I spent my last day of being 21 in the ER.
I had unfortunately, after just reaching two years of avoidance, contracted COVID exactly a week before my 22nd birthday. By March 2, my cough had gotten worse, it became harder to breath and my chest was constantly aching.
I was advised to go to the ER in case I had pneumonia or a blood clot in my lungs – side effects of COVID that some people refuse to acknowledge. After six long hours alone in a hospital bed, ER nurses trying to avoid coming into my room as much as possible, elevated blood levels and a CAT scan, I was fine.
Oh, the dreaded hospital bill was the first thought that had come to me, probable years of medical debt due to my lack of income just for me to be fine, all because I live my early 20’s in a pandemic.
But what a perfect, signifying way to end my first year as a “real” adult. My first real medical bill!
With the “first” sip of alcohol I had on my 21st birthday, a cosmopolitan that my mom ordered for me because I didn’t know what fancy drinks there were that weren’t Twisted Teas or White Claws, I had never felt older.
There I was, sitting in the middle of a restaurant, flashing my ID to the waiter to celebrate such a milestone, and getting tipsy over one cocktail and shoving chicken parmesan into my face.
I was with my parents. My blazer and heeled boots were contrasted by my long and strikingly purple hair. I was so young. But back then, that was the oldest I had ever been. And I felt it.
The entire year of being 21 was the most important year of my life. I had grown in more ways than I could ever imagine. I had learned so much. It was grueling, it was exhausting, it was fun, it was exciting.
I felt like an adult.
But, my brother was 21 when he passed away. Being 14 at the time, 21 felt so old. I remember my brother’s first legal drink the same way I remember mine. A beer. I’m sure he felt the same way I felt. Feeling old, but the new taste of alcohol puckers your lips, grimacing as you pretend you can handle it. Your mom telling you you don’t have to drink it.
On the 7th anniversary of my brother’s death, I realized something that I hadn’t realized before.
I’ve never felt younger in my life.
When he passed at 21, the agony I felt in knowing that he had an entire life to live strung along with me every day until I forgot what it felt like. Twenty-one is so young. So young to say goodbye. So young to die. And I didn’t know that until I myself became 21.
Even when the taste of alcohol becomes familiar, almost too easy to swallow. Even when you finally sleep alone at night, or not alone, but your parents are miles away. Even when your mom tells you that this hospital bill is yours to deal with.
It’s just the beginning. There’s a whole life to live. And that’s not meant to be scary – the unknown. It’s meant to be exciting. Having a whole life to live means you’re alive.
No, so far, 22 hasn’t been good so far, (a story for another day), but I’m still growing up. I’ll be graduating soon. I got bills to pay. But I have a whole future ahead of me.
Suddenly, being young has never felt better.