“The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.”
-Billy Collins, On Turning Ten
I wrote a paper on this poem during my senior year for AP English. As I explored the themes of nostalgia and the pains of growing up, it didn’t seem to faze me. After all, I was seventeen and getting ready to go to college, and it seemed like I couldn’t be growing up fast enough.
About a week ago, I celebrated my 2oth birthday. I have to admit, it was pretty sobering. I’m certain that I’ll feel young again when I reach 21 (riiiiight?) but the idea of turning an entire decade older brought me to this poem again. “You tell me it is too early to be looking back…” Well, maybe. But 20 is kind of a big deal. That’s one-fifth of a century. I’m now a dreaded “twenty-something”, the subject of all of those articles on Facebook regarding careers, relationships, marriage…marriage? Hold on a hot second.
In the midst of all of these thoughts, I’ve taken some time to appreciate what an incredible life I’ve had so far. If I was somehow beamed up to heaven right now (I don’t believe in dying), I have to admit that I’d be pretty happy with the time I’ve been given. When I was probably fifteen or so, I wrote up a list of things I wanted to accomplish during my life. I’ve checked off a sizable number on the list, like being a guest at the White House, delivering a keynote address, being on a television show, and even publishing a book! None of those things would have happened without the support of so many people—family, friends, even complete strangers! In addition, I’ve had so many “typical” experiences that have become so precious to me: coming to college, meeting so many people and learning their stories, and even dating a guy…or six (okay, the number isn’t six, and I’m regretting including that at the end of my list). It’s been an action-packed adventure, and I wouldn’t change any of it.
I’ve been blessed so much and so filled with love from my first day to my 20th year, and I’m so excited for what the future holds. I’d like to take this moment to say that I’ve spent the past five days battling through the Pokémon League on my Gameboy Color, so it’s safe to say that I’m never growing up. And I’m still hoping to hold that childhood wonder that enables us to dream big dreams. I’m coming up with my own bucket list for my 20s, including writing my second book, interning for Google, going to grad school either at an Ivy League or abroad, and developing my own non-profit. Big dreams, but hey, anything can happen in ten years, right? I’m hoping so.
Thank you to all of my family and friends that made celebrating 20 so special, especially my family in Trinidad who threw me the most lovely of surprise parties. You have made me feel so loved and I plan on carrying that love with me every day this year. Bring it on, 20s! I’m ready for ya.
Here’s to turning the second big number.