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Countdown to Twenty-Three

Countdown to Twenty-Three

Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

“Today is my birthday, and I’m riding high / hair is dripping, hiding that I’m terrified / But this is summer, playing dumber than in fall / Everything I say falls right back into everything / I’m not in the swing of things, but what I really mean is not in the swing of things yet …”

– Lorde, “Still Sane”

As I write this, the clock slowly inches towards midnight.

11:00.

11:01.

11:02.

When it hits 12:00, I will no longer be 22 years old, and I will never be 22 years old again for as long as I live. 22 is the age that Taylor Swift equated to the state of being “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” and it has certainly lived up to its reputation.

Am I excited to turn one year older? 

11:03.

Thinking about time — and the fact that we’re only able to go forward, not back — fucks me up.

11:04.

I open Spotify on my phone. This will be the last time I listen to “22” while actually being 22. It’s bittersweet.

“Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22,” goes Taylor’s recorded voice, frozen in time. 

Does she ever listen to her old songs and think about what she was like when she recorded them, like I look back at my old pictures and think about what I was like when I took them?

11:07.

Have I ever just kept dancing like I was 22? 

One of my friends told me that he recently went to a bar, where he danced so hard that the people near him thought he was on drugs. (He was sober.) All I could think of when he told me that story was that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done something like that.

11:08.

My birthday is very close to the Fourth of July, so every year I take off of work and fly to Philly to see my mom. We have a tradition of doing a birthday photoshoot together each year — we’ll go buy those giant number balloons at the party store and stand out in the sweltering summer sun until we get that perfect shot. So far we’ve done 21 and 22. My birthday doesn’t feel real until I get the balloons.

This year’s balloons are both silver. I’m watching them as they bob around the ceiling.

11:09.

I have these thoughts on every birthday. I dislike the existentialism that seems to plague me at a time that actually calls for celebration, but I discovered at a very young age that it freaks people out when you get all melancholy over the inevitable ephemerality of life. 

For a while I threw big parties on my birthday because it kept me from sitting around all day with such thoughts. 20, for example, was a Wolf of Wall Street-themed birthday bash thrown in conjunction with my three roommates-slash-besties. The whole school came and the girl I secretly liked threw up on my common room floor. 22 was a joint celebration with my friend who became my boyfriend who became my ex. So many people flooded into my tiny Victorian house that night that they spilled into my backyard and onto the street in front.

At 23, though, I’m cool with being alone and facing my existential thoughts.

11:10.

Will I have a big party this year? Probably not.

11:11. 

I make a wish. I’m not going to tell you what it is because I’m still superstitious about that shit, but it has to do with being happy versus just being content. I hope it comes true.

11:12.

I used to wish for success, but I’ve realized recently that maybe success is a byproduct of something else.

11:13.

There have been some birthdays where I looked forward to turning a year older — 21, for example, because it meant that I could drink legally. That year, my best friend and I walked up to a bar I’d been wanting to go to forever, only to get turned away, even though my birthday was literally in three hours. Others have been harder. I dreaded my twelfth birthday for some reason, claiming to be “eleven and four-fourths” for months after the fact. Something about those two ones made 11 hard to let go of. I feel the same way about 22. Maybe it’s a double-digit thing.

11:15.

I don’t want to stop being 22, the same way I don’t want a brilliant sunset to end or a person I’ve spent the whole night talking to to go home.

It’s not really an age thing for me. I will confess that I was also kind of terrified at 21, because 21 was that age where you could fuck up as much as you wanted and get terrifically drunk in public and stumble your way home, because you were 21 years old, goddammit, you were supposed to make those baby’s-first-time-in-the-real-world mistakes. 22 seemed more serious, like you already had an entire year to be 21 and were supposed to have learned from your past. 22 was the year shit got real, where you became a Real Adult as opposed to someone who just tried to adult part-time.

But at 22 going on 23, I’m not feeling any pressure to be more mature. I spent a good amount of last year under career- and relationship-related stress, and I think I’m pretty good on that front. Instead, I just feel … sad about having to leave this age behind.

Lorde knew this feeling well. She wrote a lot about being young and being aware that time was just ticking by, that this wasn’t going to last forever. It’s why all her songs are so damn good and why she’s one of my favorite artists.

11:30.

11:31.

I open up Spotify again and listen to “Still Sane.” It’s a song about reflecting on your birthday about all of your hard work and sacrifices you’ve put to get to where you are right now. I’ve listened to the song on every birthday since I discovered it at twenty-one, and it never fails to give me exactly what I’m looking for.

I’m not in the swing of things / but what I really mean is not in the swing of things yet.

11:40.

Will this be the year I finally get “in the swing of things”?

11:41.

I only watch the clock like this when I’m doing some sort of torturous workout that involves holding a position for a long time (like planks, ugh), or when I’m counting down to my birthday. 

11:42.

11:43.

I spent a good amount of my young adulthood numb, disassociated almost, trying so hard to be a vision of perfect that I’m not sure actually exists. God, that was boring. I’m no longer interested in any of that. 

From now on, I’m living life with my eyes wide open. I’ll be experiencing it, photographing it, writing it all down.

11:45.

It’s my first birthday where I’m being fully honest with myself — about who I am, about who and what I like, about who I want to become. That, at least, is something to celebrate.

11:57.

Am I ready to be another year older?

11:58.

It seems I have no choice.

11:59.

22 was not an easy year. 22 taught me a lot. I’m going to miss being 22.

12:00.

And just like that, I am a new person. As always, it doesn’t feel good or bad, it just … is. I may be sad about not being 22 for a while longer, but what’s gone is gone. What has been done has been done.

The future, however … I wonder what this year has in store for me.

Whatever it is, I’m here for it.

Hello, 23. ♚

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao
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