Unlike the 18th birthday — that due moment of pomp and circumstance that triggers the right to vote for office and die for country — the 19th birthday confers no particular responsibility. It passes relatively unnoticed.
Consider the ghost of your birthdays past: the cultural milestones of double-digits, the bar or bat mitzvah, the quinceanera, the sweet sixteen and so on. Preteens really dig birthdays. And why shouldn’t they? In third grade, I turned however many years old I turned and got a paper crown and card signed by every member of my elementary school class. Our teacher displayed little construction-paper cakes on the bulletin board, each cake signifying one unique celebration for one special snowflake of a child. Now, time stops for neither cupcakes nor candles — and the lowly birthday once again assumes its rightful insignificance. The temporary extravagance of the 21st cannot salvage the birthday from its ultimate demise into routine.
Today, I turn 19 years old. I’m shocked — not because I feel particularly old, but not because I feel particularly young, either. Today, my birthday poses an existential threat to the perceived sluggishness of collegiate time. Each day drags on, a seeming year in 24 hours of lecture, classes, papers, parties. You look at Yale as a freshman — you look at the Blue Book, at your reading, at your Saturday night — and you feel like you’ll be a freshman forever.
Turning 19, in a way, means coming to terms with the ephemeral nature of my freshman year — each action I take might very well be my last performance of that action as a freshman. My last midterm. My last all-nighter. My last 19th birthday.
And turning 19 means realizing college won’t last forever, either.
Maybe I’m thinking about this because of Chipotle. You see: I took a road trip to Chipotle last Sunday, piling into a beat-up red rental car with a handful of friends and a handful of cash. The sky turned burnt orange and we cruised along the highway, exit after exit blurring past into the evening.
Did you know that New Haven’s just a few minutes away from the international Pez Visitor Center? You won’t learn that during Camp Yale, of course, because either nobody knows or nobody cares enough to tell you between whispered words of Wenzels and societies and all the little things you’re finally old enough to know about. But knowing that Yale is so close to the Pez Visitor Center is like a little piece of chocolate or a penny you find on the ground — an amuse-bouche of knowledge, secrets shared between two people like seats in a red rental car.
I don’t think driving to Chipotle signifies the ultimate act of independence. I don’t think driving to Chipotle is comparable to raising a family on my own, or buying my first apartment, or filing my own taxes.
But there’s a sort kind of magic that comes from taking a Sunday road trip to Chipotle, even if the guacamole is soggy and the only table left shakes a little. It’s the same kind of unexpected magic that comes from watching the sky turn orange, or finding the Pez Visitor Center hidden on the exit of a highway. It’s the same thing that happens when you venture off campus and realize that New Haven is bigger than Yale, that Connecticut is bigger than New Haven and that you are smaller than you thought. There’s a certain wonder that comes with not having everything here in a place that tries to give you everything: Go forth and find it.
Today, birthdays lose their magic. We’re not in third grade anymore; we buy our own cupcakes. But we make our own magic now. After all, it’s pretty easy to find it on the way to Chipotle. And, honestly, there are a lot of ways to get there.
Marissa Medansky is a freshman in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.