I had a whole birthday blog post planned out, wherein I’d reflect on what I’ve learned, lost, gained and gleaned this year — a bit like what I did last year at 27.
I wanted to talk about how I (finally, finally) got out of the most toxic relationship of my life — how surreal it is that this is the first year in six I didn’t hear from him at all on my birthday. I wanted to talk about the emotional fallout I’ve been dealing with since, and honestly, for years now; how I’ve been slamming myself into unmakeable connections like a fly battering a screen door. I wanted to talk about how, despite my emotional unavailability and the wreckage to my capacity to be vulnerable and trusting and open, I’m already happier, more confident, calmer in the six months since it’s been over. I wanted to talk about how it was the best gift I gave myself this year: finally granting myself permission to believe what I already knew, which was that I was being manipulated and gaslit and used.
I wanted to talk about my growing business; how in the span of this year I went from a staff writer with clips at a single venue to a full-time freelancer making an appreciable living and who’s written for over a dozen publications. I wanted to talk about my goals for the coming year, about how I’ve renewed and reified my interest in wine and am making plans to continue pursuing that knowledge — while simultaneously (and again, finally) learning temperance, reliably having only a glass or two. I wanted to talk about how I left my “goal weight” in the dust and regained ten pounds, but have been (ever-so-slowly, punctuated throughout with not-so-great days) growing happier inside my body and so much physically stronger; how I’ve learned to be less concerned with what I look like than the amazing stuff I can do.
But I spent the first day of 28 walking around my beloved little town of St. Augustine, watching it board itself up and batten itself down with plywood and sandbags. I took myself through a typical circuit of birthday self-pampering: I got my nails done; I ate a nice meal. I was sung to by multiple parties. But it was all under a strange and undeniable shadow.
I also waited in an hour-long line for my mother’s prescriptions; I also listened to my neighbors talk about braving the gridlocked highways for compulsory “vacations” to Georgia or North Carolina or even Missouri. At lunch, the waitress asked me about my plans and I told her I was staying. She nodded and we smiled knowingly at each other and shrugged. “We’re just going to keep our heads down and our fingers crossed,” we agreed. “I mean, what are you going to do?”
It’s hard to think about anything but the threat of everything washing away. I love this town so much — moving back to it is easily one of the best things I did at 27. I learned recently that St. Augustine and I share a birthday; I’d always seen September 8th quoted as the founding date, but a trip to the Government House museum informed me that Menéndez’s men actually made landfall on September 7th.
So many people here are just getting back on their feet from Matthew. I have friends in Davis Shores who proudly showed me their newly reconstructed homes this summer, only to have to pack everything up, head north and hope for the best come the first tendrils of fall.
It’s scary. In fact, this is the first hurricane I’ve ever really been afraid of — probably because it’s the first hurricane I’ve ever really been an adult for. When I was growing up in Miami, hurricanes meant time off school and the exciting novelty of being without power for a few days. It felt like camping, like a controlled taste of the end of the world.
Now, I have something to lose — several somethings, the most important of which have hearts and minds and opinions that differ from my own.
Wandering town yesterday and chatting with those of us waiting here in Irma’s path, “Stay safe” had become the standard farewell. It was universal and unplanned, like an invisibly issued edict. “Stay safe” and “good luck” and “we’ll get through this;” text messages wishing me happy birthday before asking about evacuation plans. One friend in Tampa flew home early from a trip with his girlfriend to decide what’s worth salvaging from the house they just purchased, gathering a few records and articles of clothing and their cats and leaving the rest for whatever may come. There’s something about it that’s so human, this underlying willingness to start over; to strive and struggle while knowing everything might be lost and then to build it all again.
And really, that’s what I wanted to talk about most in this blog post, anyway: The amazing people I’ve gotten to interact with and learn from and laugh with this year.
I’ve made friends with people who’ve run ultramarathons in deserts or quit their jobs to travel the world by sailboat or overcome emotional and physical abuse by the hands of their parents and lovers. I’ve grown closer to contacts who’d been waiting in the wings for years, spontaneously blossoming into surprising and beautiful friendships. People who have absolutely NO reason to do so have offered me support and shelter and endless understanding, even when I’ve returned the favor by being a totally shitty friend. Once again, this year has been an education in how impossible it is to ever really be alone.
I’ve spent so much time and energy on self-improvement, on growing my business and strengthening my body and holding myself accountable. In fact, I continually joke that I’ve gotten boring, though I feel happier and more stable than ever. I’ve honed a level of self-discipline that would make my 18-year-old self scoff.
This year, it’s time to start directing that energy outward — to continue improving the self I am, but specifically in relation to others.
At 28, I want to double down on my commitment to honesty and vulnerability. I want to be kinder and more patient and slower to judgement. I know a lot of my Type-A crazy and how easily I’m overwhelmed are due to what is, at its core, an ego problem: an inflation of my own importance.
I am not so important. And learning that — really learning it, embracing it — will not only make me happier, but also a better citizen. At least, that’s my hope.
For the short term, I’ll spend the weekend crouched under the wall of wind with my parents, hoping my little town doesn’t blow over.
But even if it does, I know we’ll all gather together and pick it up again, just like after Matthew. After all — what else can we do?