The day I became an adult began with a very long email. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that it’s ending is indicative of its body:
“…I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you. I. HATE. YOU. I DON’T wish you well. I HATE YOU REBECCA LEIB.”
The message hit my inbox on a train from Boston to New York City through a fortuitous patch of Wi-Fi.
“Don’t bother to contact me again.” It continued. Silence. Then another email, one I didn’t bother to read. The bus chugged along as I sat, carefully considering each pointed use of “hate,” and the accepted universal seriousness that comes with the use of first AND last names.
I could argue the day I became an adult was the day I knew real pain- the death of my grandmother, the realization that a relationship wouldn’t last (or perhaps, couldn’t). I could argue that the day I became an adult would be my first period, or my Bat Mitzvah (certainly, I deserved some accolade for the hideous eggshell-blue dress suit my mom demanded I wear). I could say the day I became an adult was the first day of my first full-time job (Executive Assistant), or the day I bought my first car (thanks, Honda of North Hollywood). In reality, lots of days accumulate to shepherd a person into what one would call “adulthood,” or behave in a way that might be considered “adult-like.” Still, there’s something to be said for realizing the idea has nested, laid some eggs and found a permanent inner home (I assume it’s how Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath feels every times he re-dyes that skunky white streak into his hair: “Hey Bud. It’s 2008. You’re doing this. You are this. This is you”).
Adulthood came to me like most information does: through my Gmail account.
You see, in the instances above (pain, breakups, period, mildly heeding the call of my Jewish upbringing), I was not an adult. I lashed out- I acted immaturely. I cried (breakup) I said things I definitely didn’t mean (breakup) and I did things that I did mean, but in a malicious way (breakup), manipulated in order to gain attention or pity or action (breakup) or wallowed in my own sense of powerlessness (death, period, Bar Mitzvah, first job, car). When I got that hateful email- one that was completely unwarranted and completely above and beyond any sensible (albeit drunken) discourse that the sender and I had had the night before, the day before that, or the YEARS before that-I could have reacted in a multitude of ways.
Not that I didn’t want to text/email/call/somehow communicate a dearth of different thoughts back to this “friend.” Believe me, there was a lot going on in my head. But- I didn’t. I just…decided not to engage. It sucked. I hated it. But it would not have been constructive to reason with this person at this point, and that was important.
A couple more unopened emails later, I still abstained from any discussion. It sucked more. I hated it harder. As the minutes waned on, however, it got easier. The mélange of thoughts dwindled, lifted off of me to a point where I wasn’t about to punch the headphone’d lady next to me.
I don’t mean to say that this moment was monumental, or that the next time you see me you should buy me a drink (though if you want to, I will accept). But I was angry. Even today- years after the email and processing the other information that came with it (again, not as important, just know it was dumb)- I’m a little angry. In fact, I probably always will be angry about this email (which succeeded to ruin the next day in New York and the next couple months of my self-esteem). But-I didn’t engage. Even after receiving more emails during that day (and over the next year), It sucked, I stayed strong, I worked through it, and came out feeling and looking less insane than when I started. And that, friends, seemed profoundly important and different than my usual mode of operation.
The cat’s out of the bag, people: cultivating an appropriate amount of restraint and/or self-discipline is what adulthood is really about. Yeah, Gandhi was right. Ninjas were right. Your piano teacher was right. Hell, even that single Dad in the apartment across the hall from you was right (Twin babies and finely tailored workwear? You can’t have both and not know all of the world’s secrets). Sure, sometimes you gotta let your crazy out for night sprints or you’ll be the bitter husk of your former self (again, looking at you, Mark McGrath), but it’s important to value your own well-being and conduct yourself in a way that respects the world and the people in it (emphasis on you). As I exercise the muscles of self-restraint more and more, I get better at it. I’m better at knowing when to take a breather, when to disengage and when to restrict myself to a specific medium of communication. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (ask any bag of Peanut M&Ms) but I’m getting much better.
For example, nowadays, I’d never even consider punching a lady on a public charter bus. Not even once!