You Don’t Look Your Age

“Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?” […] It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.”

juliaborzucka
Collage by: Julia Borzucka

Today I woke up 20 years older than I was yesterday.

What I hadn’t achieved in all the years since I had turned 18, had happened to me overnight: I had gotten old. Ever since turning 18, all of my birthdays have been meaningless. The time just never seemed to pass. I never felt a year older. I felt the days as they passed me by, but never the years. I never felt 19 or 20 or 21. I could never say how old I really was without confirming with myself first: “Is that how old I’m supposed to be? Is that the number I’m meant to say?”

Every birthday since has been me wondering why all these other people were cheering me on, getting me to cut a cake when nothing had happened to warrant that. Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?”

“I used to think the years would go by in order, that you get older one year at a time. But it’s not like that. It happens overnight.”
— Haruki Murakami, Dance, Dance, Dance

I was not older. Somehow, time had passed and I was still trying to catch up with it. To me, it was like celebrating a cargo ship that had arrived empty. It was just a ship that had gone around the sun for a year and had absolutely nothing to show for it. It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.

The years go by too fast. And I once wondered whether it would change anything if I could be 20 for 2 years, for 730 days. I mean do you realise that you only ever get to be one age for a year? (Even so, I feel like I was 17 longer than I was 20. Although I once heard that it’s because the older you get, the more…relative time seems? Because when you were 5, you were living a fifth of your life, which is not much, and now you’re living one twentieth, one thirtieth of it. So it seems like less time in comparison to the whole of time that you have had. I mean, it explains why a year seems like an eternity to a child, but very little to an adult. Does this mean that the older we get, the less whole we feel, the more fractured we are? I don’t know). But if the years were twice longer, and our lifespans remained the same, what would we be like by the time we turned 50?

This next birthday though, I will feel the full weight and strength of all these years on my shoulders. These additional 20 years will show on my face, all these sands of Time dragging down the skin under my eyes, then my voice, my heartbeats.

I understand, now.

How it is that I can have friends who are having children of their own and how others still have curfews to respect. I understand, in a way that is all too real, that it is not ever the number of years that counts.

Age strikes you in seconds, minutes.

Still, still— what a shame that I’ve outrun Time.

Zara With The Beautiful Hair

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Art by: Unknown Artist

Zara has beautiful hair, as black and heavy as the night.

It is a black so intense that it should not gleam, should not reflect any light, and yet it does. People are in awe of Zara’s hair. There’s always that split second when eyes unconsciously shift to the sheer mass of curls and waves that is her hair. It mostly happens when she takes it out of her bun, and there’s that sudden explosion, like water bursting through a dam, and her hair cascades down her back in ripples, reaching past her hips. It reminds you of something powerful, like Nature reclaiming its rights, in a way. And it all makes her so mysterious, so startling.

She has always been beautiful, in a way the world never failed to notice. High cheekbones, brilliant dark eyes and a sharp tongue. The kind of person you try hard to impress. But people also tell Zara she should do something with her hair. Dye it, layer it, straighten it. But Zara never does. In the most unpretentious way, and yet with a hint of pride, she knows she is beautiful. She does not need to change. Zara is that girl you notice, but more importantly, she is that girl you remember.

Fast-forward a few years, marriage, 2 pregnancies and the drudgery of working an 8 to 5 at the department store have stolen her youth from her. The prominent cheekbones are now a little lost in the pudginess of her face, gained from pregnancy and idleness. The sharp light in her eyes has also dimmed. Zara wanted the dream life, lots of money and lots of travel. But Zara also dreamed of Prince Charming, found him in a humble repairman and occasionally in one of the buff guys on TV.

Zara is not the same person you remember from 5 years ago—dazzling, intimidatingly beautiful. Zara is the person who works the cash register with a weary smile. But ah, Zara is still Zara with the beautiful hair. People, even now, are not aware that they stare. But Zara knows, Zara has always known. She is Zara with the beautiful hair, and the world will notice her, the world will remember her. Even when she is old and grey, and her hair has all but gone, she will always be Zara. The kind of person too beautiful to approach, too mysterious even until the very end.

Young Adult…Old Soul

“But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity. “

sunflowergirl
Art by Narae Kim / 김나래

I never thought I would live to be an adult.

Never thought I would be roaming the Earth for as long as I have now—20 years and then some. I didn’t think I would “die young”. No, I just never saw it coming. It was all just so far away; an abstract future I told myself to not worry about just now. But I also never thought I would change, evolve, and sometimes even…bloom.

But between then and now, in that time when I was supposed to learn how the world works, how to put on make-up and make connections, I dreamed. Days and nights that were simultaneously long and short, I was tucked away in a world of my own making. And I invited a few people in sometimes. They were called Saint-Exupéry or Frost, Rowling or Tolkien, Kahlo or Jalāl ad-Dīn( Yeah, first-name basis).

But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity.

I have drifted back, now.

Into what turned out to be a forced landing into adulthood. I did not have the pleasure of pulling an Icarus, of reaching for the sun earnestly, of knowing how to fly and never wanting to go down again. I did not have the pleasure of loving the thrill of zeniths so much I would die in the pursuit, refusing to go anywhere but further ahead. I was not prepared, so it was not a graceful landing. I was all fumbling limbs, bruised knees and awkward words. Like when you crash a party and everyone stares at you.

The days of wandering, and indeed the days for wonder are not all lost now. But even so, adulthood comes with a few restraints. Restraints which I balk from calling shackles (For fear that is exactly what they are). Yet here I am now.  A young adult. Slightly unlike, I’ve been told (at times pityingly or with a sneer, at others kindly) other young adults I know. There are only few my age who do not find intense passions for words, spoken and unspoken, a little weird. They are not many, those who view solitude as a season to blossom, a door, an adventure.

At times too, without pretension, without arrogance—without wanting to disrupt the smooth flow of normalcy—my hand catches onto the inherent sadness of life. I breathe in the history of places, I let the dust and the memories of forgotten lives settle in. In crowds, I let the untold stories of the world wash over me. So, at times, I am older than I really am. Old, ancient, almost. And all the odder, too.

Because what a mess of many things I am.

A young adult, ambitious, eager to see the world yet unwilling to succumb to the cold, harsh ways of the adult life that comes with it.

Young, then. But also old. As if it was not enough, there is also a child’s laughter, bubbling to the surface. The world through a child’s eyes, brilliant, full of wonder, yet also eyes that are calm and a little weary, even distrusting.

The story hasn’t come to an end. Even now, as I am writing it, I watch it unfold. And I write it, I do, in part for others, and in part to reach myself.


Listening to: