ridiculous to my own ears. Like, I’m twenty-something. How can I not know what other twenty-somethings look like?
I had my laptop in front of me and scrolled through Facebook again, purposefully searching for other people my age. I only had a few older friends, but most were family. Everyone in their single digits and teens — or thirties and fourties — seemed so defined. When I was looking at them, I could point and say, “This is how old you are. You think your problems are so expansive right now. Life is like a John Green novel.” Or “You’re settling down. You’ve got a family and a job and a house. You’ve figured yourself out. You’re where I’m going to want to be in five years.”
When I came across people I graduated with, though, I thought we looked the same as we had years ago. You could’ve lifted us from the freakin’ yearbook. We looked the right age for how much time had passed, but I couldn’t look at them and say, “Adult.”
It got a little better when I went onto the dating site. Older men were clearly older and much younger boys were clearly children. When it got around to looking at my own age, though, what I saw reminded me of college. It struck me as funny, if only for a minute, how I couldn’t identify them outside of that. As if school and wrinkles were the only indicators of age.
As I berate myself over not being able to identify another twentysomethingyearold walking down the street, it occurs to me that I’ve developed a small obsession with age. Possibly this is because I read blogs by people who are my age and are just as, if not more, confounded by this period of life as I am.
This seems to be the most tumultuous age to be in, given how everyone has something to say about myself and my fellow twenty-somethings. It also seems like the older I get, the harder it is to interact with people in any other age range.
I’m out of school, but I don’t own property, or have a kid, or pay tons of utilities, or have a mortgage, or buy groceries, or any of the number of things that separate me from…older people, I guess.
I’m old, but not enough to forget what it felt like to have dreams, or the weight of bad friendships clinging to my shoulders, or the press of new expectations and directions for life to go in crawling towards me on all sides, or any of the other things that separate me from kids around Little and Big H’s ages.
Yet, people I went to school with (or know by extension) have kids already. Are living on their own. Have changed jobs, like, three times already. Made plans and broke them within months of having everything halfway established.
(How? I’d love to know. It baffles me.)
Meanwhile, I’m still just trying to find my footing in this new relationship with Boyfriend. The dating site had all these steps to get us together and now we’re on our own, like someone came up behind us and shoved us out of the nest, calling, “Use your wings! You’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, I’m also still just figuring out how to get my books where I want them to be: published and in the big, bad world. But no one seems to have a single definitive answer on how to do that and choosing from a list of options was never my strength.
These don’t seem like big life steps by comparison.
Maybe I’ll stop being confounded once I start gaining real ground on my goals. If that doesn’t do it, I’m not sure what will. I didn’t feel like an adult when I took my first doctor’s trip alone, I just felt like I had to get stuff done. But maybe I should start paying attention to those kinds of milestones.
Do you ever get blown away by how old you are, or how old the people you’re friends with are? Are there ever times when you have to remind yourself you’re an adult? When did you realize you were an adult? Was it a birthday, or an otherwise uneventful event, like going to the doctor alone?
*Featured image: Ehausted by TwiggXstock on DeviantArt