At the age of 23, I don’t really consider myself an adult. I mean, mentally and psychologically, I do, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really know what I am, and I hadn’t really thought to care. Lately, though, I have been going through what I can only describe as “being punched in the face by adulthood”. And let me say right off the bat – adulthood sucks.
This all started because my parents and I decided it was time for me to get an actual job. For a variety of reasons related to my health, the economy, and the fact that my profession of choice is “freelance artistic something-or-other”, we’d sort of been floating in a nebulous cloud of supportiveness. I didn’t have a job and that was okay! I was creating! Taking advantage of my youth! Trying new things! Getting my head screwed on straight! But my dad has started considering retirement, and so it was time for me to actually figure out how to become an adult. I’m not saying I accepted this with total grace, but the day after this was decided I was polishing up my resume and trawling Craigslist. Like an adult.
After two weeks I have somehow miraculously secured a job as a freelance copywriter. It’s a long-hated career many a writer has taken on to supplement their income, and I was proud to join their ranks. I was going to make, like, five whole dollars for each task, and I could do two or three each day, easy! Woo, money! It wasn’t until I started having to set up the e-routing to my bank account and entering my social security number that I started to panic. How much was five dollars, anyway? Would it really add up? And oh god, taxes. How detailed did I have to keep my records? And how badly was my family going to mock me when I finally had to file taxes next spring after I’d been mocking them for years?!
While I was in the middle of breathing through my nose and holding it for five counts, my mom called up to me that she was headed to Whole Foods, and if I wanted to eat over the weekend when she and my dad were going to be away, I was going to need to come along. Which I did, and it was terrifying. I didn’t notice any of the sales, the breads I chose were all the unhealthy kind (maybe breads are just more delicious without whole grain, has anyone ever considered that?), and everything cost so much money. Food for two days was $75. That’s insane! Ridiculous! How was it that less than an hour ago this copywriting job seemed like a good idea?!
While my mom and I were checking out and I was looking at the coconut popsicles I had decided to try because they were on sale, I noticed that in the aisle next to us there were two girls who were checking out, both roughly my age. Both of them looked so well put-together, like what Teen Vogue imagines adulthood looks like. They both were perfectly made-up and had Prada glasses and name-brand boots and reusable bags that matched their outfits. They both were buying super-healthy things I don’t even pretend to like, and rocking the hell out of leggings that would just make my ass look like a disaster area.
There’s some famous quote about believing that everyone else is an adult while you are merely pretending, and I had never felt it more acutely than I did in that moment. I watched them calmly swipe their credit cards like paying $100 for produce and soy milk and all-natural mid-Atlantic scallops ain’t no thing, and I mournfully thought two things simultaneously and very clearly. First of all, I wanted them to teach me how to do whatever they were doing. Second of all, I wished Whole Foods would stop having little Lake Champlain chocolates in the checkout aisles, because I was having a crisis of confidence and the Hazelnut Pralines looked comforting. They were kind of like the edible equivalent when you’re feeling really unattractive and you’ll pretty much sleep with any dude in the bar. Hypothetically, anyway. I have never slept with anyone or been to a bar. I bet those girls had, though. I bet they had a lot of sex and drank a lot of booze, probably while wearing leggings. They probably got up the next morning and did their taxes without crying. They probably remembered to send back that thing that said they got their summons for jury duty.(I should probably do that.) These girls were really cool, is my point, and I needed them to teach me their secret.
On the way home, I asked my mom how the heck people do it. Normally, my mom makes me feel better about stuff, but this time, she didn’t. This time, she kept bringing up things I hadn’t even thought to freak out about. What if I learn to drive? Gas costs money! What if I want to have kids? Is working while having kids even tenable? And what would happen when I had to buy expensive stuff? When would I even have the time to buy expensive stuff? And why was my mother telling me “not to worry about it”? Why was she saying I would “figure it out”? Clearly, I couldn’t figure out anything, I was having a breakdown over buying some frozen meals, bread, eggplant, brownies, and popsicles. I was going to die at home at the age of forty surrounded by cats, and I don’t even like cats that much. And the worst part was it wasn’t even something I got to blame on my parents, because how is it physically possible for any parent to teach their child how to navigate a world this fraught with peril?
I was stress-cuddling my gerbils when I got home (another one of my more mature habits) when the phone rang. It was a very nice woman named Beth who was calling on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation. And while I normally take time to listen to their sales pitch and politely respond that I’m not interested, this time I just flat-out hung up on her before she even started. Part of me feels kind of bad about that. The other part of me feels like Beth is really lucky I didn’t scream something like “BETH, I CANNOT FUCKING DEAL WITH YOU RIGHT NOW. IN FACT, I CAN’T DEAL WITH ANYTHING. I AM A FAILURE AS AN ADULT, BETH, AND QUITE PROBABLY AS A HUMAN BEING. I HAVE NO MONEY AND I WILL NEVER MAKE ANY MONEY, BECAUSE MY PARENTS ENCOURAGED MY CREATIVITY INSTEAD OF DESTROYING MY HOPES AND DREAMS LIKE THEY SHOULD HAVE. YOUR PARENTS CLEARLY DESTROYED YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS, SINCE YOU’RE WORKING AT A PHONE BANK RIGHT NOW – CAN YOU GIVE ME POINTERS?!?!? ARE YOU IN ANY WAY USEFUL TO MY EMOTIONAL CRISIS, BETH?!?!?”
I don’t know how adults do this. I don’t know how my parents have done this so calmly for my entire life. I don’t know how all the adults I have ever known seem to so calmly glide through all this stress and still manage to be calm, collected, rational, creative, and kind. I’m pretty sure they’re all really great at faking it, or maybe everyone silently cries themselves to sleep at night while their soul slowly withers and dies. Is there a secret? Because I feel like I need to learn it, and I probably should have learned it yesterday. Also, I feel like I should probably send in my jury duty summons thing. In my pajamas. While eating a popsicle. Maturity-style.