For the last week, I have been struggling to write something about turning 20. It’s not that I don’t know what to say. When one turns 1/5 of a century, they want to say everything in the world. At the same time, they want the clocks to stop ticking, they want to see their aspirations fulfilled, and they want to be someone but not have the responsibility of that title.
In a way, I feel the reason for my struggle is because I want to say all that I need to say, and no more than that. To do this, I have to sound wise yet youthful, mature yet immature. All in all, I want this post to be perfect the first time.
And yet, this my third time trying to write.
The first time, I started with: Oh, fuck. I’m twenty.
The second time, I penned: I’m twenty. Oh man, oh man.
The third – realizing that I am no longer a teen, that my vulgarity should be something eschewed, and as I wonder what I am going to do with myself – I write: I’m twenty, and it means nothing at all.
For this is my life, and it is ending one second at a time.
He keeps his car only inches away from the ambulance, tailing it along. Maybe it was the doctor’s fault, he thought. One month is early. Two months is premature. But three – three months is a death sentence.
That was how it was in Poland long ago and to him, that’s the only way. But he hoped that with widespread culture, buildings larger than he had ever seen, and medicine that was unequivocally free, it was better here. Often, this was the case. Things happened quickly in Canada. More efficiently too. He knew that. He had already started a successful pizza-chain. This country would be good to him because he wanted to be good to this country.
Yet images of the unfathomable passed through his head. He remembered the scream. The water. The immediate pain. As she trembled, he told her that she was in good hands and that everything would be all right. But now, as the ambulance flashed its red lights and its ceaseless wail crashed into what was left of a bittersweet reality, he wondered if it would.
Before I say anything prophetic about being twenty, I feel like I should say something important about getting here. The first thing is that there is nothing special about growing up. Don’t let anyone fool you otherwise. Everyone was born once. Everyone ages afterwards. Then, everyone dies.
Only some people live, though. Age is not indication of how someone has lived. Most spend their life waiting, hoping, and wasting away. I am no different. I am 20 and I have only four things I can claim to know. I already said the first. The second is that I know nothing at all.
The third is not about aging or even about being twenty. It is about life and its meaning. For the meaning of life is to love and be loved.
She gazed down on to the two boys. They had gone through so much. Their very existence, from the short breaths to their green eyes, was a miracle to her. Although she thought God left her side long ago, she realized that He was just planning to help when she really needed it. It made sense to her, even though her husband contrarily argued all the time. The reason was simple. If God helped all the time, it wouldn’t be called a miracle after all.
Her miracles slept now. What would the world hold for them? She wanted to give them the best. Moving to Canada, working tirelessly, finishing her degree; it was all her attempt at the best. She wished she could do more, but she knew wishing wouldn’t do anything. Like her husband always said, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” So instead, she did all she could, and when she was tired, when she was exhausted, she said it was not enough and so, she did more.
A cough. One of them woke up. His skin was peach – a beautiful blend of white and red. Lightly blonde hair tossed itself from side to side as he adjusted himself in his bed. A second cough. The other was awaking. It couldn’t be timed better. She looked down to her boy, her son.
“Happy birthday,” she smiled.
Every time a candle whistles an endless incendiary wish, and I blow it out with my own, people tell me that they hope for the best. After 20 years of having people wishing me the best, I wonder if I will ever find it? If I have already found it, how would I know, especially if people wish otherwise.
Maybe people know better, though. Maybe I’m not quite at the “best” yet. But I think it’s a bit paradoxical wishing for that on a birthday. This is because a birthday is meant to be the best day of a person’s life. Without it, there would be no best, no worst, no days at all.
So every birthday, I am left only with the imagination of what the best is. This is what I know: the best is not defined by you. Others define it. You listen to their definition. You agree or disagree. You search again. You look places. You try to find it. You lose it. Then you realize that the best is the contentment of enjoying the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to you and choosing to do so again the next day despite what you said yesterday.
She kissed him. It was his 13th birthday after all. He smelt like sweat. He liked her and she liked him and he more-than-liked her, but she didn’t know if she did or didn’t more-than-like him. But she kissed him anyways. They were just kids. They had the rest of their lives to decide what it meant.
He said it didn’t matter. He didn’t have to know. To him, she never had to say otherwise. He just enjoyed the way her hair had a line running through it whenever she tied it back, or when she laughed at a joke that wasn’t funny, or told him he was smart even if he didn’t do anything in class.
He said it all. He wasn’t a smooth talker; he was just a boy who liked to talk his way into her smooth skin. Sometimes, his fingers turned her goosebumps into speedbumps. Othertimes, they became a language only known between the two of them.
Tonight, as they held hands, and he told her that his birthday wish was to have his first kiss, she said, “You shouldn’t tell me your wish because it won’t come true.”
He replied, “What if you are my wish?”
She leaned in.
Now, I know that I’m not old. Crow’s feet have not carved into my face; wrinkles have not mapped themselves against my skin. The world still looks familiar to me, and for the most part, I still look familiar to the world. Besides having a twin, people look at me invitingly. They do not begrudge my appearance. They do not flash me eyes of pity and remorse. As I said, I’m not that old – yet.
But it should be known that this post isn’t about being old at all. Instead, this post is about what has been done in between the milestones of age. Because as I turn twenty, I realize those moments in between each birthday, from the nascent first to the inevitable last, make me who I am and who I will always be.
When he turned sixteen, and as his candles were being lit, he cried. He said, “On March 20th, I began to die.” As his grandmother, she understood why he was crying. She wanted to cry too. But she kept it hidden under a wrinkled smile. She remembered when her skin used to be stretched and flexible. Back then, she had her youthful hubris. The world was her oyster, and she was its pearl.
But he knew something she didn’t at the time: experience defines age; imagination defines lifetimes. He saw what life had in store for him. What’s worse, he saw that he had nothing to show for his age except exactly that.
As I’ve said, I’ve been grappling with what it means to turn twenty. It isn’t quite an existential crisis. It’s just a realization that I won’t be this way ever again. The person I was five seconds disappeared in four; the person in four was gone in three. Now I am here trying to play catch up with parallel lines.
This leads me to the last thing I know about turning twenty: regrets. All those things that I never did. The things that I’ll never get to do. And that which I should of never done. I wonder what would have been, could have been, and whether it was right. All of it. Any of it.
Now, I don’t regret anything that has happened because regrets are something we know we shouldn’t do and that’s why we do them. To that end, I am a firm believer that it’s sometimes right to do wrong.
So my final thought as a twenty year old is that I want to have more regrets when I’m older. That is to say, I want to be able to look back on something and say, “That was the dumbest thing I have ever done. I shouldn’t of done it.”
Then, twenty years later, when I’m trying to chart what is left with my life, wondering where it all went, how many blinks of the eye did it take to see it all whisk away, and with the death of my childhood tattooed to my maturity like a scar, I will be able to say, “Those days were the best days of my life.”
Maybe if I’m lucky I will simply call them the days. Because then, every day would become my birthday because every day I would have lived rather than just count the days to my next birthday, my next milestone, and my one less year on this earth.
I will stop counting my death and begin counting the life I lived.