Chapter 21: Happy New Year

There’s a picture of me stuck somewhere between the pages of a photo album with a group of friends. I am slouched at the very bottom, sliding off the bed on which we were piled for the photo. My bangs are ratted and Aqua-Netted into another plane of existence, separate from the one my drunk-on-peach-schnapps eyes seem to be searching for. My lips are bright red, a color purchased that day at the only store in Denver that carried Doc Martens and a color that would later be smeared on the door jam of the bathroom when one of our group fell over in a haze and slid, mouth to wall, all the way down to the carpet below. I am very definitely 15.

Being 15 is terrible. I hate it. I hate how desperate I am to fit in, how badly I want to be cool and detached, how much I know that I will never be either.

There’s a picture of me somewhere in a photo album with a group of friends. I am at a bar, excited and nervous, a little embarrassed I had planned my own going away party. My bangs are heavy and straight. My bright red zip-up sweater stands out in the dark of the bar. I am smiling a big if somewhat uncertain smile next to my boyfriend who is mugging for the camera. At least I think he is my boyfriend. We started dating because I was moving, and we kept dating even after he threw up on my floor and slept with his ex over Christmas. I am very definitely 25.

Being 25 is strange. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. I hate that my dad nearly dies, that I spend too much time getting too drunk, and that I still wish I felt at home anywhere, with anyone. I love that I am moving to New York, where I am convinced it will all come together for me, even though I don’t know what all or any of it is.

There’s a picture of me somewhere on the internet. I am in a hallway of a hospital, and I am crying. My bangs have long since grown out. My cheeks are red, hot with fear. I am crouched on the floor, outside the closed door to the room where my mother is in a bed. I am not sure if she is going to live, but I am very sure I am going to do whatever I can to try and make sure she does, as if I have any control over the matter. I spend the rest of the week at the hospital, until my mother is discharged. I am very definitely 35.

Being 35 is hard. I don’t have the energy to hate or love it. I spend most of the year at my mother’s side, except when I am trying to finish a PhD. I can’t care about fitting in or being cool. I can’t care about very much at all.

There’s a picture of me on my phone. I took it on my birthday. I am in my house, and I am alone, smiling. My hair is a mess. I spend most of the day like this. Somewhere in the afternoon I wonder if I feel at home with myself, or if I ever will, or if maybe accepting I never will is as close to home as I’m going to get. When one thing becomes easy, another gets hard. I feel all at once 15, 25, 35, but when I look in the mirror I can’t tell how old I’m supposed to be. I’d say I don’t care, but I do. I always have, maybe too much. I am very definitely 40.