Twentysomething

Photo by Justin Maher : Story by Kayla King

The leaving is in everything. You know that. This year hinges you between twenty and thirty, and the thought is terrifying.

You board the bus, ticket on your phone for verification, wishing it was something more substantial that you could cut and paste onto a card to send to your past self. It would say, this is what we have to do now. And it’s not that you want to scare a younger version of yourself, but rather, you need to set up realistic expectations so you’re not left standing in a grocery store searching for raspberry peach Snapple.

Though, that is exactly what led you to this bus and this seat and this window with too many fingerprints smudged against its surface. You touch one, print to print to leave your own on the dirtied glass; a constellation.

This is the most you’ve accomplished all day and all month and all of the time since you decided you needed to feel the sugar on your teeth from the raspberry peach Snapple. And the fact that they only sell the strawberry kiwi flavor is your own personal Hell. You recall the taste, like fluoride they brought in those small paper cups during elementary grades, which they called swish, but which you only held in your mouth.

The city has everything.

The city must have your Snapple.

Pull your headphones from your pocket and play the game like cat’s cradle, untangling the earbuds. You slip the left one in first, and then the right. It’s the way you tie your shoes, the way you brush your teeth. Left to right. You listen to the first few paragraphs of an audiobook the critics love. The narrator’s voice is thick. You can’t have that in your ears for you are not a sailor on a boat surrounded by sirens in need of beeswax to keep you safe. Delete the book. People say, “Don’t read books you dislike. There won’t be enough time to read them all.”

You know there is never enough time.

“I’d like to be a grandmother by the time I’m sixty,” your mother said.

You counted the seven years on your fingers behind your back.

“Better tell your other kids.” You meant it.

You know you would be a good parent.

That is not the problem.

But you had a dream in which you yelled at the mother of a seven-year-old boy, and you told her to “Be a better parent.”

You’ve started calling your father by his first name (not to his face, because you haven’t spoken) but to others, you refer to his given name. And the “Be a better parent” line makes sense. You know what you’ve always known.

You’ve always known you would make a proper parent. Substantial. Practical. Stable. Etc. You fear your own potential; the notion of perfection immobilizes you and makes the never slip from your mouth.

You would be loving and kind and compassionate.

You would give all of yourself.

You would disappear.

You’re not sure you want to be a parent anymore, and you told your mother. She thinks you are too young and too conflicted. Not in the right place. Your mother is always always right.

Always.

A fellow passenger sits next to you, music too loud. You keep your headphones in so as not to have to make conversation because you will end up talking too much. You know. The music beside you beats through the seat, passenger rocking into the thrum of the dubstep you’ve always disliked. You know your music preferences because you are in the year in which you know things.

You close your eyes, fall asleep to the sound of the thumping through another’s headphones; a heartbeat.

When you arrive, the bus lets you out somewhere near 34th.

You wander.

You have friends in the city who you must visit.

You have a crisp $5 in your pocket, which you know your best friend will crinkle if you don’t spend it first.

Spend the $5 on a Snapple.

Find a bodega with organic drinks.

Cross onto a new street.

Your feet hit the cobblestones, but you don’t twist your ankle like you almost did when you were drunk at that concert by the water. Don’t remember the times you held your breath on brick roads because your mom used to do the same thing.

You would very much like to become a mother.

No, your mother.

You wish you were the kind of person that could sneak into movies without paying because then you would be the kind of person to steal the vintage bicycle locked up on the sidewalk. You feel a kinship with antiquities; your soul has always been archaic.

A car flashes its brights.

You remain still.

Too many people have tried to diminish your fear of the quarter century year, but they don’t know how your brother used to collect quarters from different states, how he sounds like your father when he argues. And people who are not in this year will tell you that one day you will be as old as them and this year won’t matter. But you know that if you came back to them in five years or twenty they would say the same thing: “One day you will be this old. One day you’ll understand.”

You know that they, too, must have wandered onto the same kind of street. It’s not magic, but life. You know one day you won’t be still. You will be better. But right now, your mouth is dry, and the bodega’s light glimmers in the distance, and you want that raspberry peach Snapple.