The bittersweet epiphany of the 18th birthday

As I near my end-teens, I have much to say about moving forward; a collective reflection of what we all look forward to in our youth.

What gives when we come to the age of decision and independence on our 18th birthday?

What gives when we come to the age of decision and independence on our 18th birthday?

Jasmin Parrado, Staff Writer

“Time” is a construct.

Of course, that is easy to say, but hard to apply. We naturally associate many things with time: age, healing, disappearing—we’re artifacts of our own fate. And time is the window in which it all supposedly happens, according to scientists and astronomers that define the world by the next swaying tree branch and the distant, culminating affair of star births in all the navy and black of the beyond. And sitting here today, I certainly feel its course. I look in the mirror and I stand taller than the little girl that once stood in her Cinderella dress and white Mary-Jane heels. I see my face and observe the careful ombré of neutral tones accentuating my eyes, the same eyes I painted over with streaks of black liner and purple shadow when I climbed the sink and watched my legs dangle off the counter.

And maybe some things do defy time; I still habitually bite my lips and pat my dog’s stomach three times as a farewell before departing from his belly rubs (which I still personally consider to be good luck). I run my lips into silent conversation, even when I sit alone; I teach and lecture, recite and repeat, just as I used to do with my rows of stuffed bunnies and kittens when I played teacher after school. I look in the mirror and still see my brows shaped and grown the same way, a simultaneous round and straight arch; my hair is its natural shade of dark brown, long against the brim of my back; my freckles and marks remain on my face; eternal sun-melded constellations that do not dim beneath clouds or sunlight. I see myself well within; still me. Still Jasmin.

But now, I know all too well the peculiar atmosphere of a prospective 18th birthday that I never once understood in my past. I mean, it’s like unlocking a door: beyond it are numerous ventures in which you can partake, all to your own pleasure—or demise. In America, you can now legally vote, get tattoos and piercings—actually, scratch that, a whole lot more than just tattoos and piercings—without parental consent. You can buy stock, move out, sue someone; you share the ways of the world around you. You experience the world that you have viewed for so long through a clear glass window.

From the thought of it erupts this universally nagging fear of realization that above all, you are completely and utterly accountable for your actions, thoughts, tribulations, and achievements. Your guardians can’t defend your faults on your behalf; you will now never be withheld from the consequences you were once warned of in a distant time and place, where cotton candy and Lego bricks clouded your mind. Adulthood breaks the glass, and if you don’t dodge accordingly, the broken shards will cut away at you. That’s just the way it is.

But of course, there comes the positive attributes; the prized moments of independence in decision-making and action that I have felt more recently in wake of my childhood’s finale. It’s that bliss of driving the night away in the car alone, letting your favorite music overflow and fill the atmosphere of the open road and city lights. It’s the change in your walk when you walk alone to a destination, the strut that develops as you realize that the only person you are waiting on in the lot is your own self. It’s the confidence that overcomes the fear because, at some point, we all realize that we must take the reins and ride now that we are the only hands left to the journey. Independence is the solution to the fear of independence. It’s this wonderful cancellation between feelings and worries and it is the most essential step to moving forward in one’s life.

Now, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss many aspects of my much younger life that I shared with my parents. It doesn’t feel the same, sitting and drinking my coffee alone and not hearing my mother’s laughter, or making my way across the street and not locking arms with her, or telling her about all the trials and glories of my day. It doesn’t feel the same, sitting down to eat and not laughing as my dad jokes with me about my clumsy ways and orders us two miso soups to precede our favorite sushi course. It doesn’t feel so amazing to begin my life in the awkward, ringing silence of independence, now officially marked by my birthday. But I know I must take it as it comes; after all, we are the only company guaranteed to ourselves for the rest of our lives.

With that being said, I’ve learned that in such a culmination of simultaneous worries and assurances, the key to embracing the official legal age of adulthood is embracing myself. That means giving myself a little more credit than I would in the past, when my doubts and anxieties shadowed over my actions, like skyscrapers threatening to chase me down upon their descending.

When you’re left to do things on your own, the quality of certain actions are not necessarily the priority anymore. You’re not conveniently observing the world around you and merely making internal ratings and judgments. You’re stuck with one person and one person only, and that is your wonderful, human self. So, you cannot ask a skilled driver to take you places; if you have the car, you just take it, and whatever expertise you have at that moment is what you must work with. Of course, it is up to you whether you intend to improve your skill set moving forward. But no one will tell you to do that; that’s your prerogative. You’re an adult!

See? It’s a fairly simple, one-way track of existence. Specific circumstances in our lives turn us wayside and branch us off into beautiful and terrible paths of decision-making to which we are always left. But know this: as you explore your life as an adult, know that you are not alone in being alone. Adulthood is the anthem of the teenage dream and the sobering reality of the elder’s nostalgia. Our collective desire in this world is to maneuver it with swift and confident motion, to take the advice of those before us and dodge those very glass shards that come our way with the shield we create from our wisdom.

It’s awkward, liberating, lonely, and wonderful. But most importantly, it’s the revelation of life’s true nature. And now, I hold the candle and keep the flame. I am responsible; I am independent. I am confident. I am 18.