Gather round, everyone. I have an important announcement: I, Shannon Lee Barry of shannonleebarry.wordpress.com am officially twenty and two years old now, which means that my little brain has grown twenty-two sizes and is full of all the wisdom that comes with old age. It also means that you all need to send me twenty-two heartfelt compliments, so take your time on that one folks, because I know it will be hard to narrow them down.
Back when I started this blog I was just a wee twenty-one year old with a thrice-operated on butthole and a heart full of dreams. And you, my friends, have helped to make those dreams a reality. So thank you for looking after me on instagram and twitter, and for reading these posts and also for all of your lovely emails. P.S. I’m sorry I’m so behind on responding to those emails, but gosh, I was really busy transcending young adulthood and growing a whole year older. But I do appreciate it so much and I promise I will respond, and really you’re getting the better end of the deal here because your email will be from a twenty-two year old instead of a plain ole’ twenty-one year old so honestly I’m doing you a favor.
Now that I’m another year older and so much more mature I can finally enlighten those of you who are not yet twenty two as to how it feels to reach this pinnacle age of Taylor Swift’s song, and that is…… !
Surprise. I don’t know anything, you guys. I am still a tiny little baby who always expects other people to open doors for me. I recently went out to eat with my mom and she ordered off the menu for me while I sat quietly and looked at the waiter. I prefer Sprite to most drinks. I spend my free time watching episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender on my laptop while simultaneously looking up fan art on my phone. And I have no infinite wisdom to dispel- just my normal, heartfelt, slightly over-honest ramblings about all the feelings that I feel all the time.
When I left Austin for New Zealand I shared a series of secret goodbyes with all my friends from home. I didn’t want to think about how long it would be until I saw them again, so I didn’t initiate the Farewell Talk, even if I knew it would be the last time I would be with them before I got on the plane. All of that felt too sad, so I just kept it to myself and experienced the easy “see you laters” that my friends would toss over their shoulders, knowing that later would come but not for several more months.
My roommate Kellie caught me in the middle of one of the sneaky goodbyes as she left our apartment for work. “Wait… will you be here when I get back?” she asked, and I guiltily shook my head no.
She laughed at the absurdity of our situation: here was a person that I had lived with for two years, and I was leaving for six months. I wouldn’t be back until I had gone through an incredibly enormous and formative new experience- by that time I would have lived with new people, taken new classes at a strange school, and struck out on my own in a country where I didn’t know anyone. “Bye!” Kellie said cheerfully as she walked out the door, and then turned to me with mock severity “See you when you’re a different person.”
At the time I absorbed it as a joke, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t expect to come back to Texas as a wiser, more independent, self-assured version of myself. That’s what’s supposed to happen when you travel by yourself as a young human being, right? I’m supposed to come home another year older and just… different. Better.
But I don’t feel like a better, more enlightened version of myself. As I chat with my flatmates about our return to the states and hear them talk about their personal journeys I am struck with the realization that I feel largely the same. I’m afraid that when I do go home I won’t be any stronger than when I left.
There is also the much quieter, lurking fear that perhaps I did change and grow and expand far beyond what I am even able to perceive right now. The fear that I am completely different, that when I go home my old room and old school and old life just won’t fit anymore.
I’ve done the hard part. The solo journey, three flights and three airports navigated by myself, an arrival to a rainy city without a friendly face to welcome me. Unpacking, decorating my bare walls, reaching out to the four strangers sharing a bathroom with me, forging bonds, finding routes to the grocery store that sells the kind of food I can digest, arguing for weeks with different doctors in order to get my medicine safely shipped across the world. The hard part is over now. My parents have come to visit for the remaining weeks, and we’ll fly home together. I don’t have to figure these things out on my own anymore.
I could be cliche and say that the truly hard part is still ahead of me and that it will be saying goodbye to my flatmates, friends, and the city I have come to call home. But I imagine that those goodbyes will be sad and simple, the same secret goodbyes I shared with friends before I left.
So then I did it? I made it through. I turned twenty-two surrounded by friends that I hadn’t known when I turned twenty-one. I could have never even fathomed the place I would be today if you had asked me one year ago.
But am I a better, stronger, more independent me? And if not, what was the point?
Recently my mom and I were sitting on my floor trying to manage my final semester of college registration crisis. I was sifting through my credits trying to figure out what I needed to graduate in May when we came across the discovery that two of the classes I took here in Dunedin might not count toward my degree due to a misunderstanding with my advisor. I flew into a panic, realizing that in order to graduate on time I would have to take two extra courses next semester as well as possibly explore the option of taking a course over winter break.
“I can’t believe my classes don’t count for anything,” I fumed, “All that work and nothing to show for it. I won’t be coming home with the credits I need. This was pointless!” All the pressure to ‘make the most of it’ and ‘have the time of your life’ and all the other well-wishes that people had sent me off with had built all semester and I was finally pushed to breaking. I dropped my head into my hands and cried. “Why did I do this, why did I do this? I don’t have anything to show for it, I don’t feel like a better or more complete person, I didn’t have an epiphany up on a mountain top, I don’t even have class credit. What was the point?”
My mom quietly scrolled through her phone as I vented. She didn’t even look up. Calmly, she handed me the phone which was open to an instagram picture of all of my flatmates together and smiling, captioned with a long message about how much they all meant to me.
“Forget classes,” she told me. “We’ll figure that out. But this is why you came. This is your point.”
My mom has never been great with words, but there she was, shutting me up with my own that I had written weeks ago. I skimmed my caption under the post, and a line stuck out: I only know that you were all exactly what I needed. You’ve helped me so much. Simple, and sad. A not so secret goodbye. Maybe I was learning after all.
Is it possible for five strangers to be in the right place at the right time to affect each other in the ways they need to be affected? Is it possible that the real reason I traveled across the world was to meet these four people, to live with them and cry with them and routinely let them see me with a towel on my head? Have they made me different?
My first birthday away from home I turned nineteen. I was sitting in my dorm room when I heard a knock on the door at exactly midnight- I opened it to three of my friends holding one large candle and singing happy birthday. The next day my mom came home from a long trip, and my best friend drove into town to surprise me. It wasn’t home, but it was enough.
When I turned twenty I was in a cabin on a river in the Texas hill country, surrounded by the people I loved most in my favorite place. We waded into the water to trek upstream and then dried off around a campfire. Durbin strummed his guitar and it felt like the whole world was lit by the glowing moon. It was the most peaceful I have ever felt. At the end I piled into the car with two of my friends to head back to school and my mom drove off in the other direction. I was still getting used to it.
I spent my twenty-first birthday in California visiting Disneyland and filming Youtube videos, and it was perfect. It was something so magnificent and far-fetched that I never could have imagined it. After flying home to Texas that afternoon I celebrated with a close-knit group of friends that I hadn’t known for very long, but it didn’t matter. I called my mom on the phone to tell her I had finally found my people, and that Austin could be home.
Twenty-two was my last birthday before I graduate and leave the college world for the adult one. I spent it sitting around the sun-filled living room of a flat I’ve come to love, laughing and eating with friends I have only known a few months but came to depend on for everything. EJ and my dad grilled steaks outside, my mom and Devon baked sweets and Carly presented me with a crown to wear while everyone sang me happy birthday. After, I threw on my Halloween sweater and we walked the darkened streets of Dunedin, pausing in alley ways and in front of haunted cathedrals to spook each other with scary stories. And my four flatmates and I lined up for our first-ever group photo, whipped by the freezing wind, in front of the little flat where we all first met. It still wasn’t home. But it was enough.
So I’m another year older, but probably still the same amount of wise that I’ve always been. I’m still trying to figure out what I’ve learned from my time here as it draws to a close, trying to figure out where home is and what it even means, trying to figure out how to take care of myself the appropriate amount while also letting others take care of me. And most importantly, trying to figure out how to respond to all of your emails and messages asking me for advice or guidance.
I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them. But I promise I will never stop trying to help you figure them out. Thanks for being patient, and for the birthday love, and most of all for all of your support.
And no worries, you guys. I’m sure I’ll finally be blessed with infinite wisdom in a year, when I turn twenty-three. For now, this barry happy girl will have to do.