I always had this feeling that twenty-three would be a strange age for me; an in-between age full of uncertainty and fear of my slowly-approaching thirties. I had no idea that it would be coupled with the fear and anxiety that is a global pandemic.
I woke on my birthday to my boyfriend wishing me a happy birthday, and groggily prepared for the day. I'd been patiently waiting a few days to open gifts I'd received from my family and friends three hours away, and decided to start the day with a bang.
My mom texted me with very detailed instructions on how to open the box, and insistence that my boyfriend needed to film the whole thing so she felt like she was there with me.
The box felt like a slice of home, complete with a piece of bread with a chunk torn out of it, three peanuts, change floating around, and a dog bone for the dog I didn't have (gag gifts that I've come to expect from my uncle and mom collaborating). My sister read my mind and sewed reusable paper towels, complete with adorable stitching, and my mom sewed cloth napkins with a beautiful maroon geometric print.
My grandpa contributed Kit Kats and ones, which he always thought I needed, in case I was starving and needed to grab something from a vending machine. My grandma sent a flash drive with old family pictures on it that I'd asked her to look for. The day was starting to feel normal.
At two o'clock, I joined the "Crushing Life and Taking Names" video chat group that my best friends and I used every week. We updated each other about our quarantine lives, discussing job interviews, grad school, life on the front lines, and fears about re-opening. My friend on the front lines, working at a hospital, was excited to share that her sister's doctor gave her the all-clear for her to go visit her baby niece for the first time ever.
Shortly after that, my best friend's mom, a.k.a. Mamason, called to say happy birthday and chat about life updates, while on the way back from picking up her daughter's belongings from her college dorm. I felt good to reconnect with her and hear a bit about what life was like on the home front.
Around four-thirty, my sister called me from her laptop for a family video call at my grandparents' house. Rogue and Molly, the family pups, were trotting around the living room, while my mom tried to connect to our call on her laptop, so she could call from the backyard deck.
I heard my grandpa talking in his outside-voice, no doubt with his hearing aids turned off, before he walked into frame in the living room. We were just about to start a family game of Mad Libs before he interrupted. I truly felt like I was there. He stared with his mouth wide open at the screen; this was his first experience ever with video chatting.
After we completed the custom-made Mad Libs that my mom wrote, we parted ways, and thanked each other for the time together.
After a busy afternoon of birthday calls and present opening, reality began to sink back in. I'd discussed with my therapist the week before about how it felt devastating to be starting back at square one again. In January, I'd moved from my home town to my college town to live with my boyfriend, and, after acquiring two jobs, had finally felt like I'd begun to get in a sort of groove. Now, with one of my jobs permanently terminated, I was back to job searching, and having to start from scratch.
It wasn't just in terms of job searching that I was starting from scratch. I'd made a decision recently that the career I'd gone to college to pursue and gotten my degree in wasn't for me. So here I was, a recent college graduate with student loans hanging over my head, receiving absolutely no government aid during the pandemic, considering going back to school. Was I crazy? Yes. Did it feel better than following a path that didn't feel right? Yes.
After a night of Italian food, video games and drinking with my boyfriend and roommates, the weight of uncertainty over my head started to feel really heavy. Starting from scratch was overwhelming. Not to mention that the performance contract back home that I was supposed to be performing in during the month of June was postponed, meaning that even if was able to get a job, I'd have to put in my two weeks eventually and leave the city for a month.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I hugged my boyfriend and our cat tight, as I waited for the next day to show its face.
Before I went to bed, I saw a post on Instagram by Carissa Potter Carlson's account @peopleiveloved that encapsulated all of the feelings I felt on my birthday in quarantine:
Carissa Potter Carlson @peopleiveloved
Despite all of the overwhelming positivity that my family and friends had showered my with that day, I'd still felt like something was off. I felt guilty for feeling upset. I felt angry that I couldn't just suck up my fears and be happy.
Seeing this post made me feel like I wasn't crazy, that what I was feeling was valid in some way, that I wasn't an inherently negative person for allowing the fear surrounding the pandemic to creep into my celebration.
My birthday twin from college messaged me after I shared Carissa Potter Carlson's post on my story and said, "Thank you. I needed to see this. Especially after the birthday celebrations are over is when it all hit's ya."
I'd already drilled similar thoughts into my head about trusting that "things would be okay," but seeing this list outlined by someone else, and reading the comments of hundreds of people feeling the same thing, made me feel a part of a strange little community.
My other birthday twin from high school celebrated her birthday in quarantine with twenty-one cards mailed from her friends, and a scavenger hunt to find them. Another one of my friends celebrated with a scavenger hunt around town and a home-cooked meal.
Whatever your birthday in quarantine may look like, know that it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling. Allow yourself time to process the thoughts you have during this crazy and unpredictable time. I'll be processing right along with you.