Turning 19, in Ontario at least, is monumental to a certain extent. The law ceases playing Jiminy Cricket and bows aside to welcome you to the (finally legal) world of drinking and smoking, vices which have been part of our lives to whatever extent, for years. There are a number of things I can do on the 4th of July, when I turn 19. I could immediately start chain smoking so only men who are Salinger characters reincarnated and/or stuck in the ‘60s (don’t worry, I’m stuck in the past too!) will be attracted to me. I could, perhaps, hit up a sleazy night club and get my nasty on to the beat of Euro while sweating off the prostitute perfume a well-meaning friend bought for me, even though I totally know that she only purchased it because it was being discontinued and had dropped from $60 to $20. Or maybe, maybe I could get arrested. This can be done in several ways: I could do it through public indecency (n00d!!) or maybe start a sidewalk-lying-down trend like the video for “Just.” Screw shoplifting, that’s middle school and passé. I could also drink till my body hates me and Dante’s Inferno looks like a vacation house in Cape Cod compared to how my head feels. Regardless of what I choose to do on my 19th, regardless of what any of us choose to do on any monumental birthday, the immediate assumption is that it will be done in the presence of other people. There must be other people there to validate this event. Otherwise, it might as well have never happened.
There is nothing wrong with spending special days with the people you love to be around. Sometimes there is nothing better than happiness shared; people licking their fingers as they pass around plates of food, dry mouths on the lips of cold bottles, or burning paper that gets smaller and smaller with each person. But it gets overwhelming sometimes. There is a pressure to inaugurate every unique occasion with a hoard of people, for the event to be loud and in-your-face. Birthdays especially, bring out the most concentrated of such behaviour in people. I personally feel that birthdays, especially as you get older, can and sometimes should be, taken as opportunities for introspection.
I want to spend my 19th birthday thinking about the next couple of years, as well the handful that have passed. I imagine that I will sit on my balcony at a time when the rest of the world is asleep, a time that under social obligation demands that I be out of the house in the company of friends. I will lower myself onto the cold wicker chair that is still slightly damp from yesterday’s rain. I’ll think about the people in my life who have left: boyfriends, friends, strangers who glowed with the promise of friendship but nothing more. I’ll think about the girl my first boyfriend cheated on me with. She was beautiful. Hers was the sort of beauty that was devastating in youth, the sum total of every socially-agreed upon attractive feature to ever exist since the beginning of time and the establishment of beauty ideals. Hers was the sort of beauty that dazzles and blinds at its prime, then slowly retreats as time goes by. Little by little it reveals less of itself and stops only when the wearer’s face is left with the bare minimum of attractiveness. A wall with a coat of white wash but no paint. I will think of the time I saw that girl in Shoppers Drug Mart and thought all these things. My chest will feel heavy and I’ll try to think of other people, but to no avail. Best not to do it at all. Move on to the future.
I’ll acknowledge to myself that it is slightly silly to be spending this much time thinking about the chapters of my life that have yet to be written, or that may not be written at all, but it’s nice to let your thoughts run free. As the night wears on, I’ll think about what’s going to happen when I graduate at 22 with a double major in Honours English and Religion. I imagine I’ll get quizzical looks from the rest of my family, the long stream of doctors and engineers and dentists and commerce students, and I’ll be asked what on earth I’m going to do with that piece of paper. I’ll think about the look on their faces when I tell them that I’m going on to get my Master’s of Education so I can be qualified enough to work with the Central Asia Institute. Or how they might react if I tell them I’d also like to work for, if not at least intern with, UNESCO. I can imagine their eyes when I titter on about education and waking up in foreign countries and maybe even risking my life so a child can have access to education. I’ll think of all these beautiful things and feel warm inside. What’s wrong with trying to figure out my future if it makes me feel like this? Crickets will chirp in the distant and the hours will slip away. The night will be typical of any summer night: clear skies, cool air, the smell of grass.
And somewhere in between thoughts of the people who have broken my heart and internships in Paris, I’ll give myself time to think of the present. I will think of the choices I have made. I will think of close friends, potential flames, course selection, the loose hinge on my bedroom door, T.A applications, and decisions decisions decisions. Then, I will think how unlike this entire process is from anything anyone else has done. Somewhere in the 365 days of a year, the rest of you have also undergone this development. Perhaps it was done in stages, miniature epiphanies here and there. Perhaps you finally collected these revelations and put them together before falling asleep, or on your way to a wedding, or similar to me, before a birthday.
You know what. Maybe I won’t spend my 19th birthday alone. In the course of explaining why I need designated time to sort out my thoughts and understand some things, I’ve done just that. I only hope that it’s as easy for you as it was for me.
Happy 4th of July, everyone.