Nineteen

“It’s the last chance I have to act like 19 year-old LB again!”

The scene: joking around with my lovely friend M in her apartment after work on a Monday. Since she and her N live on top of our subway stop, I’ll usually stop by a few times a week for a quick visit on my way home from work, a chance to catch up on our days as though we’re not in constant contact via text and Instagram anyway. M and I were joking about our fast-approaching college reunion, and how we both ambitiously signed up for the 9am yoga class on Saturday; I made the point that the class is free to attend, so while it will be nice to make it, I’m certainly not going to hold back on Friday night, being around old friends for the first time together in half a decade, just so I can wake up early and stretch. I don’t know why I keep saying I’m going to regress to 19-year old LB, instead of 18, 20 or 21. I was 19 during my sophomore year at school, and that was EASILY the worst year of my college life – the year I was most entrenched in my eating disorder, the year my grades fell like they hadn’t my entire life, and the year I had my first panic attack, I don’t look back with fondness on sophomore year for a minute, and yet I keep saying I’m going to regress to that person come May 29.

I wonder sometimes why certain memories stay with us longer than others. Years of my life are condensed to two or three vivid memories; sometimes it’s a snippet of a family vacation in Disney World, watching a show with my father on one side and my sister on the other, fireworks and the humid Florida air, dank and sweet with sounds of childhood, and other times it’s sledding one night down the ice path my parents carved into our driveway. College memories are at extremes, either vivid and still cringe-worthy, or faded but sweet, or missing altogether save for a few minutes at a pregame that start up again the next morning. My sophomore year of college has an interesting hue to the memories that remain, a shiny bronze of new friends from sorority rush, the elated high of being part of a We and the promise of a semester abroad; all tinged with a murky green from a year of firsts, first panic attack, first almost-failed class, first re-emergence of the eating disorder I pretended to grow past a year before. I was looking at old photos recently to get in the college spirit, and I can’t help but think that I look like such a child, and I feel like such a child in memories, yet I thought I was making adult choices at the time.

Looking at my life as a 26 year old compared to life at 19 is really interesting, both in the similarities and the differences. The last time I cut my hair significantly was at 19; at the time I let myself be pushed into it by Mama B, who has always thought my hair looked better shorter (her words). I wasn’t ready for the change, the perfectionist in me resisting change like an awkward brush by a subway stranger, and I hated the haircut almost instantly after my hairdresser dangled the severed ponytail in front of me like a prize bull tail from a fight. I got my first tattoo at 19; I brought a half-formed idea into the shop in Buenos Aires recommended to me by my favorite bartender from the only bar that streamed NFL games. The artist listened to my idea and drew something completely different and I took a look at it and really disliked it but was too nervous to say anything other than “okay.” And at 19 I didn’t care that I had someone who loved me, because even though he really did, I didn’t love myself, and I let that guide me through a confusing mess of a year where I relied on someone to make me feel better, and when he didn’t, or couldn’t, I would find someone else who did. At 19 I thought by 26 I would be engaged or married, maybe even to the boy who loved me, and I thought I would have long learned to live with my disordered eating, something I was convinced would never let me go.

Now at 26, I just cut the same 10 inches off of my hair after a similarly impulsive decision that was egged on by Mama B, only this time I wanted it, and I laughed as the scissors cut deep into the pink curls. I can’t stop staring at myself in the mirror, so in love with the almost-bob, debating going shorter next time, already used to the look yet still pleasantly surprised every time I pass a mirror. Now at 26, I have five tattoos, and I’m working with my artist on the sixth; he and I worked for four months on my last one to nail the design, and we have another five months for this one, though I trust him so much I would gladly give him a portion of blank skin and say “Go.” Now at 26, I don’t really care that there isn’t someone in my life to love me like the boy from 19, because I love myself, really love who I’ve become and who I’m becoming all at once. Now at 26, I don’t really care that my life went in a different direction than I thought it would by now, because at 19 I didn’t realize how fluid life is, how quickly things change, the ebbs and flows of adulthood, moving you forward and backward like a game.

Maybe it won’t be the worst thing, to revert to 19 year old LB for a few nights. Though memories from that time feel more unpleasant than pleasant, I know so many of my decisions were driven by a reckless abandon that I still have and that I still enjoy. Maybe at the time it was driven to find something that I thought I needed, constantly tapping into an emerging free spirit by searching for happiness, for validation, for everything in all the wrong places. It’s a different story now though, less manic pixie dream girl, more actions and expected or anticipated consequences, holding back at the last minute sometimes or thinking about things a split second too long for the jump into the unknown to be fun. I can’t revert back to 19 again for a number of reasons, and for even more reasons I wouldn’t want to. But maybe for a few days it’ll be fun to revert back to the good parts of 19, that Say Yes spirit and the voice that screams GO, a chance to show 19 year old LB there’s a way to do things like short hair, tattoos and a slow-burning love for change and the unknown, without losing yourself somewhere along the way.

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