20 years ago, I stepped out into the world, leaving high school behind and feeling so ready. Ready for adulthood, ready to spread wings, have new experiences, own this life I was so ready to live. I was scared and anxious, but excited and safe. College is a big step, but not one without safety nets – I still had a room at home filled with all my things, parents who were investing in my education, the comfort of the familiar routine of classes and the known expectation of success.
20 years later, success is self-defined. Safety nets are few and far between. Paths are more maze-like with dead ends and false turns. Bad experiences are no longer defined by bad grades, break-ups or fights with girlfriends, but by real experiences, real loss, real fear. I lived a pretty standard, semi-sheltered suburban life growing up where the worst thing that happened to me was a bad falling out with my best friend. Since then, I’ve lost close friends to death. I lived through 9/11 in D.C., passing the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon, walking by armed National Guard on the sidewalks in the following days. I’ve survived my own and my husband’s layoffs. I’ve stared down the crash cart in an emergency room. I’ve seen the darker side of people and how they can affect a person and a family for years with their actions.
But I have also experienced great joys. A marriage I am willing to fight daily for. A career that took me to Washington, D.C., and to challenges I didn’t know I could meet. Home ownership, twice over. A move to Atlanta that felt like a giant leap of faith. Two beautiful, boisterous boys that make me infinitely more interesting and happy and frustrated than anything else in life ever could. Friends and opportunities that I might not have recognized at 18, 20 or even 30.
So it’s a bit of deja-vu to find myself in the same position I was in 20 years ago this June – on the edge of new opportunities, excited and scared at the same time, leaving one thing behind but still believing that the best is yet to come.
As we were heading out to the reunion, leaving the kiddos in grandma’s care, my mom gave me a hug and said, “Now remember, what are you going to say you do?”
Drive my kids to camp?
“No. You are a writer.” It might have been the single most encouraging words of support I’ve ever received. She recognized this new life of mine and again, just like 20 years ago when she helped pack my bags for college, sent me out to meet it. Although it felt weird the first few times I said it – my writing life has always been a more private affair – by the end of the evening, it felt more comfortable. It felt more natural. It felt real. It felt good.
I am a writer.
As I caught up with classmates and met spouses and hugged people I’ve known since I was five years old, I felt more acutely the confidence I’d forgotten was there. Confidence in myself and all the facets of me as woman, wife, mother and now writer. Confidence that I am on the right path. That I have been on the right path. That it might have taken me 20 years to realize it, but whatever road I’m walking is the road that will get me where I’m going, wrong turns and all.
Under my photo in my senior yearbook reads:
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
(Let’s ignore how admittedly cheesy it is that I quoted Kermit the Frog in my senior yearbook for now, okay?)
Merriam Webster defines connection as “something that joins or connects two or more things.” So it’s safe to say this journey we are on is the rainbow connecting the beginning and the end. And so far for me, this journey has been sparkly and scary high up and sometimes hard to see, but when you take a step back and admire it, it’s entirely beautiful.
So class of 1994, I’m happy to say that I’ve found it, or rather am continuing to find it. I hope you all are enjoying your own rainbows. Here’s to another 20 years.