Fun fact about me: I skipped eighth grade! At the end of my seventh grade year at the local public middle school, one of my teachers told my mom that he thought eighth grade would be a waste of time for me. Looking back on that summer, I remember a whirl of meetings, tests and maturity assessments. I told my mom she was “ruining my life” in an extremely dramatic meltdown (that was a good indication of how visibly hot and cold my emotions would run throughout high school). And then, suddenly, I was a freshman in a private Catholic high school and I didn’t know a soul.
I still cringe when I think about that first year of high school. I had braces,acne and orange-y streaks from a summer of Sun-In. I wore pleated Dockers because I didn’t know where in the mall to find khakis with front-slit pockets, as required by a very strict dress code. I was in all-honors classes, surrounded by pockets of kids who had gone to eight years of Catholic primary school together. I wanted desperately to be cool, but I didn’t know where to start.
Slowly but surely, my high school years improved. I excelled in those honors classes, but I also got invited to parties. I became friends with a few girls who are still my best friends today. I was on student council, and I was the only person in the school to take two languages simultaneously. I played soccer as a freshman, had knee surgery as a sophomore, picked up a tennis racquet and a lacrosse stick for my first time as a junior, and was the captain of both teams my senior year. My skin didn’t completely clear up, but I got better highlights.
It’s funny because when I look back on high school, my first thought isn’t of that overwhelming feeling of awkwardness or desperation to fit in. I don’t immediately think of the meltdown fights I had with my parents over my curfew or not being allowed to go on a senior trip. I forget about all of the body insecurities that plagued me.
Instead, I remember the highlights: winning the “battle for God’s love” lacrosse game against the rival Catholic girls school, being asked to the homecoming dance and wearing his jersey to the homecoming game, convincing our baritone chemistry teacher to sing over the intercom to promote our Top Gun themed dance, flashes of passing notes and laughing uncontrollably and getting tacos before tennis practice. As Kirrene said it: the days are long, the years are short.
It’s been 10 years since I graduated from high school, and six years since I turned 21 and finally stopped hating always being the youngest out of my friends. On my 27th birthday–after seven years of late nights and long hangovers, far-flung solo adventures and romantic weekend escapes, boring jobs and bad jobs and good jobs–I feel like I’m in the “senior year” of my 20s. I’ve been in NYC for (almost) three years, and things are clicking.
In the past few years, I feel like I’ve grown into a confidence that didn’t exist in my early 20s. I feel secure in my relationship and at ease in my friendships. I spend less time agonizing over the family drama I can’t control. I don’t feel the need to follow every trend or purchase a bevy of new products. I’m OK with saying no to things. I still stress out over things that don’t matter, and I don’t always re-apply sunscreen after I go in the water, and I just learned how to put air in my bike tires. But I do a lot more of what I love, and less of what I don’t.
When I was in high school, I used to read fashion magazines and I’d wonder if I’d magically get that confidence that women talked about gaining in their late 20s: that willingness to go out in public with no makeup but mascara (as opposed to the concealer I heaped on zits), that knowing of what they wanted to do with their lives (a job that didn’t feel like a job!), the ability to drop friendships that don’t serve you and hang out to the relationships that make you a better version of yourself. And I think I can finally tell my high school self: yup. It happens.
Late 20s, I am officially in you and I’m into it. 27: let’s do this.