23rd Birthday Reflection
This time last year, on my 22nd birthday, I had a surreal moment.
For the first time in my entire life, I had no idea what my life would be like on my next birthday. With my birthday being in the spring, I always knew that the year after would likely be taken up with studying for final exams (or the CRCT, if we go way back) and that I would be preparing for another summer of working and playing. But on my 22nd birthday, I was a graduating senior in college, sitting on my apartment floor in Atlanta, bewildered. For the first time in my life, I was truly unsure of what the next year would hold.
I woke up to the news that I got denied from a job that I was really hoping for that morning. I did a workout, I talked to my best friend Connor on the phone about the job that I didn't get (he called the company stupid), I had a fabulous lunch in Midtown Atlanta with my mom, my Nana, and my little sister, and then I picked my boyfriend up from the airport after he landed from Germany. Two days later, I watched one of my best friends, Victoria, walk down the aisle to the love of her life. Along with the rest of my best friend group, we partied and celebrated all night long.
That was a year ago. What has happened since then has been nothing short of a whirlwind.
In one year, through my 22nd year of life, I graduated college. I nannyed all summer and learned more about myself from three little girls than I ever could have imagined. Then in August, I packed up my things, kissed my family goodbye, and boarded a plane for Europe. Through the month of August I became certified to teach English as a second language anywhere in the world. I met some incredible people, and I was challenged through late night lesson planning. Then in September, I moved into a tiny apartment in Prague, Czech Republic with a kind Scottish girl I had only known for four weeks, and I began teaching. I began my first "real job" after college. I learned that teaching English is really tough and living in Europe isn't the fairytale that many Americans picture. But I kept trudging. In December, I spent my first Christmas away from home. I traveled through the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria with my boyfriend's family and I spent Christmas day on the ski slopes of Austria. It was a blast. In January, my family came to visit me, and we had a cozy, adventurous visit while they stayed in an Ikea decorated Airbnb in my neighborhood of Prague. They left, we said our goodbyes, thinking we wouldn't see each other until I was home in April for a wedding.
In January my best friend, Connor, the one who called the company who didn't hire me on my 22nd birthday stupid, went missing. He was missing for five days. I was in Prague and I was terrified. At midnight on the fifth day, one of my other best friends called and woke me up. I got the call that shifted my perspective of this world forever. Connor took his life. I was up all night, alone in my tiny Prague apartment; crying, terrified, and devastated. I got on the first flight home and by 2pm the next day, I was walking through the Atlanta airport being greeted by my friend Victoria, and crying into her shoulder.
I went home and I had chicken wings with my parents. We were snowed in for a few days. And then I went up to Atlanta and I sifted through funny pictures with the best friend group I could ever imagine. We held each other, laughed at the funny memories, remembering our early years in college; parties, late night studying, and struggling through such a different time in life together. But in January, we went through the worst struggle any of us could ever imagine. We lost a vital member of our group. We didn't see the depression that laid so deep below the surface of the fun-loving, bubbly guy we all knew and loved. It was hard, so hard. It hurt and still hurts more deeply than anything I have ever experienced.
I flew back to Prague with a new perspective. Moments suddenly felt fleeting. I still had at least two more months of winter left, but I decided I needed to try to see the darkness of winter with a more positive perspective. The truth is, I hate winter. So much. I hate the darkness, the cold, and the bare, lifeless plants everywhere. I am my best self in the sunshine, with green, lush plants around me. But there I was, in Central Europe in the middle of winter, mourning the loss of my best friend.
Things did start to get better though. I don't know what it was, but I was able to look at life more positively. Maybe because Connor made sure we always saw things in a positive light. He laughed with us about silly things that might have been bothering us and held us up when life seemed crazy. However, even with all of this positivity, I was haunted at night. Haunted by my phone ringing anytime past ten. Haunted that I would get another call about death. That bit wasn't easy. It still isn't easy.
So now I am in Germany. I decided to work from home doing online teaching, freelance writing, and of course working on this blog. I have much more flexibility in location now and am able to spend a fair amount of time with the boyfriend, which has been a really great experience so far (we were some form of long distance for nearly a year and a half).
Last weekend we went skiing in Austria as a final goodbye to winter. We were ignorant and silly and didn't wear sunscreen. I got so sunburnt, read more about that (and what I did to combat the burn) here. The sunburn and the swelling is mostly gone now, however on Tuesday, I had an old friend of mine come for a visit. Ever since I was a baby, I have had big, disgusting, painful lip sores develop on my lips anytime my lips saw too much sunlight. I've been able to fight these sores with medicine, however that medicine is back home in the U.S. and I'm in Europe. So now, on my 23rd birthday, I am sitting in my boyfriend's living room, listening to American Pie by Don McClean, with a huge swollen lip. I can hardly open my mouth, I physically can't smile, and I am having a hard time even eating. But I know this is all a part of a bigger lesson.
So one year since I sat on the floor of my apartment in Atlanta, on the phone with my best friend Connor, talking about some marketing job that I didn't get, I am now in Germany with a swollen lip, trying my best to become a successful freelancer. In only one year, life has changed more than I ever thought it would; however, I don't feel much different. I don't feel older and sometimes I even have to pinch myself because it's hard to grasp that I've been living abroad for eight months now. I've traveled to France, Belgium, England, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Spain, and Italy this year. The time has gone fast and slow.
I think what this year has taught me the most is that life is one big series of ebbs and flows. I've always known it, but living it, living the highest highs and the lowest lows, puts that idea into reality. I am grateful for that 22nd year. It taught me some deep lessons. I wish some of them could have been learned without so much pain and loss, but life doesn't work like that.
So now I will go into my 23rd year with a new perspective. A perspective that moments are fleeting. The good ol' days are constantly, they are everyday. They were childhood and they were college and they are now. Pain is temporary, really it is. This lip sore will be gone soon and I'll be back to my smiling, eating self. Pain is temporary and that is something we all need to remember. Whatever pain you are dealing with today will be gone soon, it will be replaced by something else, something happier and better. Life is ever-changing. Moments are fleeting. Enjoy the process. Be where you are. You are safe and cared for and loved.
If you are going through anything difficult or if you feel at a loss in this life please reach out to someone. I am openly here for anyone needing any help. Or seek help in the form of a confidant, therapist, or stranger. Here is the suicide prevention hotline for further resources: 1-800-273-8255. Please reach out.