Hannah Willingham/TMD.

On my birthday, I will cry. Before that, I will wake up and go to class. After, maybe I’ll get a cake to sing and celebrate with friends. I might buy some candles, blow them out, make a wish and pray it comes true. I may laugh and allow myself a moment to indulge in the joys of life, but at the end of the day when I’m finally alone, I will turn towards my pillow and cry. 

My birthday is a reminder of everything I haven’t done. It tells me that time goes on even when I stand still. Every year when the day rolls around, I wonder how I got here, and why I’m not somewhere else. I can never understand how I haven’t gotten somewhere where the days have meaning and the nights are tranquil. I thought by now, I would have found my key to happiness and a way to love life, but yet again, I am lost.

When I turned 16, I never wanted to make it far past that. Life was a task and a struggle that I was entirely apathetic to. When I turned 17, I felt like a failure because nothing had changed within the duration of a year. Life was hard, and I hated living it. Waking up was painful. School was agonizingly lonely. My only solace was falling asleep. I wasn’t happy, and yet I was still here. Between 17 and now, I have lived three years. With 20 steadily approaching, I am filled with mixed emotions. I am certainly happier, in part due to maturity. I am excited to turn 20, enter a new decade of my life and discover what the next year can offer me. I am starting a new chapter of my life, and I am amazed and grateful to be able to do so, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t unnerved. 

There are so many things I was supposed to do before this day. There are so many places I was supposed to see. There are so many things I was supposed to have said. There are so many feelings I was supposed to have felt. These are pieces of my life that are missing and time is running out to find them before they vanish, and all I can do is mourn the loss of something I never really had. I know that in reality, anything I could say or do before 20, I can also say and do after. These pieces won’t disappear; instead, they will come in unexpected forms. But while I watch them change, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing a battle against a clock that’s keeping track of how long it takes me to finally find peace, happiness and love.

Teenage love sounds stupid, but for my entire life, it was the one fairytale I desperately wanted to come true. As a young girl, I was socialized to seek out love and use romantic attention as a marker of worth. I grew up watching love stories unfold on my television screen and used them as standards for my future. To me, my Troy and Gabriella love story was certain. I would spend my days dancing in the rain on the school rooftop, having picnics on a golf course and letting the world fall away to sing karaoke and fall in love.

But high school, as we all know, was not anything like a movie. The rose-tinted dreams I had were simply not possible, but I was so caught up in my picture-perfect fairytale ending that I never let myself live. Now I reminisce on the past and realize I let the days pass me by. That teenage love that I dreamed of for so long is quickly growing out of my reach. I want so badly to hold on to those childish fantasies and romanticized versions of love, but as my birthday approaches, they start to fade. Once I turn 20, a teenage romance will become impossible, and I won’t be able to stop the disappointment that settles when I come to terms with the fact that I lost my chance. 

Even outside of love, I had wished by now I would have found some light to guide me to a sense of purpose and give life more meaning, but I just feel more confused than ever. I don’t know where I’m going, and I’m not sure if I even like where I am. I had thought by now, I’d feel more accomplished. I had dreamed that college would be the place where I felt capable, but it has made me feel anything but. My freshman year, I went home every Thursday night and came back every Monday morning because I felt so out of place and lonely. It has taken me the past three years to build up any sense of worth and identity on this campus. In high school I felt isolated, depressed and worthless, and I can’t fathom how I still feel exactly the same.

Beyond that, I wanted more than anything to finally be secure in myself and love myself for who I am. I wanted to wake up, look in the mirror and love the girl who stared back. I spent so long hating and criticizing the way she looked and acted. If she made a bad joke, misspoke or made a mistake, I would never let her forget it. By now I wish I would’ve learned how to hold her hand and whisper sweet nothings in her ear. I should’ve learned to feel comfort in the presence of a lonely day, to crave moments of silence rather than fear them and to feel at peace — not at war — with my thoughts. But I failed, and that failure beats louder and faster than my own heart. 

But hope is a beautiful thing. It is a saving grace and final resort, and fortunately, hope doesn’t end when you turn 20. Despite all my failures, I hope that my fears are not permanent. I hope I can learn to live with my shortcomings. I hope that all my dreams will come to fruition. I hope one day I will find love. I hope one day I will be at peace. I hope that one day when my birthday comes, I’ll blow out the candles and feel joy to be able to celebrate it.  

MiC Columnist Karis Rivers can be reached at kvrivers@umich.edu.