Words nest on my phone by the time it’s November. Scribbled in the skywalk on my way to work. Typed furiously between meetings and happy hours and volunteering. Words that naturally mold into ideas and lessons throughout another year, culminating in my annual birthday blog post.
I’m almost out of words this year. The words I have left for 23 are fragmented at best. They exist in the infusion room, doctor’s offices, the beige and maroon waiting rooms that blur into the muted color of anticipation and silent hand squeezes.
November woke me up with a nightmare, a subconscious convergence of 2016’s lurking badness. At 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, I poured a mug of peach tea and nested not in my orderly life lessons but in the dull throbbing of a dark year. Even in my aggressively neat apartment, I felt unkempt.
I swirled the tea bag in my cup, watching the orange color form a tiny tornado before staining the water, the two indistinguishable. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing the good from bad in 2016; it all steeps into a murky, steaming blend that stings my lips if I sip it too soon. I am still letting 2016 and 23 cool. Maybe they never will.
Like my tea mug ever-pressed against my chest in the morning, sometimes I hold 2016 and 23 close. I remember the shiny, pretty things. The two half marathons I ran. The taste of Magner’s cider after I got my LSAT score back. The moment I opened my email and learned I got into law school. Checking the mailbox to find a full-tuition scholarship. Making countless calls at a coffee shop for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, my mug of tea anchoring me to history (well, almost). The day I worked my museum marketing job, taught ESL class and compiled Sports Roundup at my Des Moines Register freelance gig that evening; three of my alter egos, beautifully, if not chaotically, balanced.
Then I take a sip too soon, and it stings. I remember the tumultuous parts of 23, many of them hidden behind invisible illness, the deceptive notion that if you look good, you feel well, too. There were needles and IVs this year, a lot of them. There was the guy who told me he liked hanging out with me, but I’m “intimidating,” “bossy” and “not dating material.” Whatever the hell that means. My breakup with bread and beer. The waiting and waiting and waiting for test results, diagnoses and answers.
Sometimes my tea steeps a little too long; I push it away. Sometimes 2016 and 23 overwhelm me like that. I’ve written this essay in sprints over the past three weeks, furiously typing a sentence or two at a time, often to the tune of Two Door Cinema Club’s “Changing of the Seasons,” a song that has long been the theme of my life’s transitions.
It is particularly relevant as I sip my tea and research law school options. With my first admission and scholarship offer, it’s finally started to feel real that I’m leaving. That 2016, for all its trouble, has been worthwhile, and I’m strong as hell.
I challenge myself to silence my favorite podcast (“Guys We F****d,” y’all) and pause the music (I’ve been super into Future lately). Quiet is dangerous, a realm where I realize things have been going well lately … like really, really well. Where destruction is inevitable because I can’t possibly deserve this much happy and healthy all at once. Not 23-year-old Taylor, anyway. I consult the quiet once again, reminding myself that the badness passes.
The IV bruises go away, the LSAT score eventually arrives and someday I’ll find gluten-free cinnamon rolls that rival my beloved Pillsbury cinnamon rolls (breaking up with bread is traumatic shit, I swear). I was brave this year.
Tomorrow I turn 24, my golden birthday on Thanksgiving. Right now I’m sipping one last morning mug of Earl Grey tea as a 23-year-old.
Finally, it’s cool, the right temperature and strength. The deliciously bitter taste lingers on my lips.