As my 10-year high school reunion rapidly approaches, I find myself first plucking gray hairs from my head, and secondly reflecting on the wild rollercoaster ride of my twenties thus far—the ups and downs of self-sufficiency, adult responsibilities, ambivalent career paths, extreme love and loss, etc., etc.
It’s the decade we glorified at age 12 while immersed in fantasy worlds of future independence and sophistication. Newsflash, tweenagers: Having it all figured out in your twenties is an un-busted myth. I mean, according to the game of M.A.S.H. I should be living in a mansion in Paris by now (with Johnny Depp and our eight children, obviously), driving a purple Lamborghini, and occasionally orbiting the moon as a career astronaut.
Someone should have warned us. Or at least given us a t-shirt for our twentieth birthday with the words “ambiguous and under construction,” fit to wear for 10 years straight. And maybe even longer.
Charles Dickens nailed it: “It was the age of foolishness.”
The summer I turned 21, my third serious relationship ended abruptly. A bit jaded, I dropped out of Texas State University two days later, only one semester shy of graduation. To justify my decision, I then moved out of my apartment, jam-packed my car with everything I owned, and embarked on my first solo road trip—1,125 miles from home.
I’ve never been very rational. I tend to overdramatize situations, act impulsively and run from my problems. So, jumping state post-breakup wasn’t exactly uncharacteristic. However, I had never lived outside of Texas.
And Moab was quite the change of scenery.
A mecca for outdoor escapades and transient residents, Moab was the perfect place to be young and adventurous and unexpectedly aimless. Upon arriving that summer, I moved in with my mom, who had left Texas for Moab about two years prior. Let’s face it; if you haven’t lived with your parents at some point in your twenties, you’re a marvel. Or perhaps an alien.
During my first month in Moab, I exploited the newly-21-and-irresponsible card, spending the majority of my time partying, camping, swimming, partying, exploring, and partying some more. Each day was exciting and unfamiliar. I found my niche within a new circle of friends, honed by immaturity, made poor decisions, and had the time of my life.
“Growing up” suddenly became a foreign term, and my bachelor’s degree involuntarily moseyed to the back of the bus. Enter instance number one of straying off the beaten path. You know, the road traveled by “responsible” twenty-somethings—the graduate-college-then-get-successful-job-then-get-married-then-buy-house-then-have-babies path.
Yeah, that one. I must have gotten lost.
Instead of returning home, I decided to prolong my carefree excursion, venturing off to Oregon, California, Colorado, and finally, Wisconsin. A speedy little devil, that rollercoaster. Well, until you hit the unexpected, stomach-dropping turn, of course…
Shortly after landing in Oconomowoc (don’t even try to pronounce it), Wisconsin, I found myself in a hospital bed with tubes down my throat and a rare case of acute eosinophilic pneumonia. Contracted somewhere along my journey, this illness eventually yielded ten crazy days in ICU, a few near-death encounters, and an ungodly amount of medical debt.
Indeed, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Although I slacked off in high school and avoided reading all 400-and-something pages of that famous novel about the French Revolution, I can still imagine Dickens rewriting the first paragraph as a modern twenty-something, saying instead:
“That experience was so rad… I’m not sure how I made it out alive.
I use Facebook to appear intellectually refined… I can’t believe I did/said/thought that.
Let me tell you how it is… Wait, what does it all mean?
LIFE IS AWESOME… I hate everything.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel… Local freight train crashes outside tunnel entrance.
My future’s so bright I need shades… Future? What future? Where’s my Xanax?”
As it turns out, the highly anticipated “transition to adulthood” is all about hitting, dodging, and getting downright pummeled by life’s fastballs, curveballs, sliders, screwballs, and change-ups. It’s about setting unreasonable self-expectations (and failing to meet them, of course), falling for short-lived epiphanies and fleeting validations, and experiencing personal growth through trial and error, trial and error, and more trial and error. One could easily vomit from all the rollercoaster-induced motion sickness.
And this is only the beginning…