I will never be 20 again.
I have been thinking and grieving this fact over this last week since I turned 31 almost a week ago.
I was at a Las Vegas pool party where the guys were all tightening their pecs and upper arms and EDM spilled through the speakers. I was completely sober (had a little too much fun the day before). As I drifted through the increasingly crowded pool on the inflatable I stole away from a bearded dude who was definitely on more than alcohol, my mind had to marvel on how quickly time passes.
When I turned 21, I went with my siblings to the movies near our house. I was assigned to the USNS Henry J. Kaiser as a deck cadet which had its port in San Diego. On weekends, I took a 2.5 hour Amtrak ride to Fullerton. I don’t remember what movie it was, only that I felt like the biggest loser in the world because I wasn’t circling around a Las Vegas pool on a giant inflatable unicorn.
I wasn’t exactly belle of the ball at my military school and I didn’t drink, which made me even more ostracized from the social realities of my college life than I already was. In the coming-of-age movies, young women like myself were supposed to go out drinking with a tight-knit group of airbrushed girlfriends and have casual sex with a comely stranger on their 21st.
I went to Regal Cinemas and had a large popcorn with Raisinets and an extra large Coke.
And then I went home.
2017, I am in Las Vegas with my sister, boyfriend, and close friends at a darkly lit nightclub, a pool party replete with beautiful people, and attending the Viva Las Vegas 20th Anniversary Rockabilly Weekend. A gregarious promoter named Brad texts me the times when I need to make the “free drink for girls” slots.
On Saturday night, I swayed in all my tipsy glory to “Hate It Or Love It” as 50 Cent took the stage for twenty-minutes. (He wants everyone to know that Floyd Mayweather is in excellent fighting shape btw…) Handsome men told me I was a goddess.
It was in that moment, that weirdly time-warpy moment with Curtis Jackson rhyming about P.I.M.P.s that I realized that I was finally having the 21st birthday I always wanted.
It was just ten years later.
In my previous blog articles, I can see this thread of how much I am trying to tie up the lessons I am learning about life in neat little bows. So much of those posts have a clear resolution and end. I seem to breezing through life’s hurdles with nothing more than a nod and a saunter. I mistakenly thought that to endeavor to help others in the arena of self-love, one must erase all the grey areas of life’s lessons.
But, there are some lessons in life that call for massive amounts of gestation and processing. Lessons that call for an outpouring of grief and the willingness to feel the weight of regret without running away via a positive thinking slogan.
You know what? I really wish I had had much more room to be a crazy, experimenting twenty year old. I wish I let myself be a kid when I was one. I wish I fucked up and dated a lot and got an ill-advised, but trendy tattoo. I wish I didn’t always try to be the Good Girl.
About a week ago, I saw a picture of a beautiful girl with hot pink hair and matching lips. She looks to be about 20 or so.
I felt a heavy pain in my heart and wanted to expunge it away from memory. C’mon, Hannah, get over it. You can always dye your hair now. There are more important things to be sad over than your misspent youth.
I am glad I didn’t listen to this voice of rationality. I let myself be sad about The Girl with the Pink Hair and all she brought up for me. I texted my friend about how much I sometimes envy the students I teach. How they breeze into class in their pajamas, their social clubs, blue hair, gender fluidity, their internships with publishing agencies and spring break trips to Aruba.
My friend is a service academy graduate like I am. While we had our “fun”, there were definite instances of youthful experimentation that we never got to test being at a military school. Especially as black girls.
And I am allowing myself to grieve the shit out of this. Because if I don’t, I’ll turn into one of those bitter old people who hate the young and complain about how they coulda been a contender. I’ll remain stuck and grasping.
Grieving what I did miss helps me to see what I actively did experience with clear, non-nostalgic tinted eyes. Whenever I find myself asking what the fuck was I doing at 22? I remind myself: going to independent bookstores to learn about feminism on my own time, standing in line for the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, passing maritime license tests, writing self-pitying longform in my journal…
I was not living the wild life I imagined for my twenties but I was living.
I am 31 years old and sometimes my enthusiasm for the new freedom in my life embarrasses me. While most of my friends in my age group (and not living in NYC) settle down with their baby bumps and mortgages, I am dancing burlesque and plotting out my next traveling adventure or getting another tattoo.
When I look over the previous blog posts where I touch on embracing my age, I laugh now.
The lady doth protest too much, me thinks…
It’s like that friend who confidently lets you know five times in one phone call just how over she is of the dude she was last dating. We let our friend talk, but we know better even if she does not.
I see how much I wanted to convince myself that I didn’t feel silly doing all these new things at my age, how doing the things I’ve always wanted to do finally never felt awkward or strange. How much I wanted to pretend that I did not house pretty sizable regrets or serious jealousy of the current babies of the world.
The truth is: I do feel weird at times. I do wonder if I am just living out a delayed adolescence. I also feel really, really happy with the things I am finally embarking on: taking my art seriously, partying with friends until 2 am, modeling on Instagram.
So, no I will never be 20. Or seven. I will never get to fully recapture the freedom of this time in life. (If you are a baby-person reading this: make sure to live it up!) And when I dye my hair some unnatural color this summer, it will not solve this loss completely.
But, I will dye my hair purple anyways.
(And maybe pink too).