Tomorrow is my 19th birthday and I find that every year, I become more and more reluctant to get older. I know that’s not really supposed to happen until I’m at least 30, but every year I find reasons to stay my current age.
It was a Wednesday morning when one of my closest friends passed away. I was only 14. I later found that the countdown to my 15th birthday was full of dread. It was so unfair to me that Josh would not live to see 15, but I would. My irrational anxieties about growing older were based in the guilt that I was allowed to experience 15 and 16 and 17 years on Earth, when Josh was only able to see 14 of them. Of course, being forced to cope with death at an early age, I had to have developed some irrationalities, but it also lead to my increased awareness of the fleeting nature of life and thus my greater appreciation for it.
From grief and guilt came the insistent foot-dragging only reminiscent of Peter Pan’s. I refused to see why 17, then 18, was necessary. I wondered why 16 wasn’t enough. The universe meant to tell me that I couldn’t possibly enjoy 16 for more than 365 days, certainly not forever, and I was livid. When I was trying so hard to make the best out of one year, in honor of my friend who would never live to see it, gravity or the space-time continuum, or what have you, was pushing me forward into uncharted territories, away from the age I had worked all year to make worth living. I was trying to live two lives.
The fatigue of living for two, my self-prescribed responsibility, is more than one can imagine so when the clock struck 18 I had to move on. I focused on myself; my goals, my collegiate future, my boyfriend, my family, the last shining bits of my childhood. I had found another reason to stay put. My childhood. Where had it gone, could it possibly be coming to an end so soon? Rooted into 18, I’ve dug my feet into what has possibly become the most eventful, for lack of a better word, year of my young life. If only the internet had space for me to explain this year, but I’m sure even this vast, unlimited information super-highway doesn’t have room for that. Then, just as I had become comfortable with 18, a horrible tragedy came without a moment to spare when my dad suddenly passed away. I, the girl with deep-seated fears of death, had to deal with what seemed at the time, and still today, the worst thing humanly imaginable. My best friend was gone. Though he lived 64 love-filled years, I had only lived 18, and a mere 18 years of memories for a father and daughter just doesn’t, and will probably never, feel long enough.
Now that 64 is a looming number in the distance, I have something else to fear about growing older, but I’m not going to let it stop me. In college, I am now, more than ever, aware of everything life has to offer, all of its opportunities and experiences. I want to do it all and not take one thing for granted. We never know how long we have, as neither Josh nor my dad did. I plan to make the most of every year, not living life for two, or even for three, but for one- me- so that they both may look down and see the satisfaction of a life well-lived and feel what I will feel as if they are still here in more than spirit. I plan to do a lot of learning and growing in my life, so I’ll give my hesitant roots a nudge toward some reasonable flexibility. This year I’m ready for 19, but I’m taking my 18-year-old mentality with me, tucked safely in a pocket.
As the daughter of my father, a man who never quite surpassed the maturity level of a 12-year-old, I know it’s possible. Growing old may be inevitable, but I’m always going to be daddy’s little girl; just the way he left me.