Tonight, I'm sitting on the dark brown, faux-suede love seat I bought just before I moved in to my first apartment in Kansas City, in the living room of my best-yet apartment in Lincoln Square, listening to my cat eat in the next room. I'm wearing argyle knee socks, flowered men's boxer shorts that have always been mine, and my rabbit ears. There's a glass of pink wine on the table next to me.
And I can't help but think, at this very moment, This is what it means to be a grown-up.
It was cold and grey last Saturday, the day my younger sister graduated from Drake University. But my graduation day six years ago was hot, humid and windy — the way a Midwest May afternoon usually feels. My boyfriend at the time had gotten so wasted the night before that we weren't sure he'd make it to the ceremony.
And that would have been so…him. Runner of the Beer Mile.
Between journalism school graduation and my initiations into Kappa Tau Alpha and Phi Beta Kappa, the most important parts of my day, at least on paper, were over before most kids even had to be on campus for the big ritual: the walk down the hill from the Campanile to the football stadium for the actual commencement ceremony.
None of this was a big deal for me. I knew I would graduate. And I hadn't worked particularly hard to get there. If anything, graduating meant I could finally just be a damn grown-up. Have a job and a paycheck and a relationship that actually meant something. Good riddance, college.
But I did the walk down the hill anyway, smiled and laughed with the friends I'd made in the journalism school, which had been my saving grace as a college student — one of the only reasons I stayed sane enough not to try to kill everyone in my sorority house. I remember seeing my boyfriend's family more than I remember seeing my own; his brother-in-law was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his face, sideburns and goofy grin in all their glory.
My friend Bill walked with a bright yellow smiley-face balloon on it to help his family recognize him in the crowd.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, I found my mother, then we turned away from the stadium and toward the parking lot. We got in the car and drove with my roommate and her mother to Louise's West. I skipped my massive commencement ceremony to drink spicy bloody marys garnished with dill pickle spears.
I can't imagine that day going any other way.
But as I wandered, bewildered, into the Knapp Center on Drake's campus six years later, the concert band already sounding very academic over the loudspeakers, I couldn't imagine my sister doing the same. Drake is a tiny school. And she was an integral part of the student life there during her four years. Or so it seems from the outside. And though I think she's just as eager to get out there and grow up already, her empty chair would have been a tragedy at this ceremony. We — my mother and stepfather, my father and his wife, and Holly's boyfriend — made our way to blue folding chairs high above the basketball court, and finding her among the rest of the black robes and mortarboards was a reading of Where's Waldo? far too early in the morning. There were no striped shirt or trademark spectacles to look for; the only giveaways were her button nose and a tuft of short, layered hair sprouting from the back of her mortarboard. Maybe that proud Worthy walk, if we looked closely enough.
She looked so pretty in her cap and gown.
And for the next two and a half hours, we watched and listened and she made that rite of passage into the next phase of her life. My lungs burst with pride — and the loudest yelp I could muster — as she took her diploma and walked across the stage. And after she moved the tassel from one side of her jaunty little hat to the other, I thought, Jesus. We're both adults now, with papers to prove it.
And really? The reason I was vaguely depressed all weekend probably didn't stem from my realization that the Flightless Bipedal had already rejected me, but that my little sister was really quite far from it anymore. And that's hard for me.
But I've still got five and a half years on you, kid. So this, madam, is what I would have written in all those letters your friends and sorority asked me to write for graduation but I didn't make time to do: You've got this.
My advice likely means nothing. Most of the time, it seems you've got it together more than I ever have or will. It's quite possible that you are just the family badass. Maybe you aren't even feeling apprehensive about what lies ahead.
All your grand plans to have an apartment with a coordinating color scheme, dinner parties and potlucks, to subscribe to Real Simple, see your name in a masthead and your hands in the historical preservation of Des Moines? Those are all fantastic plans.
And you will make it all happen. Probably not in the six months after you graduate, but you'll do it.
But? There will also be times when you'll want nothing more to be treated like an adult and get exactly the opposite; there will be times when everyone wants you to be an adult but you want nothing more than to be babied.
You will fuck up. A lot. (Hopefully not as much as I have.) And you will be better for it. Even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.
There will be breakups, and they will destroy you. Temporarily. And you'll be better for them. (And in the meantime, I will be there for you.)
There will be crises where you have no idea what you want to do with your life. And…well, I have no reassurance for you on that one. I think you'll be fine, but I'm in the middle of a phase where I want nothing more than to quit my job, drive a semi cross-country for a year and write a book about it. I'm not sure I'll be fine — ever.
Anyway. Just remember that this is all part of it. Most grown-ups are absolutely flailing, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You've got this, just as much as anyone else does.
My biggest hope for you is that one night, you're sitting somewhere doing nothing in particular, listening to a good song while you cook dinner for friends or watching your favorite movie as you much mindlessly on some disgusting snack that no one else could possibly like, and realize that this — not the job or the paycheck or the relationship or the sofa you bought on Sunday — is what it means to be a grown-up.
My second biggest hope is that we're even closer friends when that hits you.