18 Things I Learned At 18

(I wrote these 18 things down between 12:00 a.m. and 12:10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 27th – my first ten minutes of being an adult)

1. You are not for everyone.

You know those things you do, believe in, or fight for? People aren’t always going to like them. In fact, it’s easier to assume nobody will stand by your side with that fire you have in your eyes. And that’s okay. Don’t change to fit the eyes of those who put your heart and mind down. You aren’t for everyone, but you will be for some people – these are your people.

2. Reach for the stars, but expect the clouds.

Because the clouds are still higher than the ground, but not as glorious as the stars. You should always reach as high as you possibly can, but don’t expect the world to hand you a place in the galaxy, or you will lose oxygen. You will get hurt. So expect the clouds, because those are soft and they don’t hurt so bad, and continue reaching as you were.

3. Dogs are the best emotional support system.

People are fine, sometimes they’re even really fine, but most of the time they suck because they can talk and they’re really (really) bad at emotions. Dogs can’t talk, they make great pillows, and they’ll listen to you without pitying you. Basically, dogs are to life as oxygen is to our lungs.

4. High school is not the real deal.

People will tell you this far before your entry into the 4-year subjective experience of high school. They’re right, except it won’t feel like it, not at first. That’s because we spend 7 hours, five days a week in an environment that can only consume our minds. High school is our world – for 4 years. 4 years out of an entire lifetime. Grasp that and you’ll be fine.

5. Hold onto the things that make you feel passionate and alive.

These things are your gold. You simply cannot fulfill your purpose without them. Why? Because when you find that thing, or things, that make your heart race to think about and that ignite your tongue on fire to speak about, you must notice the difference. Because there is a separation between all other things and the things that you were placed on this earth for – be it politics, art, traveling, love, you name it. Nothing is ridiculous if it has the power to grasp onto your heart like that.

6. You don’t need to have everything figured out by 18.

This one took time. In fact, I’m not sure I even believe it or follow it yet. At age 10, I had road mapped my entire life before me (I even had picked out what my husband would be named, because in my world I could do that). But now my vision of my future is entirely different, by every thread, from the one I had envisioned when I was 10, or 13, or 16, or even 17. And it will likely be different next week from what it is now. You cannot plan your life, try as you might.

7. Your feelings are always validated.

No matter what anyone says. And if you spill your heart out to someone you trust and they break you down and tell you that you’re being “over dramatic” or that you’re “wrong” or “difficult”….no. They’re wrong. Everything you feel is right, because each human is made from unique DNA. Nobody has the right to tell you what you can or cannot feel.

8. Keep your room clean, if nothing else.

Because when life feels like it’s crumbling to pieces, your bed will still be made and you’ll know where your favorite sleeping shirt is, and sometimes that’s enough to keep going.

9. The stuff you put into your body matters.

Apparently your greens are important (and this is the only time adults have proven to be right!). Cheeseburgers and nacho-cheese Doritos are all fun and games until you wake up one day and don’t fit into those jeans you wore everyday for seven years. Learn to love working out and put stuff into your system that will love you back. Oh, and become a vegan. Animals are our friends.

10. You do not have to go with the flow.

I mean, you can if you want to, and you might be happy for a while. I did; it felt great to be invited to all birthday parties and have snapchat streaks with people I barely knew. But then I realized that when I was alone, with nobody around me but myself, I didn’t know the person in my reflection. Even actors have to take five, so give your façade a break.

11. Write everything down.

I was exceptionally good at this – I still have a stack of old diaries, spiral notebook sheets, and printed notes that I’ve been collecting since third grade. Writing, even if you’re not good at it, is the best form of therapy. Think about it: you’re releasing your jumbled thoughts onto paper and then sealing them away between pages, never to be thought of again. Well, until you’re 18, reading through your fifth grade diary and wondering why you ever thought Jeremy would be the love of your life.

12. You will only ever experience each moment in this life one time.

So cheesy, but so true. I’ve spent a while now trying to learn the recipe for moments in my life that I wish to relive, and here’s the trick: there’s no recipe. Because unlike my mother’s cooking, every moment in our lives can only be made once; the feelings you remember cannot be duplicated. Don’t attempt to recreate something that happened – it already occurred and it was beautiful, congratulations. Just focus on creating more beauty in every moment.

13. You should take risks, but remember the value of comfort.

It’s all about balance. Should you go night swimming in jeans and a bodysuit with your best friend and two cute boys while all your peers drink heavily on the dry, boring beach? YES. But you should also come home to a warm bed and a sweater that smells like your laundry, because nothing else in the world smells quite the same.

14. If you feel like your voice isn’t being heard, speak louder.

You will probably get frequent negative reactions, but sometimes, just every now and then…you will reach someone to their core. Stand up for the things that make your mind burn with passion and don’t let a society that frowns upon independent young minds overtake the power to your own voice.

15. Let your mind get lost often.

Our subconscious is a crazy place and home to most of the world’s wildest ideas. Allow yourself to visit the depths of your mind, and find thoughts that would make a prepubescent boy say, “bro, that’s deep.” Your mind is your friend and there’s so much exploring to do there. Don’t remain in the shallows.

16. If you’re sad, hug Mom.

Or if you don’t have a mom, you can hug my mom. She gives the best hugs.

17. Sometimes you think it’s love, but it isn’t. And other times you try to convince yourself it can’t be, but it is.

A brief inquiry into teenage love: It’s either there, or it isn’t. I could spend an eternity trying to figure out what being in love should feel like, but I’m not sure I ever will. All I know is that there have been boys who I thought would be the end – and they weren’t. But then there was one, one boy who looked at me a little different, who made my heart beat in a different rhythm and made me smile bigger than normal. And I think that’s really just the difference. And maybe it won’t work out, because mine didn’t. You cannot beg someone to want you once they’ve hesitated. Only I’ve realized that maybe it’s okay, because I think we’re supposed to learn love from the people who cannot love us back. That’s how I know I didn’t love those boys before him, and haven’t loved one since.

18. Stop listening the second you hear the word “unrealistic.”

Because your dreams are going to be too big for small minds. Another person’s inability to understand your galaxy of a mind does not mean anything. Your dreams will save you from this harsh world; keep going little rocket. Besides, didn’t someone once say that the moon was an unreachable place? Bet that person feels foolish now.

(Pictured above: me, at approximately 18. Do I look wiser?)

Heavy

I feel immensely heavy today. It is one of those days where the world’s true colors seem to shine through; only they aren’t colorful. They are messy and dark, they are shades of grays and often they are entirely black. I sympathize for this day. I want to pick it up and hold it while it sobs into my shirt and I want to tell this day that it will be okay, that it gets better from here. I want to believe that this day will change the course of the days before it. Yet this heaviness won’t let me truly believe that.

I’ve discovered a flaw within myself that I know will have a drastic toll on my life, and today it is more prominent than ever. That one flaw is that I cannot sit back in the face of injustice, and I cannot accept that “bad things happen.” I can’t ignore headlines. When I was little, my mother always warned me about the man in the park with a car full of puppies, or the man in the playground with candy in his truck. She told me never to listen to this man because he would kidnap me. But nobody, not even my mother, ever warned me about the world; that the things I can’t ignore, the evil present on nearly every newspaper headline or trending social media tag, will steal my peace of mind and with it, my being.

So now I’m sitting here questioning modern-day existence. I’m wondering where it all went wrong. When did boys begin to believe that they could get away with their wrongdoings because of their gender? Then there was the dog video I came across on my feed not five minutes ago: a pup with his brains scattered across the ground in China by a patrol officer. Or that video last week of the woman in Africa with one child on her back, the other on her arm, as she was put into a line and shot at by men behind machine guns, her body left to rot beside her infant children.

But it’s okay, everyone. Because did you see that meme with the laughing cat? The world is at peace once again.

I feel I must do something, and so I tell myself: become a journalist, take photos, tell the harsh truth, make a difference, and leave your name in people’s mouths. But then I remember the thousands who have done just that, only to have their impact forgotten, lost in the ever-changing world.

I don’t have a solution, so I suppose this is rather depressing. I’m merely sad, heavy, and at the same time, empty. How, tell me, can one be both heavy and empty at once?

The Guitar

“Why do you keep that guitar in the corner like that?”

I look up from my book, marking my place with a finger, and following Ari’s eyes to the acoustic guitar under the world map and a few other miscellaneous wall fixtures.

“I used to play,” I tell him.

“And not anymore?”

“No, not anymore.”

“Why?”

“I just don’t.”

“Because?”

“Do you ever hear yourself talk, Little Prince?” I spit out; I attempt to make my tone light-hearted in an effort to switch the direction of this conversation, but my words come out sharp and accusatory instead. I can tell by the way his face drops, how his eyebrows crinkle together and emphasize the three lines above his squishy nose, that I’ve hurt him a bit.

“What does that mean?”

I breathe in the air around me and shut my book for good for I have opened the lid to yet another topic from the treasure chest of my past. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that,” I say. His face fixes itself a little, but there’s still that glazed film over the surface of his sea green irises. “You just ask a lot of questions. That’s all.”

Ari leans back. When he thinks, he likes to make it very obvious to the world around him that he is indeed thinking. He tilts his head back, begins to scratch his chin with his pointer finger and thumb, and uses his free hand to push his wire glasses farther up on his slender nose. That’s how I know that I shouldn’t open my book again.

“I wouldn’t ask so many questions if you would just answer them once in awhile, you know,” he says. Leaning forward on his knees, his face does that sexy-sort-of thing with his mouth where the corners turn up; it’s kind of like a smirk but not quite for it isn’t devilish but rather innocent.

“I did answer you, Ari,” I argue. “What the hell else do you want to know?”

He looks at the guitar, then to me, and slowly back to the guitar once again. “Why don’t you play anymore, Indy?”

I know he isn’t going to drop the subject and I also know that he usually gets what he wants out of me in the end, and so I give. “Because of my mom.”

He doesn’t ask anything else, but he doesn’t need to because the words begin spilling out like vomit. “When I went to visit her for the last time, it had been years and I just was so angry with her. I told myself I was going to walk in there and finally confront her about everything she had put Dixon and me through, and that’s what I did. And she cried.

“I don’t know what response I wanted from her, I just know that it wasn’t the one she gave me. Seeing her cry made me feel guilty, like I was the criminal in reality and she was the victim; but I knew I wasn’t. I hated her even more for making me feel like I was, though.

“I got up to leave and I had my guitar with me. I had just finished playing a gig down the street or something; I can’t really remember. Anyways, I started to storm out and then she had the nerve to ask me, through her sobs, to play a song for her.”

I pause and realize what I just said. They were words I hadn’t even thought of on my own in years, at least since Mom’s death, and definitely had never said out loud to anyone but my own reflection. I want to deeply regret them, and I think that I most definitely will.

But I don’t. I look up from my shaking, sweating hands and I find his eyes. Those eyes.

His forehead lines are gone and his glasses are sitting on the table now. I look at him and that feeling of unease begins to float away as quickly as it arrived. His mouth, hanging open a bit since I had ceased speaking, forms soft, gentle words. “What did you tell her?”

“I told her no,” I declare. But that isn’t true and he knows it. He waits for me to fix my truth because he knows I will.

“I told her that I wouldn’t play another note for her, not even if it were her dying wish.”

The words feel like cutting myself with a blade – a rusty blade dug up from years of neglect and forcefully forgotten memory. “She died a few weeks after that, so I guess it actually was her death wish. I never saw her after that night, though.”

My chest attempts to breathe before I do. It is lighter; I have taken the heavy load off of it and instead burden my mouth with the weight of the words I have just spilled out all over Ari and his deep, understanding, all-knowing green eyes.

“That’s why you don’t play anymore?”

I nod. It is more like a dip of the head. I am drained, fatigued.

Nothing but quiet fills the room for a few long moments. He could leave the room and hours may pass and I will likely not notice. My mind is far away and far behind. I cannot shake the image of my mother’s face, replaying, over and over again.

I am pulled out of my thoughts by Ari presently standing in front of me and the guitar in his strong arms. Without touching the thing in so long, I had forgotten what it even felt like. But there he is, embracing it, giving it the love it has been neglected of.

“What are you doing?” I choke out. My voice is cracked and dry and I don’t recognize it.

He kneels before me and places the guitar across my lap and I shiver at its cold touch. I sit there for a few moments, my hands gripping the edges of the chair. I feel as if I am being forcefully reacquainted with an old friend, but one whom I have wronged. I don’t deserve the beautifully decorated instrument on my lap any more than I deserve the warm, kind boy kneeling before me.

“Play, Indy.”

“But-“

“For her,” he tells me. He isn’t demanding, but his words are soft and sweet like honey or a childhood blanket. He doesn’t have to demand anything of me and he knows that.

I move my hands to the stem of the guitar, lifting it up and pressing its sturdy back against my stomach, tracing the tips of my fingers over the tiny red flowers painted onto its wooden surface. I roll up my sleeves, tie my hair behind my neck, and strum lightly across the loose strings. The sound is not in tune, the chords are covered in layers of dust, and I’m not sure if I even remember a song to play. But I just start playing.

I know the chords before I pick up on the song. It’s one of Mom’s favorites but I never knew the title. It all just sort of flows out of me, energy from my heart pouring out of my fingers and into the strings. Every note, chord, and strum. I forget that Ari is right in front of me; I no longer feel his heavy eyes on my face. I let time slip away from me altogether.

I am with her once again. We are sitting on the beach outside of our first house. Dixon is there and he’s little. He watches me so aspiringly, and he can’t help but giggle when I tap my sandy toes to to beat of the music. Mom is sitting on a log and she is feeding the fire with the metal poker. She’s singing along with that angelic voice, the same one that began to turn croaky when we moved out of our home and into a different sort of life with Harold.

My fingers drop, suddenly weighted, and the guitar begins to slip off of my lap. It almost hits the ground, but Ari catches it and places it on the table instead in one swift motion.

I reach for my face and I feel wetness. That’s when I realize that I am crying, and that the heaving noise in the air is really my chest, weighted once again, because I can’t seem to catch a breath.

“Indy? Are you okay?” Ari asks, reaching for my frozen hands. His touch is warm and comforting and all I want is to be completely enveloped in it, and so I fall forward into his chest.

His hands let go of mine and wrap instead around my body, pulling me tightly against his. I don’t know how to stop crying or breathing, or how to find a balance between the two or even why it is such a difficult task to achieve. All I know is that the last thing in the entire world I would want is for Ari to let go of me.

“I miss her,” I mumble into his shoulder between heavy sobs. “S-so m-m-much.”

“She forgives you,” he says calmly, randomly. His fingers are tracing a circle on my back, his other hand smoothing my hair and caressing my shaking head against his steady shoulder. “You just need to forgive yourself now.”

He is right. “But every time I try to, I feel like this.”

His arms pull me even tighter against him. “Then every time you feel like this, I’ll be here.”

We stay like that for a long time. How long, I’m not sure. Long enough for my breathing to regain control of itself and for my eyes to dry out.

And then he holds me and I wait until I can see the sun creeping in between the blinds. Even then, I don’t move. I couldn’t if I wanted to.

And I didn’t want to.

But even when the sun’s rays shine into my eyes and I press my head against Ari’s chest and feel the safest I ever have, I am still entirely terrified. I am more than aware that I have attached an integral part of myself to this person beside me, and he is now my safety. He is my haven.

But how odd, how unfortunately ironic and heartbreakingly sad, that a person can become a place. For places are meant to stay in one place, yet people are always leaving.

I hold onto my haven with dear life. I am inflicted with the pain of knowing that this feeling is only temporary, that it can only be that way for as long as a part of my being is attached to a thing with a beating heart and two working legs.