A couple of weeks ago, my roommate caught me sitting on the edge of the bathtub in our hotel bathroom (fully clothed, OK), staring into the mirror as if I’d been asking it about the fairest in the land, or as if maybe I was really into my new eyeshadow. There are a lot of reasons I could have been sitting there staring into the mirror, and none of them really boded super well for me being a nice, non-narcissistic girl. “Whatcha doin?” she asked, glancing at my reflection, on which I was still fixed, and then back at me. “Just thinking,” I said, not moving. “In the bathroom? On the side of the bathtub? What are you thinking about?” “WHAT IS THIS, THE SPANISH INQUISITION?” Just kidding, I didn’t say that. I said, “About being 22.” Now, you have to understand that I was having a moment, one of those suckers that knocks you right off your horse and makes you stare in the mirror for 20 minutes wondering if you ever even knew yourself at all. But I didn’t set myself up for any favors with that answer. “Oh, I see,” she giggled. “Feeling 22*, are you?” She killed the moment and I laughed and got up, stealing just one more glance at my 22-year-old wrinkles before I followed her out to the living room, where normal people sit. Here’s what we look like.
Still, thoughts trying to wrap themselves around 22 linger. (Look, my melodrama has ripened with age and also my life is in major transition GIVE ME A BREAK.) Twenty-two seems like such a strange age, one that I can’t believe I came upon. It didn’t even happen all that quickly–this isn’t about oh, but yesteryear, I was just 18!–it just was never something I thought about. 21: now that was something I’d imagined on myself. 22 never beckoned with fairy dust and sunbeams; in fact, in the months preceding, I would console my worries concerning all this prickly, beautiful then-upcoming transition by reminding myself none of it was happening until I was 22. “You’re still 21, young sport!” I’d boast myself cheerfully. The night I did turn 22, my roommates sang to me at midnight while I finished a paper. It was pretty anticlimactic, as if 22 had turned aromatic and seeped in under the door to envelope me when I wasn’t looking. It just sort of was all of a sudden–at 2,198 words I was 21, and three sentences later, I’d turned 22. And it still hasn’t quite hit me.
It’s not that 22 seems old. In fact, it seems really, really young (yeah, I hear you, chorus of wisdom-possessors who are chanting, “Because it IS young!”) It seems too young–too young for me to be taken as seriously as I am, too young for me to be responsible for buying my own couch, too young for people to assume I’m going to remember to make my own eye doctor appointments. But then, I do all of those things, and I stare at myself in the mirror, 22-year-old eyes that I thought I knew shining back. “You’re an adult,” they remind me, right after I’ve finished cleaning the bathroom. I shake my head, and the person in the mirror does, too. “No,” I blink back. “I’m not.” They’re not the only things that try to convince me: the job applications, the work emails, the diploma on its way. All of this evidence compiles to convince that 22 is an appropriate age to barge into adulthood and find it for what it is (I’m certain it’s splendid). It’s not that I feel too young at heart–I’ve always been precocious for my age (when I was a kid, this was cute, and when I was 18, it led to strong feelings about the dishes). It’s not that I don’t want any responsibility–I’ve had that for a long time (those work emails are nothing new). It’s that 22 just seems so young, too young for me to know myself well enough to convince other people that I do. Luckily, I don’t have to convince very many people that I’m anything besides whoever I am at any given moment. That, my friends, is a gift.
The other day, I hung out with a new friend, and I had to introduce myself. I recited some of those things that, when stacked atop one another, look a lot like me (or at least the me I break out over coffee): “I do drink a lot of coffee, yes. I really, really love Jesus. Have you ever pulled over to pick wildflowers off the side of the road? I ordered three books off Amazon today…” But then I excused myself to go to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and was shocked to see her, so 22 and sure of who she is and where she might be going. She looked so confident, and I felt nuggets of that inside of me, but more quietly than the way it appeared in the mirror, coloring my cheeks. I came back out and asked, “Do you feel weird about being 22?”
Eventually, I imagine 22 will feel more like home, maybe when my world settles and things fall into place, like they always do (“Whew,” my mom and best friend are thinking. “We don’t need to have an intervention.”). In fact, perhaps 23 will try to come in and serenade me away, and I’ll turn and look back at 22 with nostalgia and a laugh, because I finally got used to those eyes. For now, I’m taking it as a cue to get to know myself again, to uncover the things I couldn’t when I was 21. For example, I didn’t know when I was 21 that I could eat half a bag of cherries while I walked, not caring one bit that they hadn’t been washed. I didn’t know that I like to be outside right at the moment when the humidity bursts and the rain begins to fall. And it took 22 years, but I finally learned the Electric Slide.
My roommate still asks me if I’ve thought any more about being 22, if I’ve spent any time gazing into mirrors lately. She’s making fun (don’t worry, she loves me a lot, even my melodramatic bits), but I have. I see what I know, the shades about coffee and books, the ones that will probably color my eyes when I’m 47. And I see someone else, someone I’m still meeting and finding and introducing to you.
“‘Dear God,’ she prayed, ‘let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well-dressed. Let me be sincere–be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.’” –Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
*Since I had to do that, have this as repayment.