On the precipice of entering my twenties over ten years ago, I wrote in my journal: I am 20 years old in eight minutes, and I love everything.
I’ve been trying to write something about turning 30 for weeks now but all that comes out is recitations. Recitations of my work history, my romantic history, the history of every album I’ve listened to on a warm summer night and every feeling I felt with each passing song. Recitations of who I’ve lost and how, whether it was by choice or by circumstance or by force, entirely against my will. Something else I wrote in my journal eight minutes before I entered my twenties was, I do not have a single friend who isn’t always & forever. We are all always & forever. For the first decade and a half of my life I had no friends. Then for those five years before my twenties, I had the most incredible group of friends. And when I left my adolescence, they came with me. And they stayed with me. And then, slowly, they fell away.
I didn’t know this until a couple years ago when I became interested in astrology, but I am a triple water sign. Which is to say, three of the most important aspects of the sky as it was when I was born were all water. Sun, Moon, Rising. Cancer, Scorpio, Scorpio. I am water. And water. And water. This means that when I take a deep breath, I breathe in everything that has ever hurt me and everyone that has ever loved me and when I exhale I breathe out all the incredible facts about the world that I’ve already forgotten. I rise and fall like the sea. And I am a child of the moon.
The day after my 20th birthday, I was reading fiction submissions for the Copper Nickel, where I was the fiction editor, as appointed by Jake Adam York, my mentor and professor and friend. Jake, who I lost in my twenty-fourth year of life, despite how hard I prayed, despite how deeply I needed him not to leave us all so soon. I saved a sentence from one of the short stories we didn’t publish: And yet someone is always moving west, to L.A. Underneath it I wrote, Since when did this become my life?
What do you want to know about my twenties? How I survived them? How I sometimes hoped I wouldn’t? How so many people I love didn’t make it out alive? How I managed to carry on without them?
When I was 20 years old I graduated college and I wasn’t even legally allowed to order an alcoholic beverage in celebration at my graduation lunch. At 22 I moved to Salt Lake City to start graduate school and I quickly became part of a huge community of writers who, whether they knew it or not, took up the mantle of raising me after I had to leave my high school loves behind. In my first semester there, my dear friend Sadie turned 30. She had a party in her backyard and invited all her friends because she knew people outside of our program and she told everyone to bring something from their 20’s they wanted to say goodbye to so that we could burn it all in the fire. But I had nothing to bring. And I didn’t understand why those only a decade older than me had so much to burn.
Do you know how many times I fell in love in my twenties? How many words I wrote? How many times I failed? Or grew?
I want so badly to compile a list of facts that will bring me from the moment eight minutes before my twenties to this moment now, nine days before my thirties. Because I want to recover all the memories I’ve lost, and I want to make a narrative out of a pile of years that just circled circled circled around me until I relented and became new. Driving across the west through the desert alone trying to outrun a love I’d wanted so badly for years and years before. The apartments I lived in. The beds I slept in. All the countries I saw and what I learned about how to exist in the world and I how much I still don’t know about how to do that well. The rupture, reunion, rupture, reunion of my most treasured relationships. Sometimes the rupture with no reunion. I was wrong when I said we were always & forever. Turns out nothing is.
This isn’t sad. This isn’t me being sad. Or, it is. But only in the way I love to be sad, which is desperately and without fear or shame. Like the plunge I took into the deep, dark hole of water below a small cliff along a river in the woods an hour from where my brother lives somewhere in the state of New York. Frozen bones meeting summer air when I finally surfaced wet and shocked and cleansed and met with my brother’s laugh. How many of these moments can I hold in my hands at once?
I want to tell you everything I’ve learned about the person I have been. And all the hardest lessons I had to learn before I was allowed a glimpse of something new. I want to tell you that love isn’t all you need and that no one will ask you to make art, that you have to ask yourself to do it and then you alone have to answer that call for no reason other than that you do not have another choice. I want to tell you that not everyone actually grows up, even if they continue to add a year and then another and another to their life, and that growing up isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you choose and then choose again. I want to tell you something true about the passage of time but I know very little about that and I am nothing and no one’s God, not even my own.
One thing I know for certain is that I have never felt quite whole and I don’t think it’s something I’m capable of and another thing I know for certain is that I might be wrong about this. The greatest love affair of my life is the triangle comprised of Colorado, California, and me. I have driven the eleven hundred miles between these two places nearly twenty times and during those drives I have talked to the dead and they’ve given me answers to questions I didn’t even realized I’d asked.
I’ve danced in a ball gown to Win Butler singing my favorite song to me in a warm tent when it was 13 degrees outside. I’ve thrown up on the side of an Argentinian highway on New Years Eve in the cold summer wind. I’ve taught almost two hundred students and maybe a handful of them grew a little bit with me.
I am less than two weeks from 30 and last year I became afraid of the dark for the first time and the only recurring dream I have is that my parents sell the very home in which I am writing all of this, now, and I sob and sob and sob until my dream hysterics wake me up from the tight ball I’ve made of myself in whatever bed I’m in. If you asked me what have you consumed more of in the last ten years: donuts or books or love I’m not sure I’d know the answer. How many concert lines have I waited in for first row seats how many self-deprecating jokes have I made how many times have I discovered that I am so much stronger than I always thought?
Today there is a new moon. This is an emptying out. This is a preparation for something else, something different, a new cycle, new light, a new breath in, a new breath out.
In the last ten years, I have graduated college, graduated from a master’s program, finished PhD coursework and exams, written a dissertation, become a writer, published a lot of work, started writing a novel. I have lived at the peaks of joy. Held a glass of champagne in one hand while I used the other to steady myself on a fire escape at the top of a tower overlooking Hollywood and all that sprawls outward from its pulsing heart, ropes of light snaking their way between glittering stars. I lived outside for 44 days in the Mojave Desert I adopted a dog I learned how to make sopa de aguacate and I even learned how to do it well. I have procured eight tattoos and lost at least that many friends. I have tired, not always with my best effort, to be good. If not to myself, then at least to everyone else, even when they didn’t deserve it. I have not always been good. And for that I am sorry. But for that I also forgive myself.
I’ve been back in my hometown for the month of June, and the highways and buildings of this town hold everything I’ve ever been. Even the things I didn’t experience here, I brought back with me, to run rampant through my circulatory system while I ran rampant through the state’s circulatory system. When I take a deep breath, I breathe in all the jobs I applied for but didn’t get and when I exhale I breathe out every time I smiled at a gentle moment between small kids and the world unfolding before them. I could go on like this forever. I could live inside these memories. This decade. It took a lot from me but it also gave me everything.
I want to tell you everything I’ve learned about the person I think I can be. But I’d rather just show you. I am so afraid to cross this precipice from twenties to thirties because I am already so full of life and what if there’s no more room? What if I’ve already felt every feeling available to a person? And even scarier, what if I haven’t? What does a girl say to herself when she makes the choice to keep going? Grateful isn’t a big enough word to hold whatever in my body has kept me running and loving and wanting and hoping this last decade. I don’t want to burn anything, not even my sins. I just want to go and go and go until there’s nothing left.