I’m currently rolling up my sleeves for another long day of being the better person in my breakup. My ex’s 20th birthday is tomorrow, which is depressing—don’t let anyone tell you that turning 20 isn’t depressing. He says he doesn’t want a party because last time he threw himself a party for his birthday it was “sad” (We ate pizza on his dorm floor while one of his friends asked me to name three Kanye albums.).
I’m still throwing him a party. I tell myself this is an act of kindness, but honestly, it would probably be kinder to let him burn out in solitude. Birthday parties are sort of stupid and optimistic, and they seem cruel juxtaposed with the actual act of turning 20. Your childhood is behind you, you’ll never have your innocence back and your worst existential fears are grounded in reality. Blow out the candles!
A week from now, I’ll be 19. I feel extremely embarrassed about that fact, and if you’re 19, you should feel embarrassed too. It’s a nothing age. I don’t feel like doing anything to commemorate it, but I do feel like watching my ex writhe under the label of “20-year-old” while his closest friends eat cheap pizza and drink cheap drinks from cheap plastic cups on my dime. “You’re so old,” I keep telling him. “You’re soooooo old. Can you even, like, skateboard? Your teenage years are over and you never even learned how to ride a skateboard. Wow.”
Really, though, as much joy as I get out of his misery, I don’t want my ex to turn 20 either. I don’t want any of my friends to get older. I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want to be turning 19, and honestly, I would prefer it if I never had to acknowledge the fact that I’m progressing through time again. It’s not that I’m particularly attached to the age I’m at – I’m not. 18 kind of sucks in its own right but the alternative is that I have to do things, and eventually if I don’t do them, they won’t happen. Ideally, I’d go into a medically-induced coma until my brain knew it was ready to maintain stable relationships and write my honors thesis. I guess medicine hasn’t come that far yet.
I get really bad secondhand embarrassment whenever I see someone making a big deal out of their 19th birthday. The biggest thing that happens to you when you turn 19 is that you stop being 18, and that doesn’t even mean anything, it just makes everyone a little bit more annoyed at you. I get annoyed when I see people flaunting their 19th birthdays. I tell myself it’s because I’m scared of ending up like them. At 19, you should know better than to be happy that you’re getting older, so why are they smiling? Why are they standing in front of their shiny one-nine balloons, sorority girl-posing? Why aren’t they as terrified as I am?
I tell myself they must be lying or self-unaware, and that’s why I hate them, but I don’t know. If there’s anything that tethers me to other, happier 19-year-olds, it’s not fear or even hate, but envy. Maybe they’re not lying. Maybe they really don’t feel like time is moving a little too fast, pressing in a little too hard around them. Maybe I’m the only one who feels like a child operating a 19-year-old’s body, like I’m a babushka doll filled with each year, each self I’ve lived through, all their loves and their losses and their fears. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this scared.
The only thing I really want for my 19th birthday, I guess, is for someone to let me feel superior to them for once. So my ex is getting a party whether he likes it or not. I’ll pour chips and salsa into little serving bowls, I’ll spend hours curating a playlist, I’ll be charming and beautiful and gracious and perfect. And he’ll have to be 20. And that’s a happy birthday to me.