I have this little series I am working on called Strength in Numbers. In this series, I ask humans at different ages and stages of life to answer a set list of questions. As I’ve plugged away at this series, I’ve thought a little about what my answers would be as a 21-year-old in this moment.
Anyway, I’ve prepared a Q&A for you to read today, but don’t worry I’ve brought my own Qs.
What is making you happy right now?
I just finished a Skype call with my boyfriend who lives and works overseas at the moment. At one point I mentioned my sleeve smelled good from lotion or perfume or whatever and I held my sleeve up to the camera as if he could actually smell my shirt. My brain was somewhere else for a second. He was like, “What the hell are you doing?” I couldn’t stop laughing.
What is bothering you?
My period. It has been “day two” levels all week. If you don’t know what that means, imagine if every time you laughed you had to change your pants.
Tell me a happy memory.
My sister and I used to go for runs at night together all the time. Sometimes she would follow me on her bike or other times she’d run with me. In this particular memory last summer–I am 20 and she’s 18–we ran to a local elementary school and back. It is a good turn around point because you can stop to swing on the swings if you like. Anyway, she usually jogged a good distance behind me and I’d loop around every now and then to meet up with her. In this particular instance, she took off flying up the hill, way ahead of me for the first time ever. I remember watching her run into the dark and the way her white shirt flashed in the yellow glow of the streetlights as she passed under their spotlight. I liked those runs.
When is the last time you received an unexpected nice gesture?
I went to a bar a few weeks ago to support one of my friends who was the DJ for the night. Another one of my friends bought a couple drinks for me which was incredibly nice. They didn’t have to do that.
What is something small you regret?
I regret not setting up my camera on its tripod before class started today because a few students unexpectedly began rapping and singing. It was a terrific bonding moment for the whole group. I wish I had captured it. By the time it began it was too late to start fumbling with lenses and microphones.
What is something big you regret?
I regret letting myself believe that I am any less than anyone else.
This was something that was so hard for me coming up through the years in school. I am and have always been a shy person because I believed the lie that the people around me had it all figured out. They were confident with themselves. They liked themselves. I thought I was the only one who didn’t so I never approached people, I never joined the sports I wanted to, and I wandered the hallways at lunch more often than I’d like to admit because I truly honestly could not name a single person who was my friend. I just wanted to connect with people.
At that age, that social anxiety is devastating, because nobody wants to be friends with the loner. If someone happened to latch on to me, my overwhelming sense of inadequacy kicked in and I developed a defense mechanism where I was mean and lashed out and bullied that person. I went from being the “loner kid” to the “weird mean loner kid”. It is so hard to break from that identity. I bump into people I went to school with from time to time and pretend not to notice them.
I regret hating myself so early in life. I have very depressing diary entries from as early as the third grade but I remember feeling fundamentally terrible about myself as early as kindergarten. It is a waste of what I might have been.
What do you wish you did more of?
I wish I exercised more. I feel good when I do it but I struggle to fit it into my schedule as much as I would like. It’s hard to get up for a run after working all day.
What do you wish you did less of?
I wish I spent less time waiting for the coffee machine to brew.
What frightens you?
Death used to frighten me. I remember watching a movie when I was young, maybe five, in which the dog died at the end. It was the first moment I remember it clicked in my head that not only was death was something that happened but that I was going to die one day. We had flushed dead fish down the toilet before this point, but up until then, death was only an abstract concept that happened to other people.
I remember crying on the staircase, absolutely beside myself, because nobody could answer definitively how much time I had left. This anxiety remained for a long time until after health problems, a kickass anthropology class on death and dying, a YouTube account called “Ask a Mortician”, books, and a general awareness that it’s a rather unexciting process that happens to everyone I felt less afraid.
What frightens me now? A lot of things do. Heights. Especially being up high, like on a platform, with nothing to grab to anchor me to. I have an irrational fear, even standing on the top of the stairs that I’ll suddenly pass out or my legs will disobey my brain’s command to stay still and I’ll fall down. I get sweaty and my heart pounds in my chest.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
I am looking forward to graduating college this December with degrees in journalism and linguistics. I want to close that chapter and move ahead independently.
When you imagine yourself in your head, how old are you?
I am 14-years-old and in eating disorder treatment in Springfield. I’m wearing lime green cargo pants, a purple long-sleeved shirt, and a brown gauzy sweater. My hair is long but falls out if I touch it. I am not wearing any makeup. I remember exactly what my hands look like: like an old woman’s hands, like a witch’s hands, all thin and gnarled and veiny.
I am sitting in the hospital waiting room in front of an atrocious mural.
The mural is supposed to depict children frolicking through the four seasons but the artist’s perspective was off so the children have terrible grimaces, far too many teeth, and are monstrously large in proportion to the trees. Even the smiling flowers are 60 percent the size of the trees. I am looking at this terrible art and am struggling to imagine myself as one of the leering children in this mural.
“What would it be like to live in a world as an ill-proportioned giant where everything around you, including the flowers and the trees and the sun wearing sunglasses in the sky, is grinning meanly at you, watching you?”
How do you feel about aging?
I really honestly did not expect to make it to 21-years-old so I treat every day like bonus time. When I write my “Three Peaks and a Valley” posts, the first thought that springs to mind as a positive thought is, “Hey, I woke up today.” I then try to tease out something a little more interesting. I do worry that I’ll get so old that I can’t take care of myself, or that my quality of life will be bad, or that I’ll waste my whole life doing something I hate, but those fears are not about aging but rather being forced to be dependent on other people.
What’s the best thing about being you?
I am a bundle of contradictions. Nobody is one thing all the time. I am so many things at once. As frustrating as it is for others to pin me down it’s just as difficult for me to figure out myself. I am smart and strong and genuinely give a shit about other people. I can be wickedly mean, or self-centered, or so angry I can hardly get a word out. I feel so free and comfortable with who I am one moment and am thrust back into old insecurities the next. I bounce between hobbies, interests, and ways to express myself. I adapt to be what I need to be. It’s like I wake up every morning to meet myself for the first time.