I’ve been begging for 19 to end for quite some time now. After all, I live in my own apartment, buy my own groceries, and only go home a few times a year. I’ve felt far too adult for 19 for far too long.
Tomorrow, my wish will be granted: 19 will end, and a whole new decade of life will be ushered in. Welcome to 20.
Just last week, my mom took me to a place that I used to know like the back of my hand. I stepped out of the car, my feet touching the plot of land for the first time since before the word ‘teen’ followed my age.
It felt like any old piece of ground. The soil beneath me was soft and squishy from the recent rain. The grass was dried up from the winter, but every few steps there was a patch of new spring growth. I recognized almost everything. The splotches of fresh grass, the ivy on all of the trees, the lily bush at the edge of the woods. “Do you think this was from grandma?” I asked my mom, pointing to the fresh sprig of lilies.
She nodded, “Probably so.”
I reached down for just a moment and patted the leaves. They were wet with spring rain.
“It felt bigger as a kid,” I admitted as I trudged up the hill. “Can you build the house for me?” The tears in my eyes were begging to fall. Not yet, I told myself. Don’t cry.
Mom went to work, walking around the flattened land where grandma’s house used to stand. I couldn’t understand how it all fit. In my head, I could see it. But standing on the ground my childhood was built upon, the space seemed far too small for such a grand home.
“I can’t see it, mom.”
Admitting it forced the tears to fall.
“I remember it all,” I said, “but I just can’t see it.”
The tree where my swing used to hang.
We walked around a bit longer, though we didn’t have much time. I touched everything that I could, begging for the memories to sweep me back in time. I wanted to experience it all again.
The bonfires grandpa used to host right in the middle of the backyard so that he could build a skyscraper of warmth and light. The winter sledding from the stairs of the deck to the edge of the raised garden beds (or that one time that I found myself in the gardening beds). The hot chocolate by the fireplace. The camp-outs in the living room or picking blackberries in the summer, or even climbing down to the creek to fish. I wanted it all just one more time.
I bent down beside every tree and plant that I remembered, digging around their edges for a piece of yesteryear. “Come on five-year-old Nikki,” I demanded, “20-year-old Nikki needs a sign.”
It was holy ground that my mama took me to, and leaving it that time was far harder than leaving it when grandma sold the house, knowing it would be torn down.
Life works like that more often than we realize or wish. When we walk away from parts of life, it’s never as hard the first time as it is years down the road when we know what we really lost.
I didn’t find a sign from younger me, but I did find a piece of concrete buried near where the sun room used to be. I picked it up, brushed it off, and decided that it must have been from the foundation of the house.
The foundation of the house that built me. The people who took it from a house to a home—oh how 20-year-old Nikki wishes they were still around. Oh how I regret that I didn’t know what that place meant to me until it had been torn down and thrown away.
Time just keeps on ticking, and after 20 years, I think I’ve finally realized that we should never wish it away.
20, may I be kinder to you than I was to 19.
Yesterday, may I not be caught on you; instead, may I hold you close enough to remember that today is the day I should live for.
One day, I’ll look back on this time and wish that I had left myself a sign. Nikki, this is it. This story is your sign. Welcome to 20.