I was walking near Washington Square Park around 8:30 a.m. one morning last week and thinking to myself, as students in pajamas and backpacks walked towards the neighboring buildings, that I missed being in college so much. This thought caught me by surprise as it does every year, because when I was in school, I did not like it. Fall always reminds me of my first semester freshman year, when like a real asshole, my boyfriend broke up with during orientation week after I had been locked into a class about the history of tuberculosis. But we’re married now, and I got a B, so I should really get over that.
Still, I don’t recall feeling particularly happy — or maybe it’s satisfied — during the formative years of my college experience. Not as satisfied, at least, as I feel right now. But like clockwork, at the turn of this season every single year, when the air gets crisp and people start to wear jackets, this weird pang hits me right in the jugular that makes me feel like I am drifting further and further from my truest self.
That thought fucks me with me, too: I just told you I’ve never felt more self-satisfied, so how could it be that I’m not my true self? Do I not deserve satisfaction? I get to work with incredible women (and two men!) in an office in Soho and I don’t have to beg my parents for extra money and can afford to buy breakfast every single day if I want to (had to strategically eat a $4 oatmeal after my first class around 11:40 a.m. in college to hold me over for breakfast and lunch before I’d go home around 4). Also, even though I still basically have homework (writing deadlines are essentially the last day of summer vacation with an unread book plus report due every single day), it is, for the most part, homework I am eager to do.
So what gives with the nostalgia — a wistfulness I am reluctant to own and yet feel as though I have to?
You know, for as much as I whine about how urgently I would like to have a child (and I would!), I am also scared shitless of the notion that when I am babying, you know, a real baby, no one will baby me. It makes me feel like an island when I have always preferred big, connected cities because I know myself and I know that emotionally, I’m a wimp. That I probably need more tender love than the average human does and that being so acutely aware of how I feel at every second of every day probably works to my disadvantage because I cannot stand feeling anything that isn’t good.
And even though there were plenty of days that did not feel “good” when I was college age, I knew that overall, I had it good. That every night, I would return to my parents’ apartment, for which I did not pay rent, and eat food that I did not have to make or pay for because someone else (my mom x her Fairway bill) had prepared and paid for. My mom did my laundry and never lost my socks. She even made my bed if I didn’t, of which I took advantage so many times. And during the day, between classes — or even during classes that I just felt like cutting — I knew I wasn’t actually risking my future. I knew that college was important, but that who I decided I wanted to be was completely up to me, regardless of my performance in a tuberculosis class. I didn’t graduate with honors. I still haven’t picked up my diploma.* Yolo.
Growing up means coming to terms with responsibility, which is my least favorite noun, even though in many ways, I am willing to assume this accountability — for my actions, for my words, for the company we are developing. But when I think about the other stuff, the stuff that indicates I have become a “grown-ass woman,” I freeze.
I always forget to make dentist appointments and barely feel bad about it. I will let my bathrobe go unwashed for weeks at a time. There is a half-eaten avocado in my fridge that’s been there longer than I feel comfortable sharing and how many times a week, by the way, do you think I will have to do laundry when there are kids? Can I get away with just making one out of x many beds each morning? I still don’t know the difference between bake and broil on my oven and guess what? I kind of don’t care. Am I supposed to spend more time at the post office? (I feel like my mom was always at the post office.) Will I remember doctor appointments? I have excellent selective memory that even overrides the demands of my Google calendar.
All of these flaws run so spectacularly counter to the picture I have painted for my future — one with many children and white-washed floors in a New York apartment of still undetermined location. I’m still so comfortable living inside the picture my mom painted, for which I got to play best supporting actor. I can’t imagine a reality where I am not coasting through life on the crutches of adults because in my head and in my heart, regardless of how I look, I feel like I will be 22 forever.
I am so screwed, huh?
*My mom picked it up for me about 18 months ago.
Illustration by Emily Zirimis.