A paper chain hung from my mirror before every birthday growing up. I cut paper strips for hours, sometimes rainbow, sometimes blue or pink (my favorite colors). I counted up, making sure to represent each day until my birthday; then I counted down, wanting desperately for the cake and parties and friends and streamers and a new year of me to get here, every November 24.
I’ve never needed a birthday as badly as I need 24.
I’ve existed this year in a natural state of countdowns, one appointment to the next, to my final weekly IV, to the LSAT, now, to 24. My paper-chain era reemerged in my memory; I pictured myself triumphantly ripping off one ring each day until November. I contorted what was a happy ritual, a celebration, into a dismissal of an entire year, an erasure of my own experiences.
It is easy to await a new beginning, to ruminate on all the newness 24 will bring: going to law school, moving to a new city, traveling to Europe with my sister before we both go to new universities. They’re shiny prospects, each one physically far away from the tedium and unwanted familiarity of a painful, trying year.
But I’m not building a paper chain, and I’m determined to quiet the tick-tock of this year’s remaining days in my mind. Instead, I’m actively working to celebrate the positive moments from 23. This is the year I learned to advocate for myself. To say, “No, that restaurant isn’t safe for me to eat at, let’s pick somewhere else.” To take it a step further and say, “I could go to law school where I did my undergrad, but I can get in somewhere better.” I’m applying to eight law schools right now, in fact.
This year, I drove a pickup truck for the first time, made new best friends, tried trail running (and liked it, miraculously) and took a break from volunteering when it was clear I was overworking myself. Hell, I studied for (and crushed) the LSAT while getting six weekly IVs and recovering from a serious autoimmune disease.
I’m still excited to turn 24, but I’m finally giving 23 space to simply exist, to teach me things about life and resilience and the best gluten-free breakfast fare at the Farmers’ Market.
This year forced me to grow up in a lot of ways, to accept the fact that the right timing is forever elusive, that self-care thrives in naps, leftover cheesecake and journaling alike and that needles hurt no matter how much of a badass lady I think I am.
That there are wonderful, caring people in my life who just want me to be healthy and happy. Who hated seeing me so sick.
I think of the nurse in the infusion room who told me every week that she loved my shoes, the same ones I always wore. I think of the bags of food my family brought me when I cleaned out my cupboards. I think of the guy I was seeing at the time, the one who texted me just to check in on my iron levels, who was exactly what I needed when I needed it. I think of my best friends, who hosted a gluten-free taco girls’ night for me.
23 is bruised and beautiful; I am bruised and beautiful, and it’s OK to be both at once.