The First Year I Never Imagined

Twenty-five was a weird birthday for me. I guess, for a lot of people my age, 25 symbolizes the beginning of “adulthood” in a true sense. There’s a pervasive vibe that, at 25, you should start really getting your shit together. You’re no longer “too young” to need to worry about things like retirement or what you really want to Do with Your Life. You’re no longer young enough to raise an eyebrow, let alone shock anyone, with a pregnancy or engagement announcement. You’re allowed to rent cars all by yourself. You are a Grown-Up.

I experienced all of these realizations, of course, each one punctuated by the discomfort of getting the metaphorical wind knocked out of me. But, for me at least, 25 was more than that. It was the end of the marathon that was my life as I had planned it. I realized, with the kind of overwrought self-awareness that characterizes much of my generation, that I had never imagined my life past 25. Every goal I had ever conceived had a deadline of 25 (or younger). It wasn’t that I had ever expected to drop dead on my 26th birthday, I just hadn’t given any thought to what I might have left to do with my life at that point.

It’s the kind of short-sightedness that comes from mapping out your life’s goals in elementary school, but I guess I had always assumed that, by the time I was 26, I would be done. Not washed up and not dead, but finished becoming whoever it was I was going to be. I was going to have achieved everything there was to do and would be free to spend the next 50 years enjoying the spoils of my early victories. I never explicitly formulated this thought, but it represents the implicit assumptions Young Me made about Old Me (because, at the time, 25-year-old me was Old Me).

A frenzied panic occurred during my first month or so of 25-edness. I needed to finish my novel. I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I needed to make grown-up decisions that would impact my future.

Except that I didn’t.

I didn’t finish the novel. I didn’t decide what to do with my life and I made scant few grown-up decisions, if any at all. And now I’m a little over a month into 26, the beginning of the vast and uncharted waters of the Rest of My Life. Twenty-six, for the record, is even worse than 25. Twenty-six is the last year before the beginning of the “late twenties,” which puts you a stone’s throw away from 30, which is almost half-way to retirement, which is basically dead.

This is how my mind works and this is why I spent a quarter of a century meticulously and anal-retentively planning my life without ever daring to look past 25 in my mental crystal ball.

I find it increasingly difficult to make decisions as a 26-year-old, not that decisiveness has even been my strong suit. Everything feels a little more permanent now. Decisions that, two or three years ago, would have been larks or phases, now feel weighed down by finality. Like, for instance, where do I want to live? I have lived, for varying amounts of time, in three U.S. cities, five if you want to be technical. I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Then, when I was 18, I moved to Evanston, Illinois for college. Since only regional natives could point Evanston out on a map, though, we’ll call it Chicago, which was a short train ride away. After college, I lived in Chicago proper for a year, but this is one of the technicalities. Evanston and Chicago are only technically, not functionally different. During college, I lived in New York City for three whole months while pursuing an internship. This makes New York the second technicality, for those keeping tally. In mid-2011, I moved to Los Angeles, where I currently reside.

I thoroughly enjoy experiencing new cities, but more than enjoying that, I hate moving. I will put up with a lot to avoid moving and I have a sense that my next big move will be my last, if for no other reason than pure laziness. This makes every decision feel like I’m Indiana Jones looking for the Holy Grail.

So what is 26 like? It’s terrifying. It’s unknown. It’s the first year I never imagined living. I think coming to terms with that is the most grown-up thing I’ve done yet.

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