This question propels me into a panic attack every single time it’s posed. Of course, now that I’m starting to need eye cream and have lost every aspect of that metabolism that used to let me eat a bag of marshmallows for an after-school snack every day it’s not so much “when you grow up” but more “pretty soon, like, when you graduate, which is pretty soon.”
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve really stressed about this one over the past six years or so. When I was 9 I wanted to be a “movie star”, when I was 13 I wanted to be a “pop singer” and for my 16th birthday I blew out the candles on my sugar-coated cake and wished that when I grew up I’d “marry rich”.
Four years and two messy break ups later I came to the conclusion that I was going to rock my power pant suit and make millions on my own. Besides, if you’re not already betrothed to a Kennedy when you turn 20, your chances of living a blue blood life with summers in the Hamptons and winters in St. Barthes and diamond on your neck di-diamonds on your grill (sorry) is kind of a lost cause. I said millions. Not piddly hundo K’s. Anyway, “I’m going to marry a billionaire” isn’t exactly dinner conversation when you’re out at TGIFridays talking about life plans and aspirations.
I never had that “plan”. The “I’m going to be a Doctor” plan. What I’ve had is a ticking time bomb inside of me that only allows me to sit stagnant for a short period of time before making another drastic move. Leap of faith, if you will. Seek out another puzzle piece.
We talked a lot this weekend about future plans and how messy it all is. One of my girlfriends who was visiting me from the city posed the question at breakfast on Sunday “Andie, how did you do it? You had major life anxiety at one point – how did you overcome it?”
I couldn’t even answer her. I tried. I spat out fragmented thoughts that didn’t answer her question. And I realized that she was right; I had overcome it. For the first time in 8 years, I don’t really have any “life-anxiety”. For the first time, dare I say, in my entire life I have a plan. Not just a ‘dream’ but a concrete plan. Somewhere between 18 and 24 and 3/4 I figured my shit out. And dare I say, it only happened within the last 3 months
I came home and tried to hash it out. Where did this happen? When did this happen? How did I figure out all this madness to the point where it actually makes sense when I call my Mum and say ‘this is it! I have it all under control!’ To the point where I think she actually believes me.
I wrote it out. A timeline of sorts. I hoped within it I would find some linearity – some trick of the trade. Some gem I could share with one of my best friends as to how to ‘just get over it’. Out of it came the closest thing to a ‘road map through the Quarter Life Crisis’ I could have hoped for. A twisted path through the eight years since high school graduation that led me to the moment I had today when I was asked “What are you going to do when you graduate” and blurted out an answer so clear, so concise and so convincing that my audience just looked at me and said “Wow…fuck. Good for you.”
First, we graduated. He broke up with me over a bowl of cotton candy ice cream. I vomited. I panicked. I cried a lot. I got over it, as much as you can get over a first love, and instead found something else to panic over. Life & what I was going to do with it. I spent a lot of time listening to Born to Run in my mint colored jeep pretending I was having this crisis in the 80′s. I pulled over on the side of the road to scream. I threw out my cowboy boots. I studied 20 random subjects that meant nothing to me and failed half of them. I volunteered in classrooms, volunteered in soup kitchens, volunteered with youth groups. I prayed a lot. I talked to my Mother (acting as my psychiatrist). I went to the Doctor once a month about some random aliment that was for sure going to kill me. I drank too much. I stopped drinking entirely. I dated men who went to jail and men who went to church. I went to the gym. I sat on the couch. I wallowed in self-pity. I laughed so hard I developed a cackle. I stopped caring. I cared too much. I watched romantic comedies and wished I had just stuck with the “marry rich” plan. I took a great job making great money working for a great cause and hated it. I spent all my money on shoes and cheeseburgers. I made a great friend who introduced me to his brother. We fell in love at first sight and we went to France within the year and he asked me to marry him under the Eiffel Tower and I said yes. We wore wigs in Scotland. He bought me a Tiffany’s ring. I planned a wedding and tried on Vera Wang. I did the Master Cleanse. I learned how to make a decent batch of chili. I bought an apron. I got angry. I applied to a random program at a random University and got accepted. I decided I was a feminist. I packed up a townhouse and downsized to a basement suit. I bought a stripper pole. We talked about having a baby. I realized I didn’t want a baby. I crawled out the window one night and ran away to visit cotton-candy-man. I came back again. I bought more shoes and more cheeseburgers. They made me kind of happy. I read Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block and White Oleander and started breathing deeper and noticing the small things in life. I read a book on Buddhism. I took up hot yoga. I realized it was okay to be a different person, every single day if that’s what I wanted. I wanted bigger answers. I wanted freedom. I packed my boxes and gave back the ring and moved back in with my parents. I went to California. I visited John Steinbeck’s grave in the Salinas Valley. I dated an outlaw who loved me for everything I didn’t know I was (but do now). I started school. I got A’s. I went to Guatemala and met beautiful women who knew what struggle was. I got really sick. I coughed up dirt and slept with ants in a bed that was so stiff I cried myself to sleep. I watched the sun set every night for 10 days and laid still as I saw the moon slice through the sky. I got called Gringo. I got my white dress really dirty. I had never been happier. I came home. I made new friends. I rekindled old friendships. I promised that no matter what I did ‘when I grew up’ that I would go back to Guatemala. I got a Diploma in Communications. I got a big girl job and a decent salary. I bought more shoes and more cheeseburgers. I fell in love with a man who could have fulfilled my 16 year old dream one day. I never let him love me back because that wasn’t my dream anymore. Broke my own heart. I began to question the integrity of for-profit corporations. I decided I wasn’t cut out to be in Marketing after all. I went to New York City and watched the ball drop in time square. Let myself cry in the Taxi as I passed through Brooklyn on my way into Manhattan as I really felt connected to some sort of hum that I realized was never going to leave me. Bought more shoes and a lot of cheeseburgers while I was there. Met a man in a bar over one dollar beers who told me to move to Manhattan – said it looked good on me and that he could tell I was a firecracker just waiting to explode into success and that the Big Apple was the place I could do it. He felt it. I lost my phone that night and left before I got his name. I came home. I promised myself I would return to New York City. I booked a plane ticket to Florida. Spent Spring Break in Daytona Beach. Made a lot of mistakes that I’ll never remember making. Met a man I don’t remember meeting who I conversed with long-distance for the next three months. He was planning on teaching English in Japan when he graduated from Florida State. A panic attack made me violently ill and I asked the Universe for a way out. A friend emailed me about an apartment in my hometown. I quit my job and left my life in the city and moved a month later. I decided to go back to school to finish my degree – so that I could go and teach English in Guatemala. I got accepted. I was unemployed for two months. Life, and its experiences provided me with enough material to be creative with. My artist unblocked herself – if not through pen, in heart. I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to be anything other than a writer and that I was going to have to do the work to get there, and that doing the work meant standing still for a year.
So here I am, standing still. Working to finish my degree, so that I can go and teach English in my heartland (Retalhulue) for a year, to then go and get my Masters in Creative Writing in New York City. By which point, I will have no qualms about looking someone smack-straight in the face and saying “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Writer.”
Of course, in the midst of madness we don’t see that we’re making progress. To some, this plan is as flishy as stating “I don’t know” – but to me, it’s a trophy of sorts. A glance backwards at hundreds of milestones I never knew existed have provided me with the confidence that no matter the cards we’re dealt, the cards we deal or the cards we simply let remain in our hands – there is a way to move forward for the better, and a reason to.
As much as I wish that 2000 words later I could provide her with that little gem of “how to get over life-anxiety and figure out what to do with your life and how to get there”, I realize that it’s simply not possible. What I can tell her, is that she’ll get there. And that I bet if she looked back she’d realize that she has gotten there – life’s just moving along quickly, as it does, reminding her that she has to move with it or else she’ll get left behind.
I’m still eating rice crispie squares for dinner and occasionally drinking too much on a Wednesday night. I’m still calling my Mom daily and trusting Tarot cards with my future and crying when I watch Peter Pan and wishing I could just be a lost boy for ever- but that’s not a Quarter-Life-Crisis.
That’s just being 24 and 3/4.