Monday, April 11, 2005

Beauty in the breakdown

Pardon the obscure Garden State reference, but it seems appropriate right now. Hm. You know, when I used to imagine what my mid-20s would be like, the fantasies always involved gleefully pounding back Long Islands on Thursday nights and taking spontaneous trips to random places when my internships ended. I thought I’d be floating in a sea of possibilities, all of which would be invigorating and exciting and would somehow involve traveling to exotic locations.

Now, I’m standing on the brink of 24 years old, and my reality is looking a little bit different. Technically, my future is going to involve traveling abroad – but so far, the most exotic thing about England is a dearth of food that tastes good. When I do go out on a Thursday night – which isn’t often, I’m sorry to say – Long Islands are no longer my drink of choice. I slammed back a few too many two Apple Cups ago and barely avoided vomiting in front of a patrol car on the viaduct as I staggered back early from the football game. Long Islands never really worked for me again…and the whole spontaneous trip thing sounds great in theory, but on my salary, I can barely afford trips to exciting locales like Moscow, Idaho or Wenatchee, Washington. The only way I could go anywhere exotic would be to crate myself up in a packing box, sneak onto a cargo ship, and spend my days hopping trains and sleeping in fields. You know, that actually doesn’t sound bad!

This isn’t to say that my 20s suck, although the romantic glow has turned into a sort of sooty, smudgy blur. The only thing that really bugs me is how damn mature my friends and I have become. Circumstances have made it hard to lapse into any sort of irresponsible behavior – instead, we’re all tucked away in grad school or in real jobs, diligently working towards the future. I realize that this isn’t a bad thing at all, but every once in awhile I think, “You know, I’d really like to blow off work for a day,” or “I know it’s Tuesday night and all, but I still want to go bar-hopping.” And then I lift some weights and play with my tortoise instead. Lately, I just want to be a little less mature: all of this long-term planning for grad school and beyond is making me feel older than I want to be. I have to make choices now that will affect Bryan’s and my ability to purchase a house down the line; we’re strategically selecting graduate schools to improve our chances of coming back here to settle…it’s all very adult and overwhelming. Sometimes, I wish I were ten years old again, when the biggest thing I had to worry about was whether I could stop my bike before I reached the end of the cul-de-sac.

There are good things about these changes, too. The best part, of course, is being unabashedly me around the man I’m going to marry. I thought I would wait for many years before I found love, but I was wrong. This is the kind of love that lasts, too. It isn’t a storybook romance – but its imperfections and occasional frustrations are threads in a masterful tapestry. I realized how much this relationship means to me the other day when the pressure of graduate school and moving away reached a boiling point. I was talking to a friend from work about how different things are now. In the past, whenever I had a fight with a boyfriend or when our futures didn’t seem to mesh synchronously, I could just say, “Screw it,” and walk away. It never bothered me before. Now, I want to work through things and I want to find a way for us to be together forever, even if it means spending our grad school years in different places. I want to invest my time and energy in this relationship because the returns are worth every drop of sweat I perspire for them.

This isn’t going to be easy, and part of me is terrified. In a few months, I have to get on a plane and leave my friends and family, then get on a train and tell my husband I’ll see him in a couple of weeks. That’s the pattern my life will take after September. Pretty scary, huh? Deep down, I know it will be okay; people endure far greater challenges, and I’ll probably be so caught up in my studies that I won’t have time to become depressed about missing everyone. Still, sometimes my life feels like a Garden State moment. Everyone I know is in limbo: we're caught in between childhood and adulthood, trying to be responsible when we really just want to hop on a bike and get the hell out of Dodge. Life is a blur of experiences and emotions right now, a whirlwind picking us up and expecting us to know when to get off the ride. I wish this wasn’t all happening so fast. I wish I could be a know-nothing kid again, just for a little while.

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