Confessions of a Post-Teenage Runagay: The Future Freaks Me Out

What the fuck have I been doing for the past year and a half?

The answer is either ‘nothing’ or ‘everything,’ depending on who you are and how you look at it. The truth is probably somewhere in between, because honestly, it’s complicated. If you asked me how I’m doing right now, I’d say I’m a little low. These days not everyone finishes college in four years; taking time off isn’t so uncommon. And I guess you could say I’m taking some time off. Perhaps even that I’m ‘in between schools.’

But what have I been doing with my time off? I haven’t been backpacking through Europe (who has the money?), nor have I been working on a South American organic farm (who has the time?). I haven’t been gaining some vague worldly experience through travel or gleaned any wisdom from a voluntary relinquishing of all my worldly possessions. But I have learned to make it on my own. Sometimes that feels like nothing because making my life work by any means necessary has always been the obvious choice. Sometimes that feels like nothing because goddammit-I-am-so-hungover-where-are-my-keys-I-lost-my-phone-I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-to-be-late-on-rent-again. But, in the vaguest terms possible: sometimes it feels like something.

A year and a half ago, I tore down my life. I’ve been spending the time since trying to build it back up, redoing the layout, securing the structure. So I haven’t been in school, no, not quite, but I’ve been learning. And I’ve been growing. A little over a year ago I was sleeping on piles of blankets on living room floors, making money in ways that I can’t probably ever use on a resume, and getting caught stealing bottles of wine from Whole Foods (seriously, don’t get caught shoplifting, it’s illegal AND embarrassing). But now I’ve got my own rented house. I have a bedroom. And a bed! I have a job that makes me feel crazy if I’m there too much or too late, but it pays the bills, and I’m not that bad at it. I’ve got a girlfriend who treats me real nice, I have good friends who keep life moving, and sometimes (just sometimes) I even cook myself dinner. I hesitate to say this should Lesbian Zeus overhear me and strike me down for hubris, but I think I’m becoming a Real Person.

Also, thug life.

I used to have this feeling of infinite possibility. It used to run through my head and through my veins and across the synapses between my nerves all day. It felt as though my head were filled with bright lights and bright futures, like my body was manufactured specifically to help me survive late nights, early mornings, vicious hangovers, and staying up for days. Rebound, recover, repeat. I will always rebound, I thought. I will always be back for more.

“It’s not that I felt invincible; it’s more that I felt safe. I felt protected, from my decisions, from my mistakes. I took advantage of my youth, of the feeling that there would always be more time.”

It’s not that I felt invincible; it’s more that I felt safe. I felt protected, from my decisions, from my mistakes. I took advantage of my youth, of the feeling that there would always be more time. I held on to the absolute, undying belief in second chances, and the assumption that, if I waited long enough, things could (and would) fix themselves. I believed that growing up was a waiting game. All I had to do was sit on the earth as it turned, and slowly but surely, I’d become an adult — whatever the fuck that meant.

And I soon learned that sometimes meant hitting the wall.

And so began the existential crisis that apparently is common to almost everyone and anyone going through their early 20s. And after being here for a terrible/awesome/horrifying/exhilarating year and a half, I must say: damn, I wish someone had warned me about this. They taught me a lot about growing up while I was in school. They told me that I would start getting my period, grow breasts, and maybe even dabble in premarital sex, and so far they’ve been right. I was prepared for the idea that change is scary, but I was never prepared for the sheer horror of the reality that everything can change at once.

I was 19 when I left my parents’ house without warning and boarded a plane from New York to Texas. I was that crying girl at the airport. I was that crying girl on the plane. I cried a little in Texas, but I also got drunk a lot, so I forgot about things, except on some nights when my head would play out fever dreams of my prodigal return.

I never looked back. I never really had a choice. I somehow didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment I threw a suitcase with all my things into the back of my friend’s car as she looked up directions to the airport, I also threw into motion a series of a events that I’ll never be able to reverse, even if I wanted to. Not that it’s a matter of whether I regret my decisions or not. These things that happened, they’re done, even if the consequences spin madly and persistently on.

I’ve spent two summers growing up in DC. Two summers binging on sweet, idyllic possibility like there would always be more. But it’s my third summer now, and rations are running low. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time thinking of where I could be, and now I’m just…here. I dreamed out the possibilities of being free from my obligations to my parents’ expectations. I felt the possibilities of time thinking about being free from my obligations to my school. I had somehow neglected the fact that, after using my savings to pay off my last semester in college, I had literally zero dollars to my name. I had to get a job. I had to get jobs. I cashiered at a dingy pizzeria that was maybe a drug front but also was maybe just a pizzeria. I delivered salads on bike. I’ve been waiting tables full-time downtown for 8 months now. And that’s fine. While this freedom isn’t quite as sweet and lush (nor is it as free as I imagined), I don’t mind paying for my independence. For, me it’s still worth it. No amount of money given to me will change the fact that my parents’ support was conditional and that my school’s policies were hypocritical. I have gotten on my feet and will remain there, even if that requires crying in public places like the Metro sometimes.

 

The one thing that I understand for sure right now is that there’s nothing glamorous about being broke and confused. Romantic? Maybe. Glamorous or ideal, not as much.

But I know there’s time. Not time like there used to be. Not time that stretched out before me in a series of hypothetical ideals, not time that would heal all things, not even spare time, really. I know there’s time in the sense that time goes on. It has to. I have to go on with it, and I have to stay on my feet or else I’ll get dragged.

To bring you up to speed with what’s going on right now: about a week ago I found out that I was rejected from my transfer school, news that has thrust me lost and blind into the next year of my life. I have to re-do the plans for what my life is going to look like for at least the next six months to a year. I have no idea what I’m doing. All I know is that I’m 21, making decisions to make up for decisions I made when I was 19, when I was super-confused because I was expected to know what I wanted from my life when I was 18, but right now what I’m really worried about is whether or not the city is going to shut off my water because our bill is 3 months late.

There was a point where I stopped believing in second chances. And maybe I was right. There are places you can go to over and over again, but there are times you can’t revisit. There are truths you can’t undiscover, and there are mistakes you can’t unmake. And maybe that sounds dramatic, because that’s because everything feels really fucking dramatic. I’m 21, an age where my ego is meeting reality, where the actions I’m taking have a real, solid impact on my present and my future. I’m watching my friends go crazy. We’re beginning to make decisions that are consequential, and because of that, we also constantly feel like the world is ending. We’re young in a culture of instant nostalgia, getting caught up reminiscing about the recent past, when the future is in our control now more than ever.

the future is bright

But in the horror of all this I have found some solace: the fact that things will change. Things won’t stay like this forever. In fact, they probably won’t even stay like this for long. It’s the inertia of youth, a persistent restlessness motivated by the passing of time. I’m pretty sure it causes the rotation of the earth. I’m no longer waiting for things to happen. I am in the pursuit of satisfaction, I always have been, it’s just that now I’m specifically in the business of Making Things Happen for Myself. It’s where I’ve forced myself to be. And while it’s true that things do feel hard now and then, goddammit, I’m making it.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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51 Comments

  1. I’ve never been able to relate to anything more. I’m 21 and picking up the pieces from dropping out of University at the age of 19 and rendering myself homeless because I refuse to return home and surrender my independence.

    I work hard on a month by month basis, not knowing whether I will meet my rent at the end of the month but I know I will find stability.

    I have got myself out of a relationship that held me back, I’m surrounded by my best friends from my childhood and I’m pursuing a military career I only used to DREAM of.

    I wouldn’t change my mistakes over the last 2-3 years because I wouldn’t have found the strength to do my own thing today.

  2. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you writing this article – I, too, am in the midst of becoming a real person! And the future also freaks me out. I’m still waiting to hear whether or not I’ll be accepted into my transfer school, but even if I’m not, this article made me not quite so afraid of facing reality. I feel like what ever happens, I’ll be in good company.

  3. I love this. I’m going through the “oh haayyy it’s time to grow up, get your own job, try to make enough money to take care of all your shit” time. It’s rough. In this article I can clearly sense the overwhelmed feeling. Which like, sucks for you, but really makes me feel good because I’m feeling that too. And I kinda needed to see that I’m not the only one growing up right now. Keep on pushin, you’re right, shits gonna change, and we’re gonna either be okay or we’re not. A lot of things like that, we can’t control anyway, so there’s no need to fret.

  4. Beautiful piece. And thank god it’s not just me. At 21 I’m trying to study, deal with illness, gain some kind of independence and move with all the ups and downs of falling for a girl for the first time.

    It’s all up in the air, but we’ll get through it. Good luck.

    x

  5. I’m 27 and I’m still in this spot. I’ve always been kind of a late bloomer… I didn’t start losing my baby teeth until I was almost 10, for example. Some days it seems like everyone’s got it together except me. And other days, it seems like I’ve figured out something that most haven’t. I just try to remember that life is a journey, not a destination, and this is all part of it. All of this. The late rent included.

  6. As someone who just got to the other side of this miserable time of life I promise you that the universe works with you to make whit alright. I took time off and went back and almost didn’t graduate then graduated. Then picked up my life and deposited said life in the middle of new York city. A year later I am still alive and not homeless with a degree ans things are marginally better.

  7. I always love reading your posts. I think something you wrote was the first thing I read on AS and what kept me coming back, looking for more of your writing.

    I have a lot of feelings on this. I think for sure that this sort of experience happens to all sorts of people in their 20s, but from what I’ve seen, it’s almost the norm for young gay women. I had a long period where I did tons of stuff like this — stopped going to classes, almost failed out, almost dropped out many times, took time off (and thought I wasn’t coming back), drank lots/ drugs, and maybe did some relatively minor illegal things. And I think pretty much ALL my gay/ lesbian women friends had a period where they did stuff like this, although it could (seriously) just be the sort of people I tend to hang out with. But, now that I’m teaching college, and I have seen this happen with gay/ queer students.

    I think at least part of it has to do with feeling lots of anger that maybe can’t be articulated or isn’t recognized as anger, and/or has no obvious outlet… I dunno, just my thought. I think that happened with me, and I have for sure seen it in a couple of my gay/ queer students, who have since failed/ dropped out. It makes me really sad.

    That said — while everything right now might feel like it could totally determine the path of your life forever, I kinda don’t think that’s true. Yeah, for sure, going to and doing well in college can make things smoother/ easier and open doors but you can take a less “traditional” path and things can work out well. But I think this sort of stuff can make you a stronger, more empathetic, more thoughtful person, and as long as you can pay your bills… I dunno, maybe that’s just as if not more important? Still, not fun at all, that’s for sure.

    • I agree with you so strongly on the concept of queer women struggling academically during the coming-out process. I experienced the same thing and noticed the same pattern in all of my friends. I wish someone would do a study on the effect coming out has on academics across the board.

      It’s tough, you know? Everything is crashing down around you and the world feels so real and scary; the last thing I felt like doing was study. There was so much bigger shit to deal with.

    • I’ve always had at least a 3.8 GPA and I never drank or did anything really except for cry every day. I had a boyfriend of 4 years that I didn’t really like but I felt like I was supposed to stay with anyway, and the moment I realized that I didn’t have to be with him and that I was definitely gay was around the same time when I stopped going to class, doing my assignments, and started drinking. I’m surprised I didn’t actually fail anything, but I still made the worst grades that I’ve ever made in my life.

      BUT! I no longer cried every day. Life is weird.

      I can definitely vouch for your theory though, because the same thing happened to me. Everything really does just seem so real and scary and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it, even if I was happier in the end because I was no longer with my boyfriend.

  8. This is one of the most well-written pieces I’ve ever read on AS. Thanks for writing this; your feelings are our feelings, but you say them so well. In all honesty, I wish I had as much courage as you.

  9. YES. This is me, blubbering, on my last day at work because I am moving across the fucking country to go to grad school and become a Real Person. Keep on keepin’ on, grrl. We can do this thing.

  10. Thank you for this. I’m 19 and I’ve always been a little mature for my age, I feel like THIS IS MY LIFE already. I decided to stay home and go to community college after I graduated high school and Real Life is starting to rear its ugly head. It’s becoming harder and harder to live with my parents as I grow older and do stupid things and my sexuality is being figured out. I can only handle so much pursed-lip silence from my mom when I talk about dating a girl and both my parents and I hate that they have to be first-hand witnesses to all the stupid crap that I do. My brother is 23 and still lives at home and recently got into a whole mess of legal trouble getting arrested and I’m so scared that’s where I’ll end up if I don’t make a change. I almost made a compulsive move to San Francisco. I still might. But knowing that I’m not going crazy and We’re All In This Together is making this baby queer feel a whole lot better.

  11. Just been reading back through your posts about coming out to your family and running away and dropping out and they’re all beautifully written, but they scare me. It feels like looking over a steep slope I could so easily start down in my own life if I completely came out, but am trying not to because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get back (not that I think the problems I face/would face are on the same scale as the ones you’ve dealt with). I’m 19, my university has improved my life greatly but is mostly dependent on my family’s support and thats dependent on me lying to them or omitting plenty of the truth, maybe for another year, maybe for another three. Either way it sucks and I really admire your uncompromising bravery.
    Thanks for all your fantastic writing anyway! Clearly a lot of us really relate to and appreciate the way you put things

  12. this is so fucking helpful. I’m faced with the possibility that all of my perfectly laid out plans are falling apart and homelessness may be near, but I try to hide from it. At least I know I’m not the only one struggling with this stuff.

  13. Katrina, I love your writing. I always look forward to your posts, pretty sure one of yours was the first I ever read on AS.
    This is perfect for where I am in my life right now, and it’s perfect in its own right.

  14. I haven’t gotten here yet. I still live in my teenage cocoon. Dreaming of the future, unsure of what’s to come, afraid and anxious all at the same time.
    This game me a glimpse, you are a great writer and i am still very much enthusiastic of the hell i will live through to get to where i feel i will be.

    Assuming you will read this. Thank you. For this.

  15. posted this on my tumblr, i can sooo relate. sometimes, i just think of moving out and living my life, even if it means dealing with financial shortage… What’s the point of living anyway if you always give in to parental control and feeling stuck in your situation? well, currently, those two things are what im going through… not to mention, i hate studying my college course, cant wait to finish it!
    but after college, i need to start doing things on my own, i owe that to myself.
    Thanks for this article <3

  16. I’m feeling this. I had to basically fight two sets of parents for my chance to go to college in San Francisco, and even though they think I can’t make it and are waiting for me to come home and get a retail job, I won’t. It’s a struggle trying to go out on your own, and in a way I don’t think it gets easier. But eventually things quiet down!

    Thank you for sharing!

  17. I don’t know why the world expects us to know what the hell we want at 18. You’re in a cocoon when you’re a teenager. If you’re lucky, you’re sheltered from the real world with idealistic fantasies about what life may be. Then suddenly you’re thrown out into the world without a guide while reality is slapping you in the face. At least, that is what happened to me. I dropped out of college when I was 19, depressed and unsure of what to do with my life. The best thing I ever did for myself was taking an unconventional path and going to a technical school to learn a skill that I’ve always been obsessed with. Things are still hard. I am living pay check to pay check, struggling to eat, and struggling to live, but at least I have some sense of where the future might be headed. It’s a comfort to know that I’m not the only person going through this and I’m not the only person who will make it out of this.
    Thank you Katrina for writing this. Keep on making it.

  18. It’s so easy to feel alone during times like this, so thank you for speaking up about your own life experience so that everyone can realize that we’re all in a similar place together. I’m definitely struggling to handle all of the difficulties of life, too. Real life is happening and it really sucks, but it’s so reassuring to know that at least there are others that can identify with how much it sucks. We all have strength and we’re all going to be okay though, even if we have to live off of peanut butter sandwiches made with that 88 cent grocery store brand white bread with no jelly.

  19. thank you so much for this. I can relate to it all and its so beautifully written. I too just bookmarked it and I’m about to read your other stuff. I am still in that blissful cocoon of possibilities doing the college thing, and I hate that it makes me under my parents control still but I feel it would be foolish to pass up the chance to have my college education paid for. I cant wait for the time when I can do my own thing, and I just hope that i dont miss my chance, but I applaud you for being so brave sometimes I wish I could just go out and do my own thing like you did

  20. Feel exactly the same way.
    The problem I have is that as a teenager I knew everything.
    I am 22 now and as I get older I am realising I know absoulutely nothing. All my teenage smart assed attitude has disappeared. There seems to be a real chance that everything I ‘knew’ would happen to me as I got older (the perfect job/girlfriend/life) may not happen.

  21. from this sixteen year old, i dont know whether to thank you for the wake up call/slap to the face about what i dont know about my future or thank you for saying that crap happens, and it doesnt matter how good it was before, it does happen. but, even with all the crap happening in life,the crap does eventually end. while im still in the stage of thinking i know everything and i know what im doing and nothing is going to happen, sometimes we all need that moment of not everything is going to work out, but in the end it wasnt supposed to work out because something else will. i dont know whether to look forward to the time that i relate to this, or the time after i relate to this, because i know after it will be better than right now, and it will be better than after now. so, thank you and i hope that all the crap you are going through now soon ends and it leaves something better when it goes.

  22. WOW! This was EXACTLY what I needed to read right now. Due to past decisions, of course, I thought they were good at the time; have now come to haunt me. I was unexpectedly thrown into a situation which now causes me to balance multiple jobs while going to school full time. I really feel at that “sink or swim;” it’s decision making time. This really brightened my day. Thank you.

  23. As frequently as I visit the site (it’s on my toolbar dammit) and as many articles as you have written, I am surprised that I had not stumbled upon you sooner.
    In all honesty, I clicked on the article because your thumbnail looked all too familiar, only to recognize you as the girl I deemed “the cutest girl here,” to my roommate at the first LGBT shindig of my first and ONLY semester at AU (before I, too became a wayward soul).

    Anyhow, I got to actually reading it and was suddenly completely grateful for that little thumbnail. I totally needed this. After AU crapped on me, everything fell apart. The plan that seemed to be all I had been preparing for in elementary school, middle school, high school no longer even existed. So quickly, my financial aid was gone, my good grades meant nothing, I was working full time, searching for second jobs, dealing with my foreign family’s misconstrued ideas as to why I was no longer in school. I was running into Ms. Harvard-Cheerleader, with whom I graduated top 10 of my high school class, and having to mention that I now attend the local community college. The same community college that I can’t afford to go back to this semester because my family wants me out. Because I have “thrown my life away.”

    This article…these comments let me know that I am not alone. I appreciate this.

  24. Two months ago, after I was dragged out of the closet and then had to sit through my mother reciting bible passages and verbally assaulting my girlfriend, I packed up my stuff and left. They never paid for college in the first place but now I really have no money to go back. I worry about rent and where I’m getting my next meal, however, I would much rather be destitute than live with my parents. I thank you for this article which I read often when I have doubts and fears.

  25. Wow. I can’t imagine experiencing this. But maybe I will, someday soon. This is why I’m afraid to come out. I know I need to (plus it’s remarkable how many girls will stop flirting with you the moment they hear the words “I’m not completely out yet.”) But the financial thing scares me; I want a degree, and if getting one means that I have to forego busting out of the closet… I’m willing to wait until I have that piece of paper in my hand.

    Best of luck to you, Katrina, and you have all my respect for choosing what is right over what is easy. If I were the praying kind, I would pray for you. I’m thinking about you though, and hope you get to a better place in your life soon.

  26. i cannot express how important and beautiful your article was, and how much it resonated with me. Thank you. You have inspired me to continue being brave in this world of actual possibility. I am older than you by a lot, but have come to a point in my life where the ugly future i and my generation was promised is turning out not to be coming true, and i wasn’t prepared to scramble, to desire, to feel a part. Thank you again. I am making room in my heart to have hope, and you are right. It is fucking terrifying. much love.

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