• February 5, 2021 |

    and now the piñata’s burst

    on the miracle of growing up

    article by , illustrated by

    Recently, I’ve been enjoying my carrots.

    You might think that’s a strange way to start an essay (on growing up, no less—a very somber phenomenon), so you might be tempted to skip ahead to paragraph five and jump right into the meat of the words. But my essay is vegetarian, thank you very much, so don’t look for what isn’t there. Instead, appreciate what is: Recently, I said, I’ve been enjoying my carrots.

    I’ve begun enjoying other foods too, like bitter melon and grapefruit, and I drink tea like an old lady, which is to say, hot and unsweetened. I also like to watch TV shows that make me cry (and I actually do cry now), as well as movies that scare the living sheets out of me (though I sleep like a baby afterwards). For some reason, very small things—like daily vitamins and functional light bulbs—bring me comfort. I didn’t notice these changes until the carrots happened, and now I’m left wondering what on earth has gotten into me. 

    Have I grown up or something?

    This thought waltzed into my mind the other day as I sat on a beach towel on my front lawn, dead brown grass itching my legs. I had gone on a jog (the first time in a long time I had been outside, let alone exercised), and I was now typing away on my laptop. It was strange to be sitting there, the California winter air nipping at my skin, when the world seemed to be raging with news article after news article. It was strange to feel the sunlight warming my toes the same way it would have in an alternate, virus-free world. It was strange to stare into a sky so innocently blue. 

    For a moment, the earth stilled, and I was reminded of a shirt I owned in high school, a cotton tee that read, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The sentence had me confused for so long that one day, in the spirit of Marie Kondo, I chucked the shirt in the donation bin. Now, after three years, the quote was coming back to haunt me. And I finally understood what it meant. 

    Two years of college and two months of living abroad—disappointment, success, failure, friendship, and everything in between—had brought me back to this place: the same grass under the same sky. It was a moment of poignant awareness, one in which I felt very grown up. 

    I heard somewhere that growing up happens in one moment, and if that’s true, then maybe my moment was with the tangerine-colored vegetables. But if it’s not true—and I’m beginning to believe it’s not—then maybe the carrots are just my looking glass. Maybe, like my T-shirt implied, my “growing up” happened over a series of cross-stitched moments. And now the piñata’s burst and those moments are tumbling out, twirling towards me and smiling.

    I suppose even memories are beholden to the laws of gravity and emotion, because the heaviest ones roll out first. They are shaped like little planets, glowing bright and waiting to be remembered. I pick one up.

    “797 days ago,” the small globe reads, and I see myself running on a treadmill in a college gym in a small city. I see myself breaking the seven minute mile and then closing my eyes in proud accomplishment. Then I see myself stepping onto the bathroom scale, my self-esteem shrinking, my mind wondering if the people back at home will say, “You look different” when they really mean, “You’ve gained weight.”

    Another glowing orb rolls toward me.

    In this memory, I am crying on a couch in New York. I am depressed but I don’t even know it, and I’m trying to hide my gloom because it’s Thanksgiving, 435 days ago. I’m visiting my youngest cousin, and a three-year-old doesn’t deserve to be around a sad person. So during our trip to the museum, I make sure to smile a lot, and I try to feel grateful for my company. My feelings are a mixture of confusion and insecurity, loneliness and guilty despondency. I fall asleep to a broken heart and wake up to an arrhythmic one. 

    There are many other bittersweet memories like these ones—bitter because they remind me of the pain I once endured, and sweet because it is pain no longer. Like the carrots I’ve learned to appreciate, they taste somewhat of adulthood. But the process of growing up is not only found in pain, and I look down to see a million other globes pirouetting towards me. 

    Here is the time I clicked out of LinkedIn and told the inner voices to “shut it!” Behind it rolls a reflection of a poem I wrote because I felt inspired, not because I pressured myself to prove my artistry. Here is the day I took my cousin to the public library and taught him Newton’s three laws of motion. Here is the time I realized my freshman year acquaintances had become my lifelong friends, and the time I talked to a professor I admired, and the time I jogged outside and genuinely enjoyed it. Here is the time I looked in the mirror, and smiled, and meant it. 

    Here is the time, as broken and beastly as it is, and here I am facing it. Here is the time I recognize all that is wrong with the world, its woe and its weariness, and yet here is the time I trudge on. I look up and my life unravels before me, a million globes glittering, a million tiny choices that flipped the railroad switch and propelled me into a future that is now my present. Somewhere along the way, my actions, however small, evolved to mean more than just myself—and my world, however big, emerged from the modest moments. 

    It is in those moments that I began to unearth myself, a shining carrot in my own right. The sky greets me as if it were any other day. 

    I sit in quiet and feel at home.