“No, honey. She’s not an adult. You’re not an adult until you have kids and learn how to take care of someone else.” — My sister-in-law, speaking to her six-year-old son, about me. On New Christmas Eve.
I was so mad I wanted to cry. And I couldn’t just barge in there and ruin their cozy little mother-son moment. But damn, did I want to give her a piece of my mind.
At the time, I didn’t even know if I wanted to have children. Hell, I was 22 and the world opened before me like the proverbial oyster.
Fast-forward nine years.
I honestly don’t know how I got to this point in my life.
I’m 31, childless, and living with my mom.
Yes, I quit the Safeway job a few years ago because the reset crew and the scary metal guy were harassing me because of how I looked.
And I was laid off from Kohl’s because, well, the season ended.
And I moved home from Portland with all manner of PTSD, so I couldn’t work for awhile.
Does refusing to go with my mom, who wants to make me go to the local zoo with my great-nieces, make me an adult?
Does having kids at 17, breaking up with your cheating husband, and moving in with your parents, like my niece did, make you one?
My friend, a fellow PFLAGger, and I, said that we wanted to be like Elena Kelly when we grow up. It was at Transgender Day of Remembrance, something that Elena single-handedly organized herself for the community. We were joking, but really, somehow she’s just got it together.
She knows everyone in our town of 300,000.
She moved to frickin’ Thailand and is enjoying her life there, thanks to her lighthearted spirit and her penchant for connecting with people on Facebook.
She’s unemployed, but she’s an adult.
But she has degrees, and she’s a registered minister.
I have a degree, and I’m a derelict writer.
Who can’t write because I can’t seem to think through enough sentences to get from a spontaneous opinion to a polished thesis statement. Much less an editorial.
What I can do is write about my life. My PTSD, things that piss me off, things that made me smile.
Is saying “made” instead of “make” indicative of not being an adult?
No, not having a job is.
I hate it when the kids come over because they’ll make the inevitable comment: “How old are you now? 37. Still living with my mom.”
Or not take my advice because, you know, I’m not technically an adult.
Fuck the bad economy; there’s something wrong with me.
They’ve known this since they were little.
Unemployed or on Dad’s dole. Never self-supporting. I think of this and self-hatred threatens to seep in, so I’ll tell you what I have done.
I have travelled a little. I have graduated from college. I have endured lots of emotionally wrenching things, some with grace, and others with grudges.
I have applied to *so* many jobs.
“Walked me up a story, asking how you are. Told me not to worry, you were just a shooting star.”
So many jobs.
I identify with Colin in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines because he’s afraid of being a noted child prodigy, even as an adult, and nothing else.
Sure, he kisses a girl, and works in a tampon factory for a summer, and I guess that’s what makes him grow up. Become more than a noted child prodigy.
Because, you see, I was kind of a prodigy myself.
Someone who made people at my baptism whisper, “Ooh, what a writer.”
I never questioned it; it was what I was going to do when I grew up.
So now writing makes me question every syllable, every word, especially if it’s not about me.
And does that make me a child still? That I want to write about myself all the time?
No, I think it’s reclaiming.
Earlier, in my know-it-all adolescence, I could claim to be an expert on everything.
I could write about George Orwell, Doris Lessing, Henrik Ibsen, Plato, and Antigone, not to mention the geopolitical complexities of Cold War-era America and Europe. Not having even lived through the time at all.
I routinely won the writing contests at school, earning myself a free book and/or a Crunch Bar ice cream, whichever I finished first.
Now, I write about myself and second-guess everything else.
I guess that’s the beginning.
Because an adult is not about taking care of others, but learning to take care of yourself.
And I had my head in the clouds for so long – wandering, studying things that I had trouble writing about, creating botched thesis statements, that it didn’t even occur to me that I needed to think about myself, or my future.
That was all in the future.
I suffered this terrible depression after I graduated from college.
Partly it was because I had to move back to my parents’ homes (they’re separated) away from my beloved college town.
But more because I didn’t know how to do anything.
I remember staring at a ribbon that my dad had wanted me to tie, and just thinking, I can’t do it, and bursting into tears.
He staring at me, disappointed.
What had her college been for if not to create self-confidence?
I guess you have to say that I started off from the ground up.
These days, I’m facing some of my fears. I’m writing, at least.
I’m not dating because of a) the aforementioned unemployment and b) it’s really hard to find someone who’s my type on the internet.
I have panic attacks at queer events if I’m not there with somebody I know.
I’m queer, by the way. Woo hoo.
I guess being grumpy is not going to get me a job, or a position at a writer’s colony. But it does help me work through what frustrates me.
I used to take it out on others, but thanks to Abilify (paid for by the County), I’m writing about it instead.
Actually, scratch the, “because of Abilify.”
Abilify helps me to manage my emotions, but I make myself write.
Well, it’s crossed my mind. Maybe write a book about my fucked-up life in Portland.
There was so much beauty there, and so much pain. That combination makes my memories Technicolor.
Will writing a book make me an adult?
No, I don’t think so.
Technically, getting a job and moving out of my mom’s house will.
More sympathetically, let’s look at what I wrote about Elena. Because apparently that’s my definition of adulthood, is it not?
“Lighthearted spirit.” My brother has that.
“Penchant for connecting with people.” On Facebook or whatever. You have to be emotionally mature to connect with people. They have to trust you, and you them. It’s an equal relationship that blossoms into true friendship.
Do I have that?
I’m trying. The key is trusting yourself first.
I emailed Elena to see what she had to say on being an adult. After she said yes, I was nervous because I was afraid that there would be one more measuring stick, one from someone I trusted, that I just didn’t meet.
Instead, her reply warmed my heart and made me smile:
When I was young, I became convinced that adults didn’t know everything, because they insisted I was not a girl. I vowed that I would never be an adult like that. I have created my adult life through following my heart and accepting that other adults do not necessarily think the same way as I do. But we are not in this world to be like anyone except ourselves, and that’s okay.
It turns out that I’m doing things right, and it’s okay that we’re all different. Whew! Thank you, Elena. 🙂