October 6, 2000.
It’s my eighth birthday.
It’s a Friday, and my best friend’s mom is picking me up and driving us to school together.
It’s cloudy but it’s a little chilly, it’s my favorite kind of weather, it’s the best weather to ride scooters in because the sun doesn’t get in your eyes and you have the cul-de-sac to yourself.
I arrive at school and friends have presents for me, like a cool new pencil and a book about pandas—the only thing I care about in the world is pandas.
Tomorrow my parents will take all of my friends and me to the National Zoo. I’ll longingly look at the Panda Exhibit that’s still being built—pandas will arrive in two months—I have to wait. There’s so much waiting when you’re a kid. Mom is making me a panda cake, and I’ll get presents and play with new toys and Mike will have to be nice to me because it’s my birthday.
In a few weeks, I’ll be baptized and confirmed a member of our church by my dad. I’ve been learning about baptismal covenants all year in Sunday School, and I’m excited. I know I’ll be joining the church my ancestors traveled the world to join and build.
I love my life and my I love my world and I never want it to change.
October 6, 2010.
It’s my 18th birthday.
My world looks nothing like it did when I turned eight.
It’s a Wednesday and at school I’m gifted with a plate of Rice Krispie treats, a bag of candy, and a balloon. The Rice Krispies are consumed immediately.
It’s cloudy again and just cold enough to warrant jeans and a sweater, so it’s the type of weather I thrive in.
Even though the school day is easy—and Molly and Kristen make me a gigantic paper crown in newspaper—I’m weighed down by the longing, the confusion, the waiting that has taken residence on my shoulders and in my chest since July.
My life plan was thrown out the window last summer, and I’m now disillusioned by the idea of higher education. I want out of high school, but I don’t want to go to college. I don’t know what to do, and no adult will tell me what the answer is. They keep insisting that it’s my life and my decision.
I expect to wake up on my 18th birthday with the wisdom and clarity of an adult, but nothing changes, besides the fact that I can now vote, buy property, and get married.
I’m confused, I want a nap, and I either want to fast forward or rewind, but I don’t want to be here in this moment of uncertainty.
October 5, 2020.
I turn 28 tomorrow.
The pandemic keeps me from celebrating my birthday the way I want to, but the weekend is full of my favorite foods, gifts, and socially distanced celebrations. Mike and Jose surprise me with a 40” television because they say my 20” was getting in the way of quality TV syncs. I am outrageously spoiled.
For years, I never thought I would ever know happiness, or even what it is to be content. I thought my life would be ruled by the waiting. And sure, there’s still lots of waiting—waiting for the end of the workday and the weekend and for holidays. But that deep, soul-wrenching waiting—the waiting for enlightenment and relief from pain and for freedom and for autonomy—the all-consuming yearning is gone.
There were a lot of things I thought would happen by the time I turned 28 that didn’t—but I’m not waiting for those things anymore.
I’m not sitting stagnant but rather enjoying what was given to me. I don’t have the degree, husband, baby, house, picket fence, body, elite job—any of that. I have chronic illness and depression and a lot of self doubt. But I have friends and parents and dogs and a beautiful apartment and a job that takes care of me and coworkers and doctors and a community and—
This was not what I planned. I know my eight- and 18-year-old selves would never have picked this.
But I like it.