Look Up Now

A childhood friend of mine passed away nearly two weeks ago.

I found out that she wasn’t doing well only a week and a half prior. One minute, I was having sushi with a friend I went to graduate school with, ranting about our perpetual existential crises and life stresses, and the next, I was on the phone with my cousin, hearing the heartbreaking news on the other end of the line. After battling a life-threatening illness for three years, her body couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, Danielle, was losing the fight. Suddenly, the ranting and raving that took place only minutes before dissipated; reality struck me like a gust of cold wind that shook me to the core.

Only 11 days passed between that phone call saying she was in the hospital, and the message I got saying she had passed, and yet, time seemed to stand still between those days, as if preparing me for the gut-wrenching feeling of being paralyzed by grief.

Young death is an unfathomable tragedy that often reminds you of the brevity of life. It’s sudden, and it’s swift, and it shakes you so deeply, and with such force, that you can’t help but feel profoundly betrayed by the world that’s supposed to keep you safe and let you grow old with the people you love.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when she passed away. The universe often works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? That day for me was a fog. It was coasting through a short work day, and going for a drive, cursing the sky above, asking What’s the point? What’s the point in all of this? She didn’t ask for this. It was repeating to myself over and over again, She was only 27. She was only 27. She was only 27. It was somehow ending up at the grocery store with no list or plan in mind. It was walking down each aisle, angry at all of the people filling their carts with the proper fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. It was the desperate feeling of wanting everyone around me to stop what they were doing and feel even a fraction of what I was feeling. It was praying for a familiar face to come up to me and say I get it, I get it. I miss her too. This sucks so much. It’s not fair. It’ll never be fair.

It was being surrounded by strangers who couldn’t possibly know what my favorite memories are. They don’t know about the elementary school pool parties, or sneaking in bouts of laughter between getting in trouble for torturing your old neighbor together. They don’t know about the sleepovers in middle school, or the time you finally felt like you were growing up when your parents trusted you enough to go to let you go to the mall alone. They don’t know about how Ruby Tuesdays became your tradition because that was the first restaurant you spent your hard earned cash that you made at your minimum wage paying jobs at. They don’t remember what it was like to get dressed up in matching fuzzy sweaters and Kangol bucket hats (both of which I am eternally grateful faded out of style) just to take funny pictures that will forever be a part of me. They don’t know about the nights when it was just you, your cousin, and your friend, and how those quiet moments between deep breaths and tears and wishes made for the future and promises that we’d all be friends forever, laying on a blanket, talking over cups of hot chocolate, were some of the most profound moments of your life. They don’t know that those are the moments that you will hold onto when the grief gets bigger and the anniversary of her death gets further away.

And they don’t know how much you are kicking yourself over and over again for somehow allowing the last conversation that ever passed your lips between the two of you to be about hanging out soon. Soon is a concept I’ve become all too well acquainted with. I’ll get to it soon. I’ll call them back soon. Let’s hang out soon. Sometimes, soon never does come.

. . .

The holidays are trailing behind in the wake of her death. The twinkling lights and Christmas carols flowing through the airwaves are an indicator that it’s supposed to be the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and yet the older I get, the more it feels like the Busiest Time of The Year.

This year, it feels like the Coldest Time of The Year.

The holiday season always seems to creep in, taking with it the magic of what it once used to mean. August, September, and October have notoriously been hard for me – a season of big change and crippling transition, sending me straight into a time of year that is supposed to be met with gratitude, and warmth, and cider, and reflections of Remember When?

Instead, the end of November is a less-than-subtle reminder of the things we have left to do. Did I buy everything I needed to for Christmas? Did I sent out my cards? Will the gifts I order come in time? Did I miss any parties? Do I have time to finish all of the goals I made for myself for the year in the next 31 days?

In the midst of what is supposed to be a magical time of year, it’s hard to remember to enjoy it. To stop, to breathe, and to look up. To feel the crisp air and be enveloped by the scent of peppermint. To watch those twinkling lights with the same mesmerized glow you did as a kid. To feel and express gratitude. To just be present and have that be enough.

This holiday season is a hard one. It seems that these days, all of the people in my life are hurting in some capacity. Hearts are broken all around me, even when outside our windows, there’s twinkling lights, and smiling snowmen, and kids in their bedrooms making wishes to Santa, all with hopeful hearts.

The reality in my world is this: people around me are hurting. People in my life are waking up every morning and putting on their best smile just to get through the day. People are scrambling to figure out if they can afford food, or water, or their electric bill. Christmas gifts are the last things on their mind. People get sick. People get sick so suddenly and so quickly and without so much as a warning. People pass away, even during the most magical time of the year. People forget you. They’ll forget how much of you was a part of them; you’ll see them and be reminded by a bright flash of the past of how much it all meant then, but it’ll be taken from you so quickly like you never even mattered. They’ll whisper words and promises to keep in touch, to stay friends, but they’re empty, and hopeless, and weightless.

The recurring theme in my life is one that is prominent this holiday season: stop romanticizing being busy. Stop glorifying exhaustion. Stop utilizing being busy as a symbol of status, when really, it’s a barrier and a wall built to keep you from your own reality. Spreading yourself thin isn’t admirable, in fact, that’s probably the reason I’ve been sick for over two months. Stop burning yourself into the ground for the sake of making sure that your schedule is filled up, leaving very little room to sleep, and rest, and relax.

Things happen when you’re busy. People you love get sick, and you aren’t able to be with them when they have important doctors appointments. You aren’t able to sit with them while they talk about how scared they are. You aren’t able to tell them that you’re scared too. People get hospitalized and you can’t swing missing work to go see them. People pass away and you kick yourself for never getting a chance to follow through with your unmade plans. You make empty promises of future plans with people, but you don’t always follow through. Because you’re busy. And sometimes, being busy has an expiration date.

So many people, myself included, wear busyness like a crown of honor – like we are deserving of some reward for the bags under our eyes, the exhaustion that weighs us down, and the stress that is undoubtedly affecting our health. The truth is: busyness is an illness. Busyness keeps us from facing reality. Busyness keeps us from showing up for people. Busyness keeps us from showing up for ourselves.

. . .

There is confusion and guilt that lingers in the weeks following Danielle’s death. There’s questioning how there are people existing in what seems to be happy little bubbles, so consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, thriving, it seems, in a world that glorifies trivialities. There’s the constant ebb and flow of the stages of grief. Today, it’s anger at how unaware everyone seems to be at the profound loss the world just experience. There’s perspective — a lightning bolt, an electric shock, a drop of cold water on a hot day — a reminder that there are so many more important and grave things going on in the world, and that sometimes, all of the extra stuff just doesn’t matter when there are hearts broken all over.

Have you ever taken the time to genuinely look up at the night sky? We are so, so small compared to the world above us. We are tiny grains of sand — just specs of matter. Years from now, none of the extra stuff we do will mean anything. It won’t matter if we worked a 70 hour work week every year for 40 years. It won’t matter if we lost sleep over deadlines, and time frames, and progress notes left undone. It won’t matter if we hit the ground running every morning, just to come home with our gas light on E every night. It won’t matter if we dedicate our lives to cultivating a life we dreamed up, but never really living it. What will matter is heart and truth. Were you there for people? Did you show up when you were needed? Did you listen? Did you love? Did you pay attention to the people who needed you, but never asked? Did you ask for help? Did you listen to your body when it told you to slow down, take a deep breath, and be where your feet are?

Most of my life has been spent with my head straight, eyes forward. I’ve known what I’ve wanted of life for a long time, and I’ve done nothing but work tirelessly at building it from the ground up. I am dedicated, I am hard working, and I am relentless in my fight to get what I want — but these days, it’s kicking me in the ass. These days are a constant reminder that if you don’t look up every once in awhile, you’re going to miss a hell of a lot.

Sitting at the services for my friend Danielle, I noticed everyone looking up. Everyone was looking at the person we came to honor. The room was full of people who knew her in some capacity, and loved her as tremendously as the next person in the room. It was in those quiet moments, between sniffles and tears, that I realized only do we ever look up when we are forced — when there is something to look up for. When we are reminded of how very fragile and precious life is. When we are reminded of how quickly it can be taken from us.

Have you ever sat at a table surrounded by people you love and thought to yourself that this is what life is about? Christmas carols humming in the background, kids playing with toys downstairs, and a gentle buzz from the homemade spiked cider filling the air. And in those moments, you realize how full your heart is, how good this life is. I want to capture those moments. Preserve them. Remember to seek them every once in awhile. Because when you are too busy, you don’t have time to appreciate the good life, and the good people that are right there in front of you.

This month was a big, bold, painful reminder for me to start looking up. And what I would do to go back and live a life that didn’t require these kinds of life-altering reminders. Don’t be so busy that you need something this big, or this bold, or this painful to tell you to look up. Look up because life is too short to keep your eyes down. Look up because the world around you needs you — the people you love need you. Look up now.

Because of August

It’s late on the Tuesday after Labor Day when I finally get around to writing this. I’ve had thoughts and words knocking on my door, begging to come out of me since Sunday night, but haven’t much time to sit down and write.

It’s the second September that I am working as a counselor and am not frantically trying to figure out how to fit in working two jobs, having an internship, going to school, and somehow trying to maintain all of my sanity and an ounce of a social life. It’s also the first Tuesday since summer started that I’ve been alone, and the first Tuesday in years that I haven’t had some sort of obligation — work, class, or babysitting.

I say babysitting for lack of a better word. Babysitting just seems too formal for the time I got to spend over the last five years watching my best friends son grow up. I spent nearly every Tuesday watching and hanging out with her son, and I spent every Tuesday the last few summers with both him and my little sister.

My sister turned 13 on Friday and started her first day of 8th grade today. My friends son starts kindergarten later this week. And here I am, on my first free Tuesday, virtually ever, trying to hang onto fragments of time that seemed to have blown right past me. It seems that all I had to do was blink and I suddenly found myself in this very moment.

But first, back to Sunday.

I was baking cupcakes late on Sunday night for a Labor Day get-together. At some point, I ran outside to take out the trash. And in the minute trek from my apartment to the dumpster, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of kids playing and laughing. It was odd to me. I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly a year and have never heard kids playing outside any later than sunset. And here I was at 11 pm on a Sunday night, listening to the genuine belly laughs of little kids. The sound tugged at my heartstrings a bit when I realized that it must have been their last night of summer vacation. After Labor Day, it would be back to school for them.

I thought to myself they had to have been hanging onto these few precious moments they had left. They had to have been savoring every last bit of their time away from school before the summer sun sets and they’re awoken by the bitter taste of the transition into the next school year.

. . .

I was talking to a friend in the end of July about how certain times of year are more difficult than others for everyone. We were on the topics of breakups, and how, even years later, there are traces of our ex’s that still linger in us. And it got us on the topic of big life events that shape us and change us and make certain months a little more difficult than others to get through. For many people, the holidays are the worst. For me, it’s always been summer into fall — August into September.

Now, I never intended on being the kind of person that stores all of these bad memories in some sort of self-deprecating bank, just to pull out and revisit when I’m already feeling low. I don’t think anyone really ever sets out to be like that. But, I do genuinely believe there are certain times of the year for everyone where you feel a little bit thrown off course, like the stars aren’t really aligned, and somehow, you are living in a paradoxical world, unbalanced, and propelled back to this ugly state of nostalgia.

There’s something about the way August nonchalantly makes an Irish exit and dances her way into September that has me gripping onto the edge of my seat, eyes staring straight ahead, just waiting for the exact moment when it all comes crashing down.

The time between August and September is notorious for transitions. It’s always been about the start of something new and the beginning of something else ending. Ever since kindergarten, we are conditioned to know that August into September is about change. August has been about starting my first job at 15. It was about packing up my life into boxes bigger than me and leaving my hometown for college for the very first time. It was in August that I started to see cracks in what I thought was love. And it was also in August that I began the long-drawn out goodbye from the only thing I ever knew as love. It was about walking away from old jobs and settling into a new chapter of my career. It was about signing my first lease and getting ready to move out on my own. It was about struggling with anxiety over losing people who meant more to me than I would ever let myself verbalize. It was about feeling like a stranger in my own home, and even more so in my own skin. It was about trying to find even an ounce of hope in all of the rubble — trying to find some sort of stable ground to walk on when the rest of the world around me kept on turning and moving and changing.

August has always been notorious for transitions.

Last August brought with it a season in my life that I would love to not remember. It’s hard, I think, looking back on a time that you’d rather forget. If the doctor could write me a prescription to erase a few months off the calendar, then I would run straight to the pharmacy. Last August was a whirlwind. While the big parts of my life were falling together, the foundation of my life was falling apart. I had recently graduated with my Master’s and flew straight into my career. I was doing well on paper — much better than all of my classmates. But there were still jagged pieces of my life sticking out. Things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they’d be.

I remember putting all of my energy into work, and into the relationships I had with people, that I started to neglect myself. I avoided going home, because nothing about walking through those front doors ever made it feel like it was actually home. I drove around every night after work, desperate for company, and if I didn’t have someone who would meet me for coffee or a late night appetizer, I remember turning the volume up to the highest it could go, without making my car sound like a crappy teen club, and blasting every sad song on my iPod. I remember circling empty parking lots and driving on old roads that used to mean something to me. I remember pulling over to park every time my eyes welled up and cursing the sky above me. I never asked for this. I never wanted this. I never understood how you can get all of the things you worked so hard for and still not everything in your life aligned in quite the same way. The universe is funny that way, isn’t it? It pushes you without ever really trying.

The truth is, August has always been a little bit of a fight to be enough.

It’s always been a fight to simply be enough for whatever major event was about to tornado its’ way through my life. It was the fight to leave enough of me when I was leaving for college, in the hopes that the people I was leaving behind would pick up the pieces of me and hang onto them when I came back home. It was the fight for me to be the person deserving of some big old profession of love that I never did get. It was me hanging onto a love that hurt more often than not, because somehow that was enough for me. It was me trying to live in a house that wasn’t anymore welcoming then than it was when I was a rebellious teenager. It’s been about me trying to learn what being enough really is all about.

. . .

It’s important to know that I have never been good at transitions, and the foreseeable future doesn’t present itself with an opportunity to suddenly become more graceful at them. I almost pride myself on my inability to move on from things and my ability to catastrophize even the most minor of things. I make a mountain out of a mole hill when I can. I spend nights crippled in fear that I said the wrong thing to someone and that they’re going to hold it against me forever. I hear a song and I’m right back to my old bedroom at my parents house, making empty plans for forever. I feel a tinge of loneliness and I remember what it was like last August for me. And I remember all the things I’ve been bad at transitioning into: high school, college, the year and a half I took off between college and grad school, transitioning back into grad school, life post-grad school, moving out, breakups and makeups and everything else in between.

But as I sat on my couch this morning, feeling a bit lost at having nothing to do for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I was struck by how starkly different my life is this time of year in comparison to last year. I no longer drive around aimlessly, seeking answers for questions I would never ask aloud, on the dark road and in empty parking lots. I’ve moved. I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve been at the same job for almost a year and a half. I’m learning to be comfortable with stillness. I’ve hurt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve loved. But more than anything, I am so much different than I was this time last year.

. . .

I haven’t stopped thinking about those kids since Sunday night. I haven’t stopped thinking about the carefree sound of their laughs and how effortless it sounded — like they weren’t about to embark on the next transition in their lives: entering a new grade in school.  And I was thinking this morning about my sister starting 8th grade and how she was born the day before I started high school, and just how difficult that transition was for me. I thought about going off to college and leaving my then three-year-old sister at home. I thought about how much she’s grown. How she used to be shorter than me and now towers over me. How I want to protect her so fiercely but that I know she doesn’t need me to. She’s not a little baby anymore; she’s growing up, and doing it with the grace of an adult many years her senior. And I was thinking about my friends son. How he always refers to her friends as his own. And how he and I always joke that he is my best friend. But he’s become so much a part of my life that it really isn’t a joke.

I’m struck by the brilliance of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these kids in the last couple of days. Time will always be a fickle little thing, won’t it? There are still going to be different dates on the calendar that send shivers up your spine, but time plays tricks on you and convinces you that we can somehow have these moments back. And because of that, I’ve feared August. I’ve feared remembering what used to be and wanting desperately to get the good back and stay as far away from the bad as possible.

I think we need to start living our lives a little bit more like kids do. They transition so seamlessly. They don’t hold onto things unless they’re important. They move on faster than we do as adults. They forgive easier. They know they are enough without ever really having to question it.

It always comes back to the subtle way the breeze gets cooler and the humidity disintegrates. It always comes back to the way the Jersey Shore sheds its summer skin and grows crisp orange leaves. It always comes back to these seasons of growth.

Because of August, it always comes back to transitions. And without transition, there would be no transformation. And what kind of life would that be?

Cause One Day, Yeah Someday, You’re Gonna Be With Somebody, And That Ghost Is Gonna Be Coming Back.

I’m scared that it’s always going to be you. It’s not a bold fear, really. Not loud and vicious like the monsters I feared were under my bed as a child. It’s not debilitating. Not one that taps me on the shoulder and makes its way next to me at the dinner table each night. But it’s there, nonetheless — a quiet echo in the distance.

I’m scared that we missed something. That somewhere between tangled sheets, words left hanging in the air, too many Grey Goose and club soda’s, slamming doors, whispers of we’ll still be friends; that won’t ever change, and finally driving away in the dark of that cold March night, we missed a sign. That if we just looked up, it would be written in the night’s sky for us. Telling us we made a mistake and to turn around.

I’m scared that all I’ll ever be is stuck living inside of this heartbreak ghost town — that everything I do, everyone I touch, every person that fills your place will be haunted by your memory.

I’m scared that I’m always going to carry your ghost with me.

And it’s so damn unfair. 

It’s strange when you lose someone who was so much a part of your narrative. We were a tangled web — intricately built and strangely elaborate. One that took precision, patience, and timing to weave together. Our web was never without flaws, but we were always willing to start over. And perhaps that was our downfall. Perhaps we started over one too many times. But each time a piece got knocked over, we rebuilt. We kept adding to the web, ignoring the mistakes. Ignoring the signs that did all but scream this web is a dead end, stop while you’re ahead. Years of building and rebuilding and weaving eventually wore on us and nothing could have stopped it from being destroyed completely. From a ravaging storm that washed away all the pieces of our web, leaving it unrecognizable.

And that’s how you learn to let go. 

You learn that the pieces you thought fit together so well really didn’t hang as beautifully as they once did. So you walk away. Begrudgingly, at first. You avoid anyone with the same charm and charisma. You avoid letting anyone else talk to you with any hint of confidence that was remotely similar to his. You refuse to let anyone look at you in the same way he did. You refuse, at first, because you want so badly to still believe in that web. You want to believe that you can find the missing pieces in a hidden crawl space and glue them back together. You’ve done it before; you’ve pieced back together the broken mess. But this time was different. You start to resent things, people, and places, because no matter how hard you try to avoid the beach where you sat and listened to him tell you this time will be different, or the bench at the mall where he made promises for the future, or the basketball courts where you used to watch him play, you somehow still find yourself lingering. Hoping that if you go back, you’ll find that missing piece.

It’s a funny process, letting go. You have to dig a hole so deep and wide to bury them, but if you stray slightly from the blueprint of his grave, his ghost comes back.

You’ll kiss new people, and at first, it feels a bit like some profound betrayal. Like the ground beneath you is crumbling and you’re suffocating under the force of a sweet kiss. Like you’ve done something tragically wrong and you’ll never be able to fix your mistake. Like that kiss is going to ruin the already destroyed web. But then suddenly, somewhere along the line — maybe all at once, you start to forget. Really forget. You let in new love and flush away the thought of old love. You forget the way he always left a trail of his cologne on your pillow. You forget the nicknames he made for you. You forget the way he tortured you with his indecisiveness. You make new memories. You go to new parks and beaches. And it doesn’t feel a bit like betrayal or suffocation. It feels like freedom. 

But that ghost always comes back. When you’re sitting next to new love, making future plans with him, talking about wishes and dreams, you realize that these were plans you once made before. That these dreams of a house on acres of land with a wrap around porch and wooden swing set were once future plans you made with your past. And you find yourself laying in bed at night with new love, with the hopes and dreams you’ve made together, and you replay it all in your head. How on earth did the ghost of loves past steal your ability to love presently? How did he steal the hope in your heart to move on?

This isn’t some sort of demand for a time machine to thrust me into the past. I’ve let go of that web. Years have passed, seasons have changed. We have changed. Where once stood young and foolish and so infatuated with each other, so wrapped up in our own little web, now stands two entirely different people. Still young, but older. Stronger. Maybe even a little harder. But I still find myself as emotionally unavailable as I was when this was fresh — when the wound was just starting to scab over.

It seems that every time I get close to throwing the dirt over your grave, your ghost comes back. Every taste of new love gets taken away and I’m left flat on my face.

Sometimes, I think my fear is more than being haunted by your ghost. Sometimes, I think I’m afraid to let anyone new fully in. Maybe it’s a fear that that person would leave too soon, so I leave before it can happen. I am self-destructive in that sense — only leaving the door to my heart slightly cracked, and shutting it before it gets too deep. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize how damn good I am at destroying any potential for love. Did I walk away because he called exactly when he said he would? Did I say no to that date because he was too charming, too charismatic, too much of a promise of something real? Was it because he wanted to talk about the future? Was it the way he looked at me like I was the only person in the room? Maybe because there was too much potential. Maybe too much hope.

What really scares me is opening that door fully and getting passed this. When I allow myself to fill those empty spaces, I’m afraid that you’ll still be there down the road. When I’m settled into my own life, married, with kids, and a career that I am so deeply passionate about, I’m afraid your ghost will still rattle my bones. When I’m having my morning cup of coffee and getting ready for work, while my kids are yammering on about the latest school gossip, and my husband is whipping up my favorite breakfast in the kitchen, I’m afraid your voice will still be an echo in my mind. I’m afraid that when I close my eyes, I’ll remember the way you made your coffee — dark, but extra sweet. And I’ll remember just how embarrassed you were by it because what kind of man takes his coffee sweet? I’m afraid that when I’m out with my girlfriends, letting my hair down, and reminiscing on old times, I’ll take a sip of Grey Goose and club soda and the tart taste will propel me into the past. I’m afraid that I’ll always remember your crooked smile, and the way your head fell back when you laughed. But mostly, I’m afraid that years from now, I’ll look back with such profound and vivid recall, sit in that regret, and still be haunted by your ghost.

“And I’m worried…I, I’m afraid that he took away my ability to believe. And I hate him for that. Because I always believed before. And now I just feel lost. And I am, I’m trying to put myself out there, but I feel hopeless.” -Sex and the City

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘That Ghost‘ by Megan and Liz

We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.

When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?

But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.

And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. 

They don’t tell you this, but I will.

You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.

You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.

One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.

Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.

You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’  

They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees.  You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time. 

They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.

They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.

They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did. 

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift