How to end a quarter-life crisis in four years or less.

For my first apartment living alone, I chose a four-unit building in Uptown, just a couple minutes north of the large skyscrapers of the city I moved to upon graduating from college.  My 1920s building is the only original building remaining on the whole block, completely surrounded by Mediterranean-revival luxury condos that were hastily constructed and hastily bought during the housing boom.  In spite of all the “luxury,” however, it’s not the safest of neighborhoods.  There’s a city park just a few blocks over at which countless violences occur, drug deals and rape and gang fights.  There’s a cracked-out man who wanders down the sidewalks in broad daylight, shouting loudly at–who knows?  Himself?  There’s the homeless who dig through the dumpsters.  And the thugs who smashed in Cautionary Husband’s passenger side window when it was parked on my street and stole his belongings right out of his car.

Perhaps comforted by the sight of all those Land Rovers parked nearby or perhaps simply used to the area, however, my neighbors prefer to keep the front door of our building open.  At first it made me feel exposed and unsafe, the plywood front door to my apartment a decidedly INTERIOR door while my downstairs neighbors have sturdy, metal, break-in-proof doors.  When I moved in in the middle of winter, I shut the front door as much as possible in an effort to conserve heat, but I stopped paying attention once the weather became much more bearable.  Last week a brick appeared as a doorstop, and I gave up the closed-door battle.  One of my downstairs neighbors, a thirtysomething woman who always laments her lack of openable windows with exceptional soreness, leaves the front door to her apartment open during the day as well as the front door to the building in hopes that a clean breeze might find its way into her apartment.  And I don’t begrudge her that.  I’ve been in her apartment; it really, really needs a clean breeze.

However, leaving the front door to the building open causes tiny inconveniences–leaves get blown in, for example, and they have more than once caused me to trip on the already treacherous narrow stairs leading to my apartment.  Everything finds a way in somehow.  Bugs.  Dirt.  Water.  Possums.  Last week, in the midst of a week-long rainstorm, while taking Cautionary Dog outside,  he stopped on the way down the stairs to sniff at a slug that had made a heroic effort to reach the top of the stairs before it dried up about 3/4 of the way, forever cemented to the stairs in its failure like a war memorial.

Over the weekend, a bird made a similar, much more successful effort, seeing as how it has wings and doesn’t require excessive moisture to get around.  It did not, however, possess the necessary intellect to get itself out of the situation it so adeptly found its way into.  When I happened upon it, it was flapping wildly against the window at the top of the stairs, tricked by the daylight coming through the glass into thinking that the window was its best way out.  I watched it flap as hard as it could, and then, after a minute, collapse onto the windowsill, its tiny chest heaving with breath, its face mashed up against the glass, contorting its neck in such a way that it appeared broken.  Dried shit streaked the window.  This bird had been there for a while.

A bird dog by nature, Cautionary Dog lunged at it, and I corralled him back inside the apartment while I tried to figure out what to do.  I finally decided I would try to coax the bird into a plastic shopping bag (or pin it against the window and grab it, whichever) and then take it outside to release it.  The bird, of course, did not like this idea very much, but it worked.  I  brought my fluttery little package outside, placed it on the ground, opened the top, and the bird flew right out with a small tweet of gratitude.

Cautionary Dog didn’t see the release of the bird back into the wild since he was inside my apartment throwing himself against the front door, and now every time we go into the hallway, he walks over to the window and sniffs at it for a bit, checking to see if there might be any birds.  I always tell him, the birdie’s not there.  The birdie flew away.  I rescued the birdie.

This May marks four years that I’ve been in this city.  I picked it upon graduation because of its perfect combination of nearness to and distance from my hometown, and its strong job market.  Sure, upon moving here I knew only a handful of people, and sure, when I moved here it was the second most violent city in the country, ranking behind only, like, Detroit.  I’ve worked hard to make it my home, learning how to drive like the locals (which is to say MANIACS) and carving out sections of the city to conquer and call my own.  One day last December, I caught myself driving to the Crate and Barrel outlet without having to look up any directions, and I knew that I had officially made this once scary, strange city my home.

It’s also been the primary site of my quarter-life crisis, which began pretty much the day I moved here, May 15, 2005.  In four years, I’ve lived in five different places and worked for three different companies.  In that time I also managed to move here with a boyfriend, get engaged to said boyfriend, marry said fiance, and then have an affair and separate from said husband.  And make and lose several friends along the way.

In short, it’s been a time of unrest.

No one really prepares you for what’s to come after graduating from college.  The most preparation I ever got was the damning reassurance that college would be the best four years of my life, and I should enjoy them to the fullest.  I remember looking around in college and thinking, really?  This is as good as it gets?  It should be noted that I attended a small, private Christian university that banned basically everything fun, including drinking, sex, drugs, smoking and dancing.  Yes, dancing.  But still.  As good as it gets?  Really?

But the day I graduated, I thought these people must’ve been right.  I began missing college immediately.  It’s such an exposed, raw feeling to walk across a stage and collect a degree while possessing the simultaneous knowledge that you don’t know anything about anything, and that everything you do know is going to change starting NOW.  And good luck keeping it together, asshole.  Here’s eighteen grand in student loans to help start a little fire under your butt.

I took a job as an account coordinator at a tiny ad agency, wasting away behind a desk by day and drinking toxic amounts of liquor while flirting with our male clients by night.  While my nighttime duties were unofficially part of my job description, I was informed that they were far more important than my daytime duties.  I began blogging, mostly about my Peter Pan Complex and my quarter-life crisis.  The world wasn’t so scary, but, also, it was.  I felt propelled with each new day toward a life I didn’t want to live, a life I didn’t choose, but had to accept.  A life of sitting on my ass all day.  A life of getting off work after the sun has already set.  A life of endless bills.  A life of predictability.  A life of a stale job, a stale marriage, then children, then death.  Adulthood looked like one thing and one thing only, and I had to be an adult now.

At the outset, I was crying in my car in the parking lot while listening to Rufus Wainwright’s “In a Graveyard” and wondering where the hell my youth had gone.  Within two years I had hit what I now see as the depths, during which I was watching i heart huckabees every day (not an exaggeration) hoping that it might give me some clarity on what the fuck I’m supposed to do.  I asked, “How am I not myself?”  I drew cubes on my chalkboard.  I told myself that everything I can ever want or be I already have and am.  I tried to see the interconnectedness of things, because if I didn’t feel interconnected to everything, I felt connected to nothing, floating out into the vast vacuum of space, alone.  During this time I was also falling in love with a married man via e-mail.

The affair cracked everything open.  I was no longer being propelled toward a life I didn’t want or floating off into space.  I had completely stopped the momentum of my life.  I stopped making future plans and started focusing all of my energy on making it through just one single day.  I didn’t want the life that was being shoved down my throat, so I threw it up.  And then burned it, for good measure.  I failed at being an adult in a big way.  And I suppose I realized that failing’s really not that terrible if it allows us to step back and look at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, ask ourselves why that mess happened, and then begin the long process of cleaning up the mess, hopefully having learned something.

And I have learned something.  It’s taken me all this time, all these mistakes, to learn that, actually, no, adulthood doesn’t have to look like one thing and one thing only.  It can look like whatever the hell I want it to look like.  Getting older isn’t propelling me toward a life I don’t want; getting older means I have more resources to go out and find the life I do want.  More experience and knowledge and wisdom and money and confidence and connections.  Less caring about what others think.

In short, my quarter-life crisis has finally come to a close.

As I rescued the bird, I knew exactly how it felt, flying against the glass that seemed like its only escape, in complete denial as to how futile the effort really was.  Trying the glass again and again, hoping that one of these times it would work.  Trapped.  Afraid.  Exhausted.  Frantic.  Confused.  Without any sort of knowledge that in a few hours a lady with a calm voice and a plastic bag would show up and be its savior.  But interconnectedness has taught me that I am also the lady.  And the plastic bag that carried it to freedom.  And the glass it banged against.  And the sky it flew into.  And the dog who lunged at it, trying to eat it, who keeps returning to the window in case the bird is still there.  I can still feel the fear of what’s to come fluttering inside of me, but I’m also the one telling myself that the birdie that I’ve known for so many years isn’t there anymore.  The birdie flew away.  I rescued the birdie.

And I’m also the one flying away, tweeting with gratitude.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “How to end a quarter-life crisis in four years or less.

  1. jen

    Your tales of the last 4 years came along way – from the open front door and the slug (I loved the slug by the way and was originally going to base my comment around him!!) to your finding yourself! Definitely a gripping tale and really poignantly written! X

  2. juliennejiggs

    I’m hoping my quarter life crisis ends soon. Maybe I need to look at it not as a crisis, but a series of paths to figure things out.

    Perfectly written as always.

  3. I never understood why people always said college would be the best years of your life. Turning 30 this year, I can already tell my 30s will be the best years of my life. I hardly remember college.

  4. Two thoughts here:
    #1, Mark Wahlberg is such a beautiful man.
    and #2, I’m glad to hear of this new and fantastic perspective. Being an adult isn’t nearly as bad as you had made it out to be.

  5. Ptolemy

    You couldn’t pay me to go back and re-do high school or college (also a 4-year Christian liberal arts school with a concern about dancing that they were slowly giving up). I’m 41 now… Last year I met this man walking around my touristy town and he told me the 40s are the BEST decade… Right now I’m juggling mom stuff, I’m in therapy and I have no time for anything, but I’ve recently lost 17 pounds of pregnancy weight and I like my hair for the first time in my life. I know these crazy days will pass and I have a few small goals to reach for when they do… And heck, at this point, I could even go to school and not hate it! Your post was VERY well composed — really reflected all the thought you’ve given to your life lately. I’m very impressed.

  6. DB

    Great post! I am excited to see what you do now that the crisis is over.

  7. SMH

    I think I held my breath through this entire post. And let out a nice big sigh at the end. The realizations of hope and relief and confidence are palpable. Good for you.

    P.S. I, too, think that “College is the best 4 years of your life” is total crap.

  8. Lovely post. And you are lovely. I hope you know that.

  9. I also went to a school that was anti-dancing. The joke around school was that sex was a no-no because it led to dancing. I’m sure you’ve heard many similar ones.

    The majority of people I knew in college had no idea about the real world (myself included) or who they were. That can’t possibly the best years of your life. 30 has definitely been better than most of my 20s, so… have heart!

  10. humanbeingblog

    Really lovely post. Truly.

    “failing’s really not that terrible if it allows us to step back and look at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, ask ourselves why that mess happened, and then begin the long process of cleaning up the mess, hopefully having learned something”

    I’d say you’ve learned something.

    Best, Lynn

  11. LH

    Dude, your story gives me some hope. I’m still recovering from the entrance of “adulthood”. The launch from college definitely left me landing face first with all the wind knocked out of me. I’m so thankful learning doesn’t end this side of youth.

  12. Sarah

    OMG. I do not know which post is my favorite this one or the one about the vibrator.

    Sometimes since moving to Austin, I wonder if my crisis is over too. And then, like college, I am worried that I won’t know what to do without it. Which is a scarier thought.

    Your writing is so fabulous. I love it.

  13. Yasmin

    Wow – this is so close to what I have been going through, that feeling that this is it, stale job, stale marriage, etc. – only I went through it at 30 rather than 25. The proverbial 7-year-itch. The Christian background. etc. etc.

    Very very well written, thank you for sharing.

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