It’s a few minutes after midnight and I hear my phone chime in the darkness. I glance over at my parents who are asleep in the next bed; neither of them stirs.
I prop myself up on my elbows and reach for my phone. Birthday messages. Birthday Facebook posts. I’m too tired to smile, so I fall back into bed and make a mental note to be excited in the morning.
Morning comes all too soon. Having gotten only a few hours of sleep, I pull the covers over my face as I hear my parents shuffling around our small hotel room, trying to get ready for breakfast. I tell them I’m too tired and my stomach hurts from something I ate the night before. They leave me behind so I can get a little more sleep, but it doesn’t happen.
I spent my 28th birthday unpacking boxes in Memphis. I spent my 30th birthday unpacking boxes in Kansas City. And this year 31 is being spent in a Travel Lodge in the middle of Ohio, followed by a day of unpacking boxes in Albany.
I’m no longer 30, but rather, in my 30s. Plural. It’s not a big deal, I tell myself as I curl into a ball, hugging my stomach. Yes, my metabolism is becoming noticeably slower and my undergrad abs are now just the stuff of legend. Yes, I seem to be going backwards in my career – leaving a wonderful job and a workplace that I enjoyed to become a broke-ass graduate student with no guarantee afterwards of getting to pick up where I left off in my career. No, I’m nowhere near the life I thought I ought to have at 31 (I was supposed to have a boy and a girl by now – Mufasa and Sephora, respectively). If my past is any indicator, my tomorrows aren’t anything to get excited about.
But then I remind myself that tomorrow is promised to no one. So I count each year – no matter how unproductive I perceive it – to be a blessing. I tell myself that maybe tomorrow will be different. Well, maybe I can try to make tomorrow different. And here’s my opportunity: starting over in a new city. It’s a new story, a blank page. A new life.
I feel like I’ve lived many lives. More than a cat. Every time I move it’s as though I’ve left a former life behind as I start a new one. My old self and my old life are still there – in my memories – but coming to a new place somehow feels like a transformation. To borrow a phrase from Doctor Who – “same software, different case.” I’m like The Doctor (most egotistical thing I’ve said all year), only I don’t know how many regenerations I get. I just live on the hope that I’ll make the most of the ones I’m given.
A few days after reaching Albany and settling into my new place, my parents take off to visit my sister in D.C. I watch them leave, and once they disappear from my view I close the door and run to my balcony to see if I can catch a few more glimpses of them. I can’t, and suddenly I feel a surge of anxiety and loneliness. I stifle the feelings before they can turn into a full-on panic attack and I get on with my day. Let’s see what 31 brings.