I’m standing in the back of a house, run down by years of parties, beer, sloppy sex, laughter, tears, and cheap late night food. I don’t dare go inside, but I know the walls are smeared with the stickiness from ghosts of friendships past. It’s already after midnight, and these kids are just getting going at a time when I would typically be winding down.
We’re all standing on a backyard slab of concrete, clumping in smaller groups to better hear conversation and to keep warm. Los Angeles is a temperate city, but its nights are always surprisingly cool. I know I probably look out of place by my clothes alone. I’m by no means dressed up, but my shirt and pants have some semblance of an outfit, which is enough to blow my cover. It’s very apparent that my clothes were the byproduct of a comfortable salary. I’m wearing lipstick.
There is an adult at this college party; it’s me.
I wonder, hope, and pray that these young people mistake me for one of their own. At the very least, perhaps a very recent graduate, rather than someone who attended this school while the rest of the party struggled with burgeoning acne, training bras, and general middle school malaise. Even though I’m most likely infinitely more secure with myself than these students, I am desperately seeking their approval.
It seems as though no one really notices I am there. I take a sip from the Coors Light that has been handed to me. It strikes me as phenomenal that college kids all the dress the same, somehow breaking the space, time continuum of fashion. They are all under dressed in either the literal or figurative sense.
I want to bite their heads and suck out their youthful optimistic minds. I want the time and opportunity that haven’t cashed in yet. I want it so bad.
I’m sitting on the arm of a patio chair and a tall boy approaches me. As I turn to look up, his eyes widen.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hello,” he replies, as he grabs my outstretched hand.
“I’m Heather,” I tell him.
“I’m XXX (Full disclosure: I do not recall his name),” he says as he cups my smallish hand into both of his larger overgrown child mitts. It feels like he is fighting the urge not to kiss the back of my hand like a medieval knight.
“Nice to meet you XXX.”
“You too,” his eyes still staring like he’d never seen a girl like me. At a party like? I doubt he has. I’m (and I hate to say this shit) a woman. “What team are you on?”
I’m at the closing party for a college improv festival, where teams from multiple schools were present.
“Oh, I’m not on a team. I’m just…visiting.”
“Oh cool. What school do you go to?”
“Well, I actually went here, but I graduated.”
“Did you graduate last year?”
“No..I graduated a while ago. I’m kind of old.”
He laughs. I smile awkwardly. We exchange more easy, digestible chit chat, and he moves on. I’m suddenly awkward, embarrassed, and insecure at a house party. So, college.
Shortly after my conversation with XXX, I meet another boy, whose name also escapes me. The brave boys want to talk to me. The shy boys are intimidated by me. The girls want nothing to do with me, and I don’t blame them.
This new conversation companion is a classic “nice guy.” Very early into the conversation, I reveal that I graduated college six years ago. I’ve dropped the damn charade. He takes this as an opportunity to ask me a million questions about post grad life. I reassure him that life is better, less stressful, and infinitely more interesting. I realize what a Dr. Suess world it really is out there as I explain the places he’ll go, and the people he’ll meet. He seems relieved when I tell him that he’s in a holding pattern; he hasn’t lived yet.
Once it’s clear we have nothing left to discuss, he politely excuses himself and walks away. I think that I should have erected a Lucy-esque booth with a sign reading, “Life Advice $5. The Adult is In.”
I end up talking to Cody, who is so worried about graduating and trying to pursue his dreams after college. He asks my boyfriend and I if we like living in LA. He doesn’t think he would. He doesn’t want to raise a family here. Cody is plotting his every move for the next fifteen years.
“Cody,” I say, “I hate to burst your bubble, but whatever you think you want right now, whatever you think you need, wherever you think you will be in a year or two…is bunk. Your life will change every year, and you have to be ok with it. That’s how you become who you’re supposed to be. So…why don’t you just figure out what you’re doing this summer, and stop trying to plan your life, because it will drive you crazy to tackle an impossible task. Don’t be afraid to walk away from what you love to pursue something else. Everyone has different stepping stones.”
He sincerely thanks me for telling me to chill the fuck out, and we hug. I feel thankful for allowing him the opportunity to have some perspective on my own getting closer to real adulthood life.
I stand in the middle of loud drunken people who haven’t grown into themselves. I’m invisible as I watch them have “the time of their lives.” I realize that many of them are still virgins, have never had their heartbroken, never feared paying rent on time, have not yet been forced to work a menial job.
What they are telling me is that they’re all scared about graduating, finding a job, paying off student loans, being happy, financial independence without a safety net.
They have awkward self-conscious sex, cry over people who they will only know through Facebook in five years, worry about mid-terms, don’t take internships seriously, believe vomiting is the sign of a solid night, and think that they are genuinely already adults because they went to Cabo San Lucas for Spring Break and didn’t die. They think that have everything and nothing figured out at the same time. They live in terror of being uncool.
But they’re also optimistic, innocent, authentic, wide-eyed, and eager to please. As much I want to steal their time and opportunity, they want to suck my experiences dry. They want to know their future. They want to know that everything will be OK. They want to know that they will end up as stable and happy as me.
So we are at a standstill. I can’t go back, and they can’t move forward. We’re both trapped in our own separate limbos. I finish my beer without vomiting, and I still consider it a solid night.
This sounds more like paranoid schizophrenia than a twenty something problem. I mean, I saw A Beautiful Mind in theaters when I was in high school. I KNOW ABOUT THINGS.
Do I do that??
Time is very skilled at repainting pictures with the Nostalgia filter. To be honest, I have to think very hard to differentiate the four years of college, when at one time, my reference points were fall and spring semesters. All I wanted was to be independent during college, so I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone. And now sometimes, I just want to be taken care of, and feel foolish for spending the time that I was wishing I wasn’t.
What I miss about college in retrospect is the freedom and the knowledge that everything was ahead of me. I didn’t have any real bills. I wasn’t afraid of finding and keeping a job. I didn’t struggle with fulfilling my creative dreams and making enough money. I wasn’t scared that my landlords would increase my rent every year. I didn’t think about marriage, or worry that I’ll never make enough money to own a house. I never worried about being on the older end of the spectrum at the bar, and realizing all the men we’re under 25.
I definitely don’t mean to glorify college, because I had way more fun after graduation. Honestly, while I was very social during college…I hardly “partied,” and I worked a ton. I loved my college experience, but as far as having a good time? My favorite memories were made outside the collegiate walls.
(This was taken last year, five years out of college. Looks like a pretty good time, right?)
So what do you have to look forward to? Everything. Your entire life. A lot of late nights, meeting new people, letting bad friends go, moving a lot, horrible apartments and neighbors, your perfect space, living alone, living with a significant other, realizing your parents are flawed people and loving them more for it, having no money, having a lot of money, figuring out how to be alone, emotional independence, understanding that gaining five pounds is a good thing because it means you’re happy, insecurities, discovering what you’re actually good it, realizing you’re no too awful, casual encounters, deep friendships, flings, one night stands, long term relationships, jobs, careers, hobbies, being hungover at work and still smiling about it, mistakes, mistakes, mistakes, learning, learning, learning how to become who are supposed to be and being pretty darn happy about it.
It’s like you KNOW ME.
After many years of paltry minimum payments, I finally paid off all of my credit card debt. Struggling with my twenty-something finances has been a topic I have discussed many a time, but today I feel like I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
To be fair, in the past couple months I have fallen into a bit of a money windfall. I nailed a great new job with a higher salary, secured more consistent freelance income, received a generous unexpected gift from my grandmother, and cashed out all the vacation days I never took at my old job. Without these wonderful things, I probably would not have paid off my credit card debt. But, with my fattened checking account, I did the right thing and said, “Debt, be gone with your bad self.”
I’ve never been in serious credit card debt, like kinds of debt TV lawyers preach about in between midday TV programming. It’s never gotten THAT bad probably because the one thing my parents ever shamed me about was having a credit card balance. Despite being raised to fear the plastic, I still managed to rack up a couple grand in debt. You know for plane tickets, clothes, concerts…whatever else I had to have in the moment that my paycheck wasn’t going to cover. That’s what it’s there for…right?? (Insert validation here.)
For whatever reason (I know full well the reasons), no matter how often i made payments, the balance lingered. For every large payment I made, an even larger purchase took its place. It was always easier to make payments in large chunks, like when I got birthday money or a tax return check. For me it was all or nothing with paying it down: huge payments or the minimum. I couldn’t bring myself to actually set up a real budget that would allow me to whittle it down regularly because then I would be faced with the amount of money I wasted each month. No way girlfriend. Denial is not just a river in Africa.
I was abusing the credit card, and I knew it. I couldn’t seem to get myself out of the vicious cycle.
It wasn’t until this month, just a matter of weeks until my twenty-eighth birthday that I was finally able to wipe my slate clean, and even that was hard.
I’d had enough money in my account to pay off my card for weeks before I did. I couldn’t understand why I was so hesitant to pull the trigger. Part of me felt afraid that I would run out of money for the month after parted with such a big dollar amount. That was untrue, as long as I kept my shopping to a minimum. But the feeling was something I had every month for the past six or so years. Every month I feel the pangs of fear that I will run out of money, and it’s not an easy anxiety to dismiss with a few extra zeros on my statement.
This was the first month I didn’t have to worry, but I still couldn’t shake the need for a monetary security blanket. As I continued procrastinating, I realized that I’m more financially stable than I have ever been, and it scared me. I knew why I had been pussyfooting around the issue for so long.
Despite the relief this financially security has given me, it means something. It’s a milestone. I can support myself, live comfortably, and actually save more than a hundred bucks a month. I can be an adult, financially speaking.
My hesitation in paying off my credit card was because I knew it signified a major point of growing up for me. And while I could very easily slip back into feeling like a poor person at any given moment, for now it feels like I pushed past a point in my youth and can never go back.
But I couldn’t hang on to that credit card balance or my financially unstable youth any longer. Like making un unprotected left at a busy intersection, I just did it real quick, before I had time to change my mind.
No more odd jobs. No more waitressing. No more dreading the dentist bill…OK that’s never going to be painless. My woeful days of living paycheck to paycheck are over (for now, let’s not be naive). I have to step down from the twenty-something Thought Catalog soapbox, spouting life stories from the underbelly of stunted adolescence, encouraging everyone to collect every possible experience, even if it means draining all your accounts.
Damn, I had no idea that $679.00 could make me feel so old.