My friend once asked me, “When did you stop getting ice cream in a cone and instead in a cup?” It was an odd question, asked at an odd time, and I didn’t have an answer. Crucial to this was the fact that we were getting ice cream and I had just gotten a cone, but, now that I thought of it, yes, I do often ask for a cup.
The same friend also once asked me, “When did you stop ordering soda at restaurants?” I did have an answer for that. “I think around senior year,” I replied as I took a sip from my complimentary water.
They are quite shocking when noticed, these odd signifiers of “growing up.” They eat at you, too, forcing you to question how and when and why you’ve changed so much from your younger self.
I always like to think that I was better before. It makes me feel better to tell myself that I was a more fun person to be around back when I ordered mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone. People liked the Nabeel who ordered a Coke at dinner better than the Nabeel who’s started wearing watches, I say in my head.
My aunt once told my mother, when I was a sophomore in high school, that “Nabeel became so quiet.” As any concerned mother would do, she told me this, confronted me on our couch in India about why I don’t talk that much anymore. I told her I didn’t know. I looked over and saw my perennially social sister having a very lively conversation with a guy who had just come to visit and whose name I still wouldn’t be able to tell you. And thus, I became known as “the quiet one.”
Inexplicably, I embraced this new identity. I sped through the rest of high school as someone who rarely opened up to people outside his close-knit group of friends, the guy who was more prone to off-brand reticence than the ubiquitous affability of the time. I was being who I was, but I was also angry about it. I wished to be like those guys who could make friends on a deserted island, dreamed of having the ability to converse freely and openly and well and to whomever I wished, yearned for the social skills that would never sprout within me. My father introduced me as the quiet one, my sister as the talkative one, and my life went on.
Cut to college, where I now find myself in a state of limbo. I talk to my friends from back home almost daily and see my friends at Michigan all the time. But I didn’t change; I stayed grown up. My personality package didn’t come equipped with the necessary skills to join a fraternity, nor did I feel like I could upgrade myself to be in one. And what friends I did make, I made slowly, steadily, like one hikes up a hill—like one isn’t “supposed” to do in “college.”
It’s tough to realize you’ve grown up — tougher still to realize that the way you are is the way you’re meant to be. It’s easy to be angry at something you can’t change, but this is something we’re always told we can change. “Reserved” isn’t a phase, some ephemeral mood swing that fades away when I grew up (said my mother to her sister, says my mother to herself, I knew, I know); it’s a mark, branded upon me by the gears of time and necessity and change. I won’t complain. I never do.