I Died: Lessons From the Age of 21

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by John Diez

I was born a fat, happy bug when something cosmic charmed me gold. Never once broke a bone, no allergies to gluten or pollen. Lucky enough never to grieve another. My wishes dropped from the sky. I once asked my parents to buy me a soda from the vending machine, and upon their refusal, strolled to the plastic door of the vending machine drop box. Two Sprites tumbled to the ground. Most likely, someone punched in the wrong number and left in frustration. In my story, that someone who keyed the numbers was my friend Pure Luck. Luck loves me. Luck lives in the house next door.

I grew up a charmed, caramel girl. I ran down the stairs because I knew I would never fall. I ate cookies off the floor and teethed around the mold on my strawberries; I could never get sick. I wore my charm like a dinner roll wears butter. Fortune was baked into my being. I lived full, impulsive, unrestrained until I no longer could, until all of it died.

I first grieved for myself in February after my 21st birthday. The grief struck me where I never expected sorrow to hit: during a run of Clueless. As the film came to a close, I felt a terrible longing for myself. This was very strange. Was I not sitting right here, watching the film? But I was nowhere to be found. Where was the breezy teen who gushed at the sight of Paul Rudd, who happily mouthed one-liners? Inside the warmth of my home, sobs heaved from my chest.

The young, golden baby I once was had been taken from me.  It was a loss that left my muscle bare, like the skin of a mango as you pull the flesh by your teeth. My 21st year arrived at the end of my first adult relationship. Twin flames hold a mirror to one another. Sometimes, they only act to reveal each other’s wounds. We tore each other to shreds. I didn’t want love like I knew it ever again. After we broke up, I shut out chaos. In the process, I lost my impulses and I lost my passions. 21 made an honest being out of me.

What a surprise the sincere world is. Teen romance no longer thrills me. I am more familiar with labor than luck. My tolerance for things is suddenly waning; when I have dairy, I get stomach aches. I have few friends. In one year I have aged 40. All of a sudden, my back hurts, I need seltzer water, and I have no crushes. I am no longer the golden bug, the buttered bread baby. I no longer race the asphalt on a candy high Halloween night. I no longer giggle when I meet someone new. Instead, I cook Thanksgiving dinner with only a recipe to keep me company. I eat with two utensils. To be content, I’ve stopped seeing the world as a bed of roses. I’ve abandoned the fawn. I share my poetry and when people tell me I use too many analogies, it’s true. Drop the metaphors, face reality. A minute is a minute and each day is a day.

Though dark, there is serenity in accepting reality. I no longer use love, luck, or entertainment as placeholders for joy. In exchange, I have room for gratitude. I make my own silver linings. I choose what I look forward to: time to cook a meal, the hesitant greeting of a cat on the street, moisturizing after a shower, and bedtime. Some days, if I really need a push, I buy myself flowers from the grocer. I am my own best friend. 

As I come to terms with reality, impulses run through me once more. I have a new motive to run down the stairs. I’m not afraid of tripping. I don’t need to know it won’t happen; I know it certainly will. I exist now on a beeline to the end of my life, which I will experience bright-eyed and alone. Before I die, I am going to rebuild Me. I am going to have very nice conversations with Me while I cook my meals. I will talk in depth about art and philosophy, and I will never come to a definite conclusion, only because I love it when I chat with Me. When I dine, I will eat with my hands. And one day, when I have someone who loves me enough to look at a rose and think of my skin, I will still buy myself flowers. I am my own best friend, after all, and I don’t want to lose Me ever again.