Every speed bump – professional, social, or romantic – is a reminder of the cost of being your own person.
My apartment building is about what you’d expect of a 20-something with a communications degree. Well, maybe a little better. The rats actually aren’t that much bigger than my neighbor’s cat. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the cat in a few weeks.
The lead-paint-laden basement has no washer or dryer, either. That’s how I find myself driving to my parents’ house outside the city once a week, bearing clothes that smell like the opposite of frankincense and myrrh. Last week between spin cycles, I ran into my dad cutting through envelopes and unceremoniously stuffing checks back inside.
I don’t do well in uncomfortable silences, paper-tearing noises notwithstanding. Naturally, I begin the time-honored father-son exchange of dick jokes. If parenting quality is determined by your ability to tolerate and/or nurture your son’s penchant for said dick jokes, I give Mr. Meltzer a 7/10.
Against all odds, a thought occurs: this professor of medicine guffawing at penile jest before me is, by all accounts, a grown man. It seems to be something of an oxymoron. We're told constantly that we need to grow up and out of our childish habits, yet here is a leader in the field of gastroenterology, flush with cash and qualifications, puerile as ever.
I leave him to his work and spirit myself back to downtown Baltimore. "What defines an adult?" I find myself asking no one in particular.
The short answer, and a played-out Harry Truman maxim: "The buck stops here."
You can have a car loan, a nine-to-five salaried job with mid-range dental benefits, your own rat-infested studio apartment, or any of the myriad twenty-something transition steps that inspire "#Adulthood" Twitter updates. In the end, though, none of that makes you independent or a member of a functioning society.
I think the deepest, darkest secret of leaving the nest is life's fundamental loneliness and tedium. All of the droll errands, soporific meetings, and bumper-to-bumper commutes turn the doe-eyed optimism of the university student into the sarcastic cynicism of the young adult. Through it all, we're expected to be grateful, proactive, and to carry the dreams of all previous generations into reality.
And you know what? That's all right.
A child looks at all of the responsibilities before her, and decries the unfairness of the world to anyone who will listen. She expects to have the trials of life alleviated by a magical authority figure, because that is the way it's always been.
The adult relishes in the difficulty of being. Every speed bump – professional, social, or romantic – is a reminder of the cost of being your own person. Nonetheless, she is just that: her own, the most exciting and liberating thing she can be. She knows that she is not alone in her solitude, and that nigh every stranger she passes on the sidewalk is just as desperate for affection and acceptance as she is.
I pull up to my building, drinking in the chipped brick façade with a strange pride. The giant hell beasts within may enjoy the fruits of our wasted food, but will never know how good it feels to be part of a proper civilization. That is, unless the waste from the crumbling industrial district is making them hyper-intelligent. If so, we should probably stop worrying about making rent and start thinking about how to best please our rodent masters.
Praise Lord Squeakers, puny mortals.
FEATURE PHOTO BY TODD QUACKENBUSH VIA UNSPLASH