There’s a distant drum somewhere, one that beats a steady rhythm that hasn’t stopped since I sat atop this sea of dry leaves. Their high-pitched crunches under the boots I’ve worn since 19 married the beating far away. A symphony of my own world, as subtle as the air of the cloudy sky. The dying leaves on the trees redeem the brightness of the day. Their sacrifice saves me from sinking into the sullen days of winter. This day feels bright and warm, lined with everything that makes me whole.
I love October. I think I’ve exclaimed this sentence out loud about 22 times this weekend, the same amount of years I’m celebrating today. The mutual love of this month really saves me from feeling conceited on days like this. Of course I don’t just praise October because it’s the one that gave me my life. I love it for the reasons everyone else does: the colors, the costumes, the tying of the ends of the year. But, in that tying comes the twists of rejoicing and the turns of grief for everything the year gave and took. Birthdays just so happen to launch me into those loops without warning, but today has felt different from those before.
I climbed this hill about an hour ago, the one that put me on an overlook of Oakland. However, I’ve been climbing other, much larger hills since the beginning of my life, and today I feel as if I can rest with the visions of how far I’ve come. I used to dread my birthday, as in the actual day itself because it had to be the most perfect consecutive twenty-four hours. I had to feel unconditional love, even from those I’ve only met in passing. I had to do all of my favorite things with all of my favorite people, losing my presence in the whirlwind of the schedule.
21 gave me a whirlwind of its own design, one I never could have asked for or planned, so today, my wish was stillness. I entrusted it to 22 tiny candles last night in a room full of people I love the most, and while the day’s not over yet, I can safely say that it came true.
Today, I rejoiced in the mundane. I welcomed my twenty-second year of life with the elements that have built the framework for it: long walks, morning coffee, hours of basking in the sun, hugs, chunky sweaters, last night’s leftovers, more sunlight, staring at my ceiling, staring at my phone, laughter, tears, Taylor Swift, changing my bed sheets, forgetting my house key, the jeans I’ve worn a million times. If I didn’t have a cell phone—a way for an abundance of mere acquaintances to reach out to me—then I would think today was any normal day. I’ve loved every second of it. I couldn’t have wished for anything better, for my most consistent wish has been to love my life in both its extravagance and humility. I sit here, on the old top sheet I use as a picnic blanket, overflowing with emotions. I can’t necessarily name all of them, but I can say it’s been too long since I’ve felt this full.
I’m a little ways away from my house where I threw my first ever dinner party, but a lot of my emotions come from the radiance of last night, which therefore leaked into today. I love the way my friends looked at me through candlelight. Most of them had never stepped foot in my house, but it felt like home to them because there I sat, in the middle of a long table of collaged furniture, smiling from ear to ear. I’m grateful for every single one of them for defending me against my loneliness, which was my biggest fear as I approached this day.
The last time my birthday fell on a Sunday, I knew loneliness in a different degree. I sat in the vast upstairs of my family’s house, a room that was never truly meant to be seen by others. The carpet scraped every surface of my skin as I rolled around in my own boredom. The day consisted of two things: a Saints game and the photobooth on my computer. The Saints lost, which only sunk me deeper into the hole that didn’t even want to hold me in the first place (I was an eleven year old with a fantasy football team. You do the math.). I don’t know why I didn’t do much that day, and I don’t know why I never turned the lights on either. I can still feel the emptiness of that room as the gray light from outside drifted through the windows. The sky wasn’t too different from the one above me when I got to this park, but the positive space inside me couldn’t offer more of a contrast.
I am so excited for twenty-two, but I know with it comes change beyond my wildest imaginations. I made it through eleven and fifteen and eighteen and twenty-one and all of the arduous years that got me to this moment, the same way I got up the steep inclines and patchy asphalt to sit at the top of this hill. The sun is now blinding, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an orange world. The weather app lied to me for the better, today, and so have my fears in years past. As I bathe in golden light on a day that wasn’t supposed to see the sun, I feel gratitude for the girl who wasn’t favored to feel optimism this pure. I love her, and I love who she’s becoming. I love who she is in the eyes of others, and I love the year she’s projected to lead because I know she’ll handle it with grace as stoic as the trees above her. I wonder how small they were after just twenty-two years of growing, and I wonder if they felt as big as I do now.