Two days ago, I turned 18. Cue gasping and shock. “You’re only 17?” Yes. For some reason, the kindergarten I went to decided to enroll me a year early. Probably because I was potty trained, and I wasn’t illiterate. I knew what letters were, anyway. I didn’t skip any grades nor am I some super genius. All I had going for me was the bladder control of a five-year-old at the ripe age of four. Groundbreaking.
This past year was one of the most tumultuous of my life. I experienced the highs of getting into college and graduating high school, mixed with the lows of getting rejected by my first crush, not to mention saying goodbye to the west coast — the place where I felt the most comfortable and safe. In terms of mental health, it was one of the worst years of my life. Even after getting into Yale, I spent many nights awake in my bed, dreading the inevitable departure from the only place I felt I could express my sexuality comfortably.
There’s one night I keep coming back to. It was the day before the AP U.S. History exam. The day I spent cramming all day. By the time I got into bed, I was spent. I wasn’t thinking clearly. My emotions were running high. Instead of journaling, like I normally do when I am incredibly overwhelmed, I slipped back into middle-school habits. I found myself word vomiting onto my finsta for the first time in months, trying to convey the muddled feelings I had about being out in high school when very few others were. I thought this was a necessary message for me to share with my closest friends. In my delirious state, though, I had called out people by name and publicly displayed their wrongdoings. Before I knew it, I had angry messages flooding my DM’s telling me that I had crossed a line. I deleted the rant in the morning, but the damage was done. At school, there was a tension that couldn’t be broken without acknowledging that I had messed up. Because I did mess up. I had done wrong by the few people that had watched me grow over the years. Stella challenged my political ideologies every day. Lucy was always there with a hug and a smile in homeroom. Carly was my biggest supporter academically and socially. Louise inspired me to be creative and to reach for my goals. And Kim (with whom I share a birthday) was the one I spent all of high school with, the only one that knew my deepest secrets. And I had alienated all of them.
In the time before I left for college, I tried to be an adult and make reparations. I’ve taken my friends to lunch and apologized. They’ve brushed it off, pretended it was nothing. But deep down, I knew that I had hurt them. Now that I haven’t seen them in almost three months, I’m realizing what an integral part of my life they were. When I first got to Yale, I was a child in a sea of adults. My age didn’t affect my academics or my extracurriculars. Where I felt it most was in my interactions with my fellow Yalies. I felt judged every time I opened my mouth to speak in class. People here treated me as a burden rather than as an equal. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing people, but it’s frustrating talking to people that don’t really know my life experience. They don’t know about Kim’s and my constant quest for juice around my high school campus. They don’t know about the time Lucy, Stella and I followed a line of our classmates’s cars to try to find a homecoming afterparty. They don’t know about the hours we all spent crying together in Lucy’s hot tub the night before I left for college. I hope we’ll get there eventually. I hope I’ll find a new Kim, a new Carly, a new Stella, Louise and Lucy… or at least someone that can fill the space that they occupied.
Age really is just a number. I’d like to think that I have no less life experience than the other first years. I mean, we’ve all cut off our circulation with thousands of silly bands; we’ve all played too much Club Penguin and avoided studying for the SAT; we’ve all inhaled iced coffee while grinding out that last college supplemental essay. Turning eighteen is a milestone, though. It’s a checkpoint, a snapshot of what my life is as I step into adulthood. I don’t feel ready to be an adult. I don’t know how to build good credit. I can barely put my comforter back inside my duvet cover. But if there’s anything I learned at seventeen, it’s that there’s always going to be a challenge for me to face, big or small. I just have to keep overcoming those challenges, one by one.
** Names have been changed to ensure privacy.
Camden Rider | firstname.lastname@example.org