It’s 2019, which of course made us look back in wonder and awe at what we were doing with our lives when we were 19. Just wee babes in this wide world. So hydrated. So nimble. For some of us, Twitter and Facebook didn’t even exist. Here’s what we were all up to, fresh out of high school. We’d love to hear your stories about being 19 (and see your pictures!) in the comments.
Laneia, Executive Editor
I was 19 years old exactly 19 years ago, so this is REALLY fucking with me but let’s see… in 2000 I was a full-time teen mom mostly living in Jacksonville, FL, but also in my hometown in Tennessee. I’d survived Y2K without even needing the $100 cash that my father advised I have on hand, and people could still go with me all the way back to the gates before I boarded the plane with my baby, which was very nice and helpful because I was flying a lot more than I ever had (I had never flown until 1999) and also I had that baby!
I went back to TN to live with my grandparents for half of the year while my then-husband was deployed, so we could save money and so I wouldn’t have to parent all alone. I worked very briefly at our local Family Dollar, where I would take smoke breaks out back while I broke down the cardboard boxes. I also spent a lot of time at The Farm, mostly hanging out at the store and talking tarot with the guy who owned the place with his wife, but I was also meeting a lot of new people with ideas I’d never heard of (but still kind of already knew in my heart, you know?). I went to yoga for the first time and ate vegan things and sometimes, when I hadn’t brought Slade with me, I took the long way home so I could smoke another cigarette and listen to Macy Gray.
I was always embarrassed that everyone else was doing ‘normal’ things, like going to college or at least working at a job that paid money, while I was home watching Blues Clues and building Duplo castles. I threw myself into parenting, but that embarrassment was always there in little ways. And of course the embarrassment turned into guilt over being embarrassed which, when combined with low income and isolation, creates a beautiful foundation for full-on depression, which would arrive in about two years, bless it! Now I can see being 19 for the gift it was: I grew up with my kid, basically. We figured things out together and had actual fun doing it. It was like, a genuinely sweet time of my life! I’m grateful I had it, exactly the way it was.
When I was 19, I was a sophomore in college and juuuuuust coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t pretend to enjoying kissing men anymore. It was a tumultuous yet exciting time when everything felt important and every night there was an opportunity to make a memory or a connection that could change your life. I was not great at drinking, but I did it a lot, and spilled feelings on people. Nineteen is the beginning of a downward slide for me that ends in therapy and depression and then to more stability. I also went through the worst friend breakup of my life, and I felt that in my heart for a long time.
Heather Hogan, Managing Editor
When I was 19 I was playing basketball at a tiny college in a tiny town in northwest Georgia. My favorite story about being 19 is the day I turned 19 I saw You’ve Got Mail with our elderly basketball team bus driver and she saw it with me again about ten times because when we were on the road and it was movie night all my teammates wanted to see horror movies and I absolutely did not. So me and the bus driver shared popcorn and Twizzlers and watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love again and again. I love that story because it showcases how truly uncool I always have been and how much I’ve never cared. The other things I was doing at 19 were: reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi novels, wearing a lot of backwards baseball caps and University of Tennessee Lady Vols t-shirts, riding my bike, playing video games, and eating a lot of nachos. So, exactly the same as now. The major difference was that I had a one in a series of vanilla ice cream boyfriends because I hadn’t yet come to terms with being a lesbian, so I also spent a lot of time making excuses not to have sex.
June Gehringer, Writer
Oh gosh. I came out as a trans woman when I was 21, so this is going to be hilarious. When I was 19 I was a sloppy bisexual DIY bro, or at least I thought I was. I was just dipping my toes into the wider worlds of poetry and publishing, and I think I published my first poem in an online zine that year. I had recently moved to New Orleans for college, and I think I spent most of that year being drunk, smoking cigarettes, and writing terrible bro-y poems about it.
Trans people relate to their experiences before coming out in a variety of ways, but personally I have a lot of affection and fondness for the person I used to be. The person I was when I was 19 was arrogant, ignorant, and stubborn, but inside that person were all the pieces of the (in my opinion) loving, caring, wonderful woman I have become. Inside that person were the same big heart, and the same deep concern for my friends and for the world that I’m trying to continue to cultivate in 2019.
Looking back at the fashion decisions I was making when I was 19, it’s hard to believe that it would take me two more years to come to terms with the fact that I’m a woman. I was dressing like an overworked, underpaid lesbian adjunct for years before I realized what was going on.
In this photo, I’m very very day drunk in the aftermath of a Mardi Gras parade, wearing a completely over-the-top fake-90s jacket with nothing underneath, despite the fact that it was probably about 40 degrees that day. The photo was taken by my friend Amelia, who is one of the few close friends who has been with me since before I came out, so I’m extra proud to share it here. I love being out and being a trans woman, and I love who I was before I came out, too. She was a mess, but a sweet one, and she has come so far.
I was a sophomore in college, having recently returned to school after the biggest and scariest medical event of my life knocked my timeline sideways. True to form, though, I wasn’t about to let that actually matter; 19 was all about throwing myself into work to keep the harder stuff at bay. That doesn’t sound healthy (it wasn’t), but I actually have a lot of fondness for that year, because it’s when first I got to experience college without my body interfering. I learned so much and was so hungry for the knowledge. It felt like I had another shot, y’know? And I embraced that opportunity as fiercely as a bookish people person ever has.
I certainly developed and reinforced some less-than-ideal habits in the process — which I’m still learning to undo today — but I remember so clearly how I relished that time to solely get smarter. It seemed like such a gigantic gift, and it was.
Honestly, 19-year-old KaeLyn was a total babe and a total badass, a delightful combination of idealism and anger at the world and trying really hard to be “authentic.” It was 2002 and the U.S. was still reeling from the 90’s and from post-9/11 George W. Bush thrusting us into the Patriot Act and the so-called “war on terror.” I was an underclassman at SUNY Oswego and I cut my teeth as an activist in those years. I’d just taken up a leadership role at the Women’s Center and was in my first year of vegetarianism. I bought my first vibrator, a very ambitious knockoff of The Rabbit, and went to my first drag bar. I helped produce The Vagina Monologues at my college. (Yikes!) I marched against the Iraq War and participated in a Books Not Bombs walkout. I had blazing pinkish-red hair (or a faded version of that color) that I often wore tied back with a bandana. I eschewed bras and I was really into chokers and chandelier drop earrings. A professor once described me as “gregarious.” My little campus microcosm world was a lot and I was a lot, too.
My “authentic” self was curated more than I’d ever let on. I picked clothes based on how much I thought they made me seem artsy and unique and activist-y. I started smoking just for shits and honestly because it made me feel cool to have a vice and I wanted to run far away from my suffocating “good girl” reputation from high school. I was out as bisexual and queer, but was dating a cishet guy and hadn’t really found my queer fam yet. I did have a lot of bi women in my feminist circles but we were collectively more focused on the patriarchy than the cisheteropatriarchy. I was definitely still figuring out my values and my identities, but one thing I was doing right was I was taking up some damn space in the world. Taking up space and doing so unapologetically.
When I was nineteen, I was probably trying not to be here anymore. It was like two or three years after graduation and I wasn’t on the right meds or really in the right therapy and out but not like happy about it and it was just a mess. Wait, no, I just had a sit down talk with my sister and I’m thinking this may have been right after I tried to come back from two different universities in the span of like three months and was trying to make Catholic work. I had really bad panic attacks and was living in the basement that flooded and I had to use a wet vac everyday to clear it up and I was writing but I was mistaking my psychosis for a really good imagination? I don’t know. That one episode of Pretty Little Liars was out, where Paige and Emily went for a swim and Paige kissed Emily and I was watching every repeat of that episode and my dad came downstairs and it was very awkward for a while because I didn’t even know that specific scene was happening (the TV was behind me). It was when I first bought my first lesbian movie! Imagine Me & You and I spent a lot of time with one friend and had her watch it and she was great about it, and most of my friends had to hang out on my twin bed whenever they came over and sometimes I’d sit in my desk chair but usually I’d just squeeze myself up there with everyone and I had my mohawk! I was terrified of the basement cause there was a back room where we kept old school papers and the washer and dryer were back there and I know it was haunted and in front of me there was the sliding door to the little backyard we had and there was a cricket in the fireplace THAT I COULD NEVER FIND BUT IT WAS ALWAYS CHIRPING AND KEPT ME UP ALL THE TIME and I paced a lot and dribbled Spalding a lot and wrote a lot of confessional letters to my friends that I never sent and just it was not a good time, and every moment I’m not actively living it is a blessing.
At 19 I was a sophomore in college and enmeshed in an incredibly toxic relationship with the campus fuck boy. He did such a number on me I spun into a months long depression and disassociated so much that I barely remember anything from that year. The things I do remember are traumatic. I think about 19 year old Reneice often and thank her for making it through our darkest time. She overcame so much with so little support.
Carmen, Associate Editor
A lot like Reneice, I spent most of 19 in a dark depression that I’ve since blacked out from my memory! In fact, I’ve blacked it out so much that I kept conveniently forgetting to complete this roundtable! Heather Hogan had to remind me four times just to get the job done!
Let’s see, what can I remember? At 19 I was head over heels in love with my best friend, but I was in deep denial about it. I buried everything about me that was even remotely gay and I spent a lot of time crying over the boys who didn’t want me (even though on some gut level I knew, I didn’t really want them). I spent most of my weekends buying cheap polyester party clothes from Forever 21 that didn’t fit me (see Exhibit A above). In the process I internalized a lot of hate about my body that I’m still trying to unlearn. What else? At 19, my father fell into a coma. I was hit by car and promptly peed myself in public before taking my first ambulance ride. I had a complete mental breakdown about both of those things. I filled no less than two or three full composition notebooks with MY DRAMATIC FEELINGS and finally admitted to myself that I needed the help of a therapist, even though it would be another 11 years before I found the courage to actually see one.
Oh 19, I laughed a bunch and partied a bunch, but what a horrible time you were!
Carolyn, NSFW Consultant
At 19 I was in my second year of university in Montreal and going through the worst mental health year of my entire life to date, including the year I got kicked in the shins ten times a day at school and had no friends and the year I got divorced. One time (more than one time) I made pasta not by boiling it in a pot but by putting it in a mug and pouring boiling water from the electric kettle over it repeatedly because, conceptually speaking, washing a whole pot seemed like an impossible task. I did not season the pasta water. I missed classes. I went on meds that had side effects like heart palpitations and feeling like you want to kill yourself constantly and experienced every one but none of what the meds were actually supposed to do. I ended up going to an advisor around the end of the year with my psych files and dropped out of the whole second semester because it was better for my record than taking exams I was definitely going to fail except I would have been too sad to show up anyway.
I worked at a school newspaper and tried to spend as much time as possible (a lot!) there, where mostly I faced a lot of misogyny but also formed one of my most valued friendships, got to download a lot of typefaces I would have never been able to afford, and figured out officially what I was pretty sure I already knew: that I wanted editing and writing to be my career. I also had it together enough to apply for summer jobs, so after the school year ended I got a paid staff position at a security camera magazine for a few months, which led to my first paid freelance work and then more freelance work and then basically the rest of my life.
Also I thought I was bisexual but didn’t really talk about it, watched a lot of The L Word also without really talking or thinking about it, went to gay clubs with gay friends and felt like an imposter, got my tongue pierced, had curtains for walls, learned to drink coffee that didn’t even have whipped cream on it, and did not kiss anyone.
Vanessa, Community Editor
So, funny story: up until VERY recently I thought 19 was the year I realized I was queer. I was in London, I met Emily, we kissed, I lost my damn mind… if you’ve talked to me even briefly over the past ten years, you’ve probably heard a version of the story. I had this very clear image of myself at 19, realizing I was/am a dyke. Except! I was telling that story to a friend a few months ago and she was like, “wait, weren’t you 20 in London?” and I was like, “lol no, as I said, I was 19,” and she was like, “okay I don’t want to invalidate your experience of your life but…February 2009? I’m pretty sure that was…uh…I think you were 20 then.” So then I did some math (not my strong suit) over and over and over and actually even as I’m typing this I’m double checking, just to be sure, but ugh, no, that friend was correct, I was totally 20 the first time I fucked a girl. Who knew?!
What that means for you, dear reader, is that at 19 I was definitely still under the impression I was just a straight gal living in NYC. A Samantha, thank you very much. (I was having very little sex but like, I wanted to, I knew I could, you know?) I was a sophomore and then a junior at NYU. I was in a sorority. (I don’t want to talk about it). I was living in Union Square with these very thin very pretty very mean girls who had no interest in being my friend, and then I was living in a brand new dorm in Gramercy with a very blonde business major who used to take Ambien and then do craft projects while she was half asleep and who was very sad when Obama won the 2008 election. I took a poetry class that spring and our final project was to create a chapbook; I titled mine When You Grow Up, based on that quote from The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.” I felt very grown up, you see.
That summer was the first summer in nine years that I didn’t go to summer camp; I got an internship in Boston and I lived at home in the suburbs with my parents and I took the T to an office in Somerville every day and I started getting migraines and I learned that my aversion to cilantro was genetic. I was in love with Evan, or I thought I was in love with Evan – I had lost my virginity to him the summer before, he was very boring but pretty nice – but that fall I met a very handsome very obnoxious guy named Kirk at a sorority party and then I slept with him a few times and “fell out of love” with Evan and one weekend I slept with Evan and Kirk (not at the same time just like, two nights in a row) and then I got a UTI and low key thought I was being punished for being slutty, for being my true Samantha self.
When I was 19 I didn’t yet know I was queer but I was about to find out; when I was 19 Emily didn’t exist in my brain yet, my whole queer self didn’t exist in my brain yet, I had no fucking clue what the next decade would look like, I didn’t know one day I’d be 13 days into my 30th year on this earth and sitting in a cafe in Portland, Oregon with Rachel Kincaid writing a roundtable entry for Autostraddle dot com about where and who I was at 19. I think I was probably happy, because I’ve sort of always been happy. I think I was really young but I felt all grown up. I think my 19 year old self would be proud of me today, and that feels really nice, because I’m proud of her, too – and very excited for her to turn 20 and kiss Emily.
Valerie Anne, Writer
Wow y’all, 19 was not a great year for me. My birthday is January 9th, so it makes it nice and easy to sort my life by age; so for me 19 all of 2006. It started with my paternal grandfather dying on my 19th birthday, and ended with my uncle dying five days before Christmas (on my mother’s birthday). To see what else happened in that horribly-bookended year, I took to my LiveJournal. And let me tell you, revisiting that time was painful. My LJ entries are either really boring lists of my college schedule or really dramatic entries about how much I hated myself, especially regarding my weight. I also mentioned Paris Hilton a lot that year for some reason.
I was still closeted, because I had tried to tell friends I was into girls during my first semester of college, but it didn’t go particularly well. Still, I often wrote about watching The L Word, Thirteen, Better Than Chocolate, t.A.T.u., etc. I did a lot of those stupid quizzes, and one of them asked your sexual orientation and my answer was, “good question. most likely bisexual. but let’s not judge me. it’s a major internal conflict i’m having that i don’t feel comfortable talking to people about.” (I wrote, in my public online journal.) But I also wrote a lot about how one of my friends slept in my (twin) bed with me almost every night and I hated sleeping without her.
But it wasn’t all depression and Paris Hilton. That year my friends blindfolded me in Port Authority to take me to Disney Princesses on Ice for my birthday, I rushed the “non-sorority sorority” on campus which opened my world to new friends that genuinely helped me survive the rest of college. I met Marc Blucas and was an extra in a movie starring Adam Pascal and Natasha Lyonne. I got my summer job at Dunkin Donuts when I went back home again, where I’d meet more friends that would stay in my life for years. (I also compared moving back home again after being away at college for ten months to escaping Plato’s cave only to chained up inside it again because I was, as I may have mentioned, very dramatic in my LiveJournal.)
Maybe the best gem I found in this year of literal nonsense (besides “One book you’d want on a desert island: How to Get off A Desert Island”) was when I posited that I probably didn’t have a boyfriend because, “i don’t really dress or act like much of a girl.” (Cut to 2018 when I yell “clothing doesn’t have a gender” on the daily.) It’s like I had all the puzzle pieces, I just wasn’t quite putting them together.
The moment I turned 19 was a pretty solid representation of what my whole deal was the for the entirety of that year: I was at a house party on campus hosted by the men’s swim team (yikes!) leaning on crutches due to a soccer injury I’d gotten the day before and texting my secret girlfriend who I didn’t know was my girlfriend to come pick me up. It was my freshman year of college, Facebook was rolling out its soft open for select schools, I discovered I was gay, I pretended I wasn’t gay, everyone around me was gay, my days were nonstop from the moment I panic-woke up for weights, I ate what felt like only peanut butter, my body ached, I went to terrible parties full of boys, I listened to Fiona Apple and Gucci Mane on repeat, and in between all of that was I getting fully destroyed by a person I would be on and off with for the next few years. It was a whirlwind and wow if finding this old picture via my friend’s facebook page from 13 years ago didn’t make me want to peel my own face clean off.
I don’t really know what to tell you about the looking away here, but it was a trend. To my right was my girlfriend at the time and to my left just out of frame was the girl I would make out with in an attempt to upset this same girlfriend. Goodnight!
When I was 19, I was a long hair butch in college. I had a long distance girlfriend and was still adjusting to the traumatic experience immigrating to the united states was. I had a suuuuper racist roommate when I was in the dorms who ended up getting expelled after her and her boyfriend pretty much went off on me after months of emotional abuse. It was THAT bad. I felt alone, I had very few friends in America, I was still getting used to english even though I was technically fluent. I was going home to my country in the summers, 19 was the first out of the two times I came out. I had a band named PIE and we played Tegan & Sara covers at people’s parties. I got my first pet Yoda, my cat who pretty much saved my life. I played a lot of rock band. I also dressed like I belonged in Mumford & Sons. I stopped binding during that year because I lost a lot of weight since I wasn’t really eating, I didn’t understand I was depressed but… I was. It all got better after I moved to my first apartment alone which the picture I picked was the day I signed the lease.
Okay, so picture it: it’s 2010, I’m 19, fresh off of a gap year where I worked with people in their mid-to-late twenties, and starting college. I thought I was better than everyone around me! I was so obnoxious when I was 19! Ugh! I was in the honors dorm at UNCG and I had a terrible roommate named Karen. On Halloween, I was at a party hosted by the campus’ Methodist ministry (L M A O). I got back to the dorm at a reasonable 11 pm, and found my bed covered in other people’s shoes (?!?!?), open makeup cases, and dirty towels! Her bed was completely empty. There was nothing on it!!! I slept on a couch in the basement that night and watched cable, but to give her credit, when I came back in the morning my bed was cleaned off.
Okay, so yes I went to church parties and was a passive aggressive roommate when I was 19, but it was also the year that I woke up in the hospital the morning after a party. Nine years later, I’m not completely sure what happened, still. I know I drank way too much, I remember dancing, some of my friends say they left early, but some of them say the cops came and they ran. Someone, a few days after it happened, I think told me that I was yelling at someone to take me to the hospital? That’s purely from other people though, I have no memory of that. I do remember waking up and telling the male nurse “I’m right outside my dorm, what do you mean I can’t walk home?” and then crying when I realized where I was and what that meant. I remember the hospital gave me a bus bus and I took the bus home, with no glasses (they were found on the lawn of the party host later that afternoon), and no shirt, because I’d puked on it, apparently. I was wearing a hospital gown and jeans, and had my school ID, somehow, but not my phone. I remember the male nurse saying something like, “just ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off.”
And to end on a much lighter note, I also stayed up all night the night before a music theory exam because I wanted to see the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and knew if I fell asleep at 3 am I’d miss the exam. I hung out in the library intending to study but watching Youtube videos, probably.
Stef, Vapid Fluff Editor
At age 19, I was in my second year of college in West Philadelphia. I was living in my first actual apartment, a tiny dilapidated 3-bedroom with big bay windows in what was at the time a pretty shitty neighborhood. My roommate Ben and I had gotten jobs at a very mediocre Mexican place in Center City, and when I finally quit that gig I ended up living almost entirely off stolen food from that restaurant for the next two years (Thanks, Ben!).
I still thought I was straight at this juncture, and spent a lot of time pining over a goth bisexual vegan piercer/DJ boy I knew (trust me, I am rolling my eyes at myself). I had very little experience with dating and eventually wound up in a non-remarkable relationship with a guy from class, mainly because we had been assigned to do a school project together and he lived around the corner. My Livejournal has reminded me that he used to come over so we could watch Joe Millionaire together. Jeez.
Sometime during the school year I picked up a full-time job at a bookstore in Center City, where my assistant manager was a cool butch lesbian named Nick. On slow days, Nick and I read the trashy tabloids together and talked about attractive women; at the time I patted myself on the back for being such a cool, supportive ally. Anyway, one time they made me dress up as Clifford. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer
At age 19, I was deeply closeted but also started hooking up with women at the same time. Life is a rich and complex tapestry. At 19, I also mostly lived on tumblr dot com. I also was working as a campaign manager for a progressive candidate in a heated city council race in a small, majority conservative town in Michigan. Yes, this was at the apex of my ambitious political phase, and I somehow convinced the young candidate that I was experienced enough to run his campaign. I was in way over my head, but I kind of loved that. Every day presented a new set of challenges that I was thrilled to take on. Was it also a great distraction from the aforementioned confusing closeted-but-sleeping-with-women situation? Oh hell ya! The campaign took up my entire summer that year, and then I was back at University Of Michigan for my sophomore year. After reading a review of Breaking Bad that I thought was poorly written and wrong in our student-run daily newspaper, I decided to apply for a television writing position on the staff. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because my time as a columnist, writer, critic, and editor at The Michigan Daily was so formative and fulfilling that I decided to leave politics and get serious about a writing career, which eventually brought me here and now to this very roundtable. Neato! So yes, 19-year-old me was dumb about a lot of stuff. She also drank way too much cheap champagne. But she also made some good, life-altering choices. (Oh, we won the campaign by the way!)
Sarah, Design and Business Director
I was a sophomore in college and was just starting to become really, really gay. Evidence: I attended my first Pride, hosted L Word parties in my dorm room, would invite all my friends to a hookah bar for an excuse to shotgun them, started a South of Nowhere podcast, would ask people flat out if they were gay before putting any energy into them, had posters on my walls of Ani Tori and Bjork plus an illustration of two faeries kissing that I would take down when my mom visited, literally yelled “SHAMELESS” at an Ani DiFranco concert until she played it (begrudgingly), rented bad lesbian movies from the video store, listened to a LOT of Le Tigre and the Gossip and started dating my first serious girlfriend (who turned out to be a 3 year nightmare), and smoked cigs and pot while burning incense and listening to “I Drive Alone” by Esthero on repeat while laying on my dorm room floor… etc.
Rachel, Managing Editor
At 19, I was “out” in that I had come out to myself and several others, but still wasn’t sure I could wrap my head around the concept of having an actual honest to goodness out relationship with a girl — despite the fact that I was only recently tapering off spending the first full year of college skyping constantly with my secret high school not-technically-a-girlfriend and hand-knitting her a sweater. I had met two of my best friends to this day, Batia and Lizz, in required gen ed classes but was not best friends with either of them yet, just friendly acquaintances. I was somewhat newly dating a Nice Guy who I would stay with through six months of studying abroad and for almost three years total, and which would eventually devolve into a resentful “open relationship” that meant me sleeping with my friends and him driving to my Somerville duplex in the middle of the night to fight with me on the sidewalk. I was drinking more than I was eating, as you can kind of divine from this picture, where I was about to go to a huge yearly party with my roommates who enthusiastically plastered our dorm room with Absolut vodka ads. God bless that bright-eyed young idiot who still had enough energy to wear contacts on a daily basis, she was doing her best.
19 is the year I got sick. I turned 19 a few weeks into my first year at University of Michigan. I was a sophomore but lived in freshman dorms, ‘cause I’d been in New York the year before and wanted to make new friends. I’d always been young for my grade — the curse of a September birthday — so I was only a few months older than most of my new friends, but they were so different than me in other ways. Effortlessly pretty, hailing from neat suburban homes with loving parents, thrilled to be on their own for the first time which for me was old news. Hookup culture was big, and your worth as a undergraduate girl was determined mostly by who you’d managed to make out with. I made out with two boys both named Andrew. Physical fitness was a big deal to me until my body rebelled and then I felt like everything was out of my control except good grades and, I guess, what I ate. Although I’d waited my whole life to escape Ann Arbor and my mom, when the pain got so bad it was all I could think about, I needed her like I’d never needed her before. I was lonely a lot, loneliest while walking home alone from the library, past groups of grinning, raunchy boys in fitted caps and t-shirts, girls with straightened hair and made-up faces and Herve bags and shorts and skirts, with shimmering slender legs and easy laughter. Eventually I made a new best friend, Becky. I’d been skeptical of her from the start, when her mom flew in to help her move her stacks of designer yoga pants from one end of the hallway, where she’d had a roommate, to the single next to mine, and she was from Westchester and identified as a Jewish American Princess. But she was also hilarious and brilliant and supportive and talented. We turned an unoccupied closet in our dorm hallway into a darkroom, and develop photos together, like a project I was doing with a nearby all-girls middle school. I was good at school. I got good grades, took 18 credits.
At 19, everything can seem potentially permanent and therefore terrifying — you’re between childhood and adulthood and don’t know what’s a phase and what’s sticking around. Would I be in pain forever? Would my body keep getting bigger forever? Then I got diagnosed with fibro and started physical therapy and medication, a process that eventually felt like coming out from underwater. Out in the light, I opened my mouth and the ocean came out, and then I was standing on the shore before.
In New York that summer I worked at The Olive Garden again, like I had when I’d lived there in ‘99. I lived in the NYU dorms with Becky, and we found a new favorite salad place. I found myself again in the only city that has ever truly understood me. I hooked up with older boys who had complicated life stories, I made new friends at work who were theatrical and brilliant, and I drank vodka-cranberries and ate my favorite dish from Zen Palate. My body began to feel like my own again. I bought my first vibrator. I went to spinning classes and read fashion magazines at the gym.
In August, I went back to school and got a job at the Macaroni Grill. They were impressed I’d worked at the Times Square Olive Garden. I moved in with old friends since all my new friends were moving into their sorority houses. I put a mattress on the floor. 12 days before I turned 20, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Within a month everybody had a boyfriend, including me.