I have known Danielle since we were in the 6th grade. We lived in a small town where everyone was a Girl Scout and afternoons were spent with American Girl dolls who had more outfits than we did.
I knew I wanted to be a writer with a rich husband who would someday buy me my own island. Danielle knew she wanted to have a steady job, a log cabin, and eight children. Over a decade later, I am still an irrational dreamer (although I now understand a private island is probably unnecessary) and Danielle is still a logical rock of a person.
We bonded over mutual social awkwardness and something else, something inside the souls of little girls who are searching for who they are. She gave me someone to tell my stories to and I gave her a friend honest enough to tell her not to wear boy’s clothes. We did the birthday parties and the play dates and the romps in the woods until the day she left for Pennsylvania and a little bit of innocence was robbed of both of us.
We began to write to each other, testing out this new thing called email that tied us with an electronic heart string. We tackled middle school in tandem, and later the nightmares of high school. When I experienced loss for the first time, Danielle was there. When I had my heart shattered and then stepped on, Danielle was there. When I graduated high school and struggled to choose a college, Danielle was there.
She is the person who knows what I sound like when I am crying too hard to make a noise. I am the person who knows why she cries.
This is something that has always made “us” an “us.” We know the pulses and beats and pains of each other, a relationship built over years of sobbing/laughing into telephones and asking each other the questions we were too afraid to ask anyone else.
And now, in the rush of 2014, we are still tied together by the knowledge that we know each other. We have always known who we are when we are together. As a strong-willed and mildly dramatic female team, we have always managed to figure out our current phase of life.
Until now. At a chaotic twenty-two, we are both in very different places and yet we are standing in a fog on the same dimly lit street corner. The other day, we were having a conversation and Danielle said, “I don’t know who we are anymore, but I think I like us.”
It’s true. Two people who have always been able to look each other in the eye and say, “This is who you are. Don’t worry,” are now looking each other in the eye and thinking, “My God, who is this girl?”
So many times in the past months Danielle has said to me, “Stop it. You are an adult.” She’s right. I am an adult. But twenty-two is still a question mark. We are in a phase where we are old enough to date men who act like men, but are unsure of whether we should refer to them as boys. We pay bills on time, but my bank account is still technically “student.” Our parents can’t get to our medical records without permission, but I am still under my father’s insurance until the age of twenty-six.
Twenty-two is to be in limbo. It is swimming in the ocean alone except you’re tied to land with a mile-long rope. I feel like an adult when I am working and when I fill the car with gas. But I still feel like a kid when I find myself playing Taylor Swift on repeat and when I walk into my room that hasn’t changed since I was twelve.
It’s a weird age, and I don’t think the confusion of twenty-two has much do to with whether or not you are in school. Danielle is a questioning student while I maneuver in the world of freelance writing and job hunting. During the day, I am a professional and a woman. When I put on my cashier’s uniform and ring up groceries, I am sixteen and people ask me, “What college do you want to go to?”
I tell them I have a degree, and get that look that doesn’t need a sentence: Why are you at Shaw’s?
I’m at Shaw’s Supermarkets because I’m twenty-two. Yes, I have a degree. Yes, I work in my field. Yes, I still have a mind-numbing part-time job for which I wear a button that says, “Ask me about Cuisinart.”
I am many things. But for some reason, I am now someone my best friend does not recognize. And I don’t recognize her.
We are twenty-two, and we are who we are.
The good news is we think we like us.