I woke up one day, age 25. “Am I now a man?” I wondered.
I remember when I was a little boy, lying on my back on the hill in the yard watching the clouds roll past. Squinting hard, the sky blurred and I kept my eyes nearly shut until one cloud took the shape of a man. Running inside, I exclaimed to my mom, “I just saw God!” I wanted to see him. I needed to see him. How could I know he was up there if I could not pinpoint the space he occupied?
And what would that little boy say about that 25-year-old he has become? He probably foresaw marriage and children, a house and a career. To a 5-year-old, 25 might as well be 45. But that prediction was so far from the truth.
I have close to $100,000 in student loan debt. Just the other day, I slept past noon and subsequently stayed up all night. When I make a list of men whose advances I’ve entertained in my iPhone notes, I have to scroll to get from top to bottom, and some have names I can’t remember without stopping and thinking really hard. Some meant so little, but some meant a lot. “They were all worth it,” I tell myself. What good does it do to think otherwise?
I’ve been in love once, actually I think twice, maybe even three times. I’ve been told, “I love you,” and felt a sense of peace beyond words, and I’ve said, “I love you” when I didn’t mean it, quietly over the phone sitting on the floor of my closet with the lights out; I was so surprised at how easily the words came out sounding sincere.
I’ve been kind, but I’ve been cruel, so very cruel. I’ve stolen, and I’ve cast stones from my glass house, and weighed down my white horse and I’ve shoved the knife right in and twisted it. I’ve spent years on the couches of therapists, lying. I’ve spent weeks in treatment centers, and nights in ERs and on cold bathroom floors. I’ve binged and purged and worried about how much space I am taking up, while subconsciously desiring to take up more, in different ways.
In boarding planes and crossing borders and in uncorking bottles and swallowing little pills and plants, I’ve run from myself, but never quite fast enough to get away.
Mess. Troubled. Whore. Alcoholic. Toxic. Addict. People can say what they will because now, more than ever, I cannot help but feeling that I have finally begun to cross that imaginary threshold from youth to adulthood.
I do not know when it began, though I know it was not when I got hair under my arms or down below, or when, fascinated and petrified, I stopped pulling it out and let it grow in. It wasn’t when my voice cracked, or when I lost my virginity, or when I got my first diploma, or second, or third.
I know it wasn’t when I got my first bank account, or paycheck or credit card or bill. Nor when I came out, or got my first negative test result or kissed my first boy in public without caring who was watching.
It wasn’t when I felt broken, or mighty; or when I felt immortal or ruined.
I don’t think it happened when I took my last drink, or pill or toke.
It wasn’t when I first gave without expecting anything back, nor when I first felt self-loathing or had my heart broken once, or actually twice, and maybe even three times.
Just like what is or isn’t above us and below us, I cannot pinpoint when it happened. It must have been when I started liking the sound of my own voice and the words it was forming; when I first gently spoke then projected my being out into the world. It must have been when I became proud, but not prideful.
Or at least getting there.
I dare to say, I hope I have reached a place where, no matter what is given or taken, no matter what comes or goes, I can wake up on a rather uneventful September morning and know I am not on my way, but I am here. I am OK. I am love. I am alive. I am a man.
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Unsplash photo via Maxim Smith