One of my friends who’s been dear to me since middle school visited from Chicago yesterday. She’s hanging onto the last vestiges of her summer break between her gap year and the beginning of grad school while I’m hanging onto my sanity living at home with my parents. Neither of us had a car available so we did something we hadn’t done since we’d gotten our driver’s licenses.
We rode our bikes to lunch.
We grabbed burritos at Pancheros and chased them with sugary monstrosities from Starbucks. I struggled to situate myself on my bicycle while sucking on my Iced Coconut Milk Mocha Macchiato (try saying that five times fast—I couldn’t properly say it once when I tried to order it). I felt intensely self-aware as the condensation outside my cup dripped down my arm and I pumped the pedals behind my old friend. Her life was far from perfect, but I couldn’t help but think it must feel nice to have a vague idea of what you’re doing with your life, or at least where you’re going to school for the next two years.
My color-damaged blonde hair was wispy in the breeze. My concert tee was tucked neatly into my destroyed jean shorts and my right leg was tattooed with bike chain grease. With my iced beverage in my left hand and my handlebars controlled coolly in the right, it occurred to me that I couldn’t look more like a middle schooler if I tried.
“I look like a really cool eighth grader,” I joked.
I hoped drawing attention to my accidental juvenility would make me feel a little less embarrassed, because living at home as an adult already felt regressive. I got into emotional fights with my mom about doing the laundry. My degree in creative writing seemed increasingly useless with each job application I sent in and didn’t even get a confirmation email for in return. The image of me on my bicycle was just the physical embodiment of the complete loserdom I had been cultivating since graduation, or perhaps since birth.
My friend turned around and grinned at me. “You look like the girl I wanted to be when I was sixteen,” she said without a trace of irony.
With that one statement my embarrassment transformed into something else entirely: pride. I was everything sixteen-year-old me had wanted to be, too. I bought coffee with my own babysitting money. I could make small talk with strangers without freezing up with anxiety. I graduated from a world-renowned university with a degree in my life’s greatest passion. I’d kissed a boy, goddammit!
I’m not completely comfortable with being an unemployed post-grad living at home. But why would I be? Who feels comfortable on meter 600 of a 10k run, or sitting in the airport on a layover before a delayed flight? I’m proud of how far I’ve come on this journey and I’m already proud of wherever I’m going. It just took a bicycle to remind me.