We’ve endured more than 330 days in quarantine, and I’ve spent my entire time as a 21 year-old in that period. It probably goes without saying that I didn’t have the most typical “21” experience. My birthday is on April 12, so there was no bar-hopping or get-togethers last spring. In fact, I actually spent my birthday completely alone. My mom had to work that night (a job she couldn’t call out of, as a nurse on the frontline,) and my boyfriend at the time couldn’t travel out to see me because it was Easter (yes, my birthday occasionally falls on Easter.) I’m pretty sure I spent the day eating cake, drinking pink moscato, and watching reruns of Jeopardy!, so unaware of what was to come.
Within less than a month of my 21st birthday, I was living away from my mom in an apartment in Boston with two other housemates. I had no job, no license, and no money to my name, but hey, at least my useless art degree arrived in the mail just in time for the economy to tank!
I applied to over 200 jobs that summer and burned through all of my tax money, savings bonds, and help from my mother to pay my rent. I started getting food stamp benefits to take the burden off paying for food. I landed a job at Starbucks in July, which I was actually excited about; the only problem was I had to walk four miles a day to get there and back. That was fine for the summer and most of the fall, but when the November chill hit and the sky began darkening with dread at 4:00pm, I began to panic.
I transferred to a closer Starbucks at the end of November, which downsized my daily commute from 2-3 hours to only about twenty minutes. Towards the end of December, Starbucks began cutting my hours due to COVID-19 policies and overstaffing. In less than the span of a week, I found myself balancing filing for partial unemployment, losing all my life savings to fraud, and going through a tremendously painful breakup all at once. Meanwhile, both of my parents were hundreds of miles away from me and not exactly on-hand for me to run to for a hug.
Needless to say, 21 has not been the dreamiest year of my life.
With that being said, I didn’t write this to complain about how hard my life is or throw a pity party about being poor and tired all the time. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. I wanted to talk about the past year of my life as something I’ve learned an enormous amount of lessons from, something that I am appreciating and learning to take in stride. After all, I am so privileged and fortunate to admit that I haven’t (yet) lost a loved one to COVID-19. I haven’t lost my home or my job or my pets, I haven’t gotten sick and been stuck in a hospital for weeks and weeks hooked up to a ventilator. And even though I haven’t been able to hug my parents or talk to them in person in so long, neither of them are dead. They’re only a phone call away, ready to love me and support me when I need them.
I think I’ve cried more tears and felt more stress at the age of 21 than I ever have before in my life, but I’ve also laughed so much and made so many beautiful memories in this messed-up, absurd world we’re living in. I’ve made friends for life in Boston and bonded with the customers in my coffee shop. I’ve cherished each and every dollar of tips I’ve ever made, saving them up for weeks so I could buy that new eyeshadow palette I’ve been pining for, or a new bed set, or a fresh set of toothbrushes from CVS. This year, I’ve learned not to take anything for granted and love each and every thing in my little apartment that I bought with MY money. I’ve learned how to be a responsible spender, how to earn a few extra dollars here and there with Facebook Marketplace and Etsy so I can worry less about paying my rent and more about the things that matter.
There’s an analogy from a book I really love. It talks about how we all have invisible veils hanging down in front of our faces, and while they make the world a little bit blurry, we like it that way. We like to walk around in our own little bubbles of ignorant bliss, only staring at what’s in the way rather than the big picture ahead of us.
If my ignorance and comfort was my veil, then 2020 really yanked the hell out of the veil and ripped it away from my face. At 21, I’ve lived through historical protests against police brutality and racial injustice. I’ve lived through one of the worst presidents this country has ever known, the most tragic disease outbreak of the century, a broken economy, and violent political turmoil and division. The last year of my life has taught me that it is my privilege to use my voice, and I am ready and prepared to do so to help keep this world full of kindness and acceptance.
If you had told me on April 12, 2020, that this is how the next year of my life would pan out, I probably would have been dejected and scared. And truthfully, I still do have moments of being frightened of the world around me and hurt by the big-ness of it all. But in retrospect, I think the past 330 (or so) days of my life are something I really needed to grow up. And growing is painful- that’s why they’re called growing pains.
I hope that everyone reading this can find some comfort and ease in knowing that you’re not alone. Especially young folks like myself who’ve found themselves confused about their direction and their identity in a world that feels so out of control, I see you and I understand you. And truthfully, I’m looking forward to 22. I’m hoping it’s filled with more cocktails, more pretty girls to kiss, more yoga and journaling and confetti and pets, more time with my parents, more special memories to make and hold onto, and more lessons to learn.
The roaring 20s may turn out to be the best time of my life. ✩