This is a guest post from one of my favorite writers. Her name is Erica. I met her in a class that actually changed my life. In that class, I thought, “I want to be like Erica.” Later, she was in my tiny writing group. The entire time I’ve known her, she has worn the most unassuming clothing. Like she really just likes to be comfortable. In this city, I had never seen someone do that. She struck me immediately and continuously as a person who likes being herself. Who can just sit there being herself for as long as you need to sit there with her, figuring yourself out. I was thrilled when she wrote to me yesterday and said she needed to write this post. Then she wrote it.
I turned thirty yesterday. I was in my twenties for a long time—a whole decade. I turned twenty in Maine, where I was living in staff housing behind a luxury resort, paying $35 a week in rent and saving money for a trip to Europe. How’d I get to Maine? My car broke down and I found a job. It was adventurous, I was young, and my life was yawning open like a carpet unfurling.
In Maine, I learned how to hear complaints from guests at the hotel without rolling my eyes. I learned all the wrong ways to be a customer. I learned that having a compassionate boss makes a big difference. I met a man in his sixties named Legs, who told me that losing his girl had been his Auschwitz. And I said, “Everyone has their Auschwitz,” but I didn’t know, then, what mine was, what it might be. In fact, ten years on, I think it’s a little dramatic. But still, I understand my point—that everyone suffers more than they think they can suffer. Everyone has to face what once seemed untenable.
When I was twenty, I didn’t ever expect to turn thirty.
Thirty felt like something I’d experience during the trip to Europe I had yet to take: seeing a distant shoreline—no, the faint suggestion of a shoreline—from a ferry and thinking I’d never actually make it to that new country. When I was twenty, most of my friends were older than me. Throughout my twenties, actually, most of my friends were older than me. Their lives became a little more stable a little sooner than mine. A lot of them got married. Now, a lot of them are having children, or are at least thinking about it. A lot of them already finished graduate school before I decided to go.
I lived in Vermont from the time I was twenty-one to twenty-three, after six months in Europe where I learned how to open my mind (only sometimes with, ahem, help), how to speak quietly in a cathedral, how to communicate love to the non-English speaking parents of friends you met in America. In Vermont, I learned how to live with people of all ages, and how to love people who were older than I was by more than a few years. I learned that when a man asks for or gives a massage, that’s definitely code. I learned that in Vermont, it’s not called soft-serve—it’s called a creamee.