By Lauren Lily Carrington
My friend Melanie and I had a lot of life talks when I was 21.
I remember one in particular so clearly: I am about to graduate college, and she is about to turn 25.
Melanie is an Arkansas girl through and through. Born and raised in Conway, she graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in ’09 with a business degree and promptly started working in sales at Hewlett-Packard. She has bright blond hair carefully ratted then smoothed over to create gravity-defying volume on the crown of her head. I’ve never seen her without full makeup, or wearing something pink or sparkly. The amount of shoes she owns is truly impressive. In comparison, I am obscenely low maintenance. In fact, if you never get past the surface, I am nothing like her. When I first came to Arkansas, this intimidated me, but now, after four years of camaraderie, she is my soul sister.
As she drives me to Little Rock in her shiny red car, she confides in frustration, “I thought I would be married by now. Or at least close!” “Amen sistah,” I say — although I do not share her particular concerns. Here is a girl who was always racing to grow up — and did. But now what? She is frustrated by the emptiness of her apartment, the relentless continuity of her steady job, the lack of maturity and echoing emotional distance between her and her former boyfriend of six years.
“As she drives me to Little Rock in her shiny red car, she confides in frustration, ‘I thought I would be married by now. Or at least close!‘ ‘Amen sistah,‘ I say — although I do not share her particular concerns. Here is a girl who was always racing to grow up — and did. But now what?”
I, on the other hand, have always dug in my heels and clawed at childhood, desperate to hold on as long as I could. Perhaps that has something to do with why I look like I’m 16 and could get carded at an R-rated movie. “You asked for it!” the universe snickers at me. But I am not 16. The world spins and life moves forward, taking me with it. I watch light come through windows and move reliably across walls. This day, overcast and muggy, is already halfway over. The flowers that have been blooming in droves around campus will wilt and drop soon enough. I have a life crisis every other hour.
“Melanie, you are having a quarter-life crisis. Don’t laugh! It’s real! You need to trade in your car for a Cadillac and date a 19-year-old frat boy. Trust me. It will totally make you feel young again.”
This is the only way I can respond to her because she won’t believe me when I say that 25 is young. After all, I'm speaking all the way back from 21.
“You will definitely be married by 25,” she accuses me. There is truly no basis for this. In spite of my mother’s misguided hopes, Carrington girls don’t date, much less marry young.
“You know that marriages that happen after 25 are twice as likely to last?”
She looks hopeful at the news.
“I totally made up that statistic, but it’s based on a real one, I swear.” Melanie sighs heavily.
Well, if all else fails, bring up a mutual friend: “Look at Amy — 25 and she’s divorced with a kid. At least you’re not divorced with a kid.”
“A Cadillac won’t work,” Melanie muses thoughtfully. “That’s an old man car. But a 19-year-old frat boy, hmm?”
“That’s the spirit!”
Of course, giving advice to others is often easier than listening to it ourselves. But like Melanie, not too long ago I was questioning many aspects of my own life.
“She tells me that nothing I’m going through is unusual — a comforting and terrifying thought. If this is true then I’m in good company, but can everyone else really be wandering around clueless, barely scraping by? How does society manage to hold itself together?”
First semester of senior year in college I hit a wall. The future was a frightening blank. The present was mind-numbingly pointless. Gray days increased. I dragged myself to class when I could, only to gaze unseeingly at the back of so-and-so’s head, nearly always near to tears. My painting professor of three semesters demanded to know what was wrong with me. Where had my endless enthusiasm gone? I could only shrug helplessly and drag my brush slowly across the canvas like nails on a chalk board.
“I’m coming home,” I informed my mother. “I’m wasting time and money.”
“I’m leaving,” I informed my roommate. “I don’t know what I want.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” I informed my academic advisor, shrugging. “I’m a burnout.”
Sensing my misery, those to whom I revealed my insane plan listened sympathetically and offered their support. The thought of making more and more choices I couldn’t understand the significance of grated inside of me. I thought that maybe I could just opt out altogether from the process. Work in a supermarket for a year. Collect my thoughts and a paycheck. Write more blues.
But I don’t faze Mary-Anne, the campus counselor. As silly as I can be, she knows how seriously I take being happy. Too seriously she often points out. She tells me that nothing I’m going through is unusual — a comforting and terrifying thought. If this is true then I’m in good company, but can everyone else really be wandering around clueless, barely scraping by? How does society manage to hold itself together? I peer with new eyes into the faces of my classmates: those who always seem to turn things in on time, those who walk at a confidently comfortable pace in laughing groups… their sense of self seems so stable. Are they wandering? Are they lost?
I buckle down and just finish my final semester.
It slips by quickly, and I've managed to stay through graduation, although I've pared down my schedule to be more personally manageable. I say goodbye to the things I love. And I do love them, I let myself admit. I must let myself have something to lose. I don’t know if it’s really possible that I matured so much in a semester that everything has changed.
Despite my own crises, I am a hopeful person. If there’s nothing we’ve feared to lose, is there anything we’ve let ourselves love? The reality of losing, of dying to what we know, makes our moments brave.
Riding on the passenger’s side of Melanie’s car, I roll down the window and stick my arm out, feeling the wind resist as it threads through my fingers. A fast and flashy car passes us on the highway and we both peer through the window. We burst out laughing at the same time when we see a small elderly woman hunched behind the wheel. Amen sistah.
Lauren Lily Carrington lives in Salt Lake City where she teaches autistic kids. She is preeettty much doing the same things at 25 as I was at 21, minus college, and stands by that 25 is not actually old.