Changed. – 20

19 brought it on.

At 19, I moved out. I built a new life for myself, by myself, in a new city. I said goodbye to a place I loved very much, and with the support of everyone back home I went in search of something new. I didn’t have a single friend here when I moved, and today I barely leave my apartment without seeing someone I know. I have fallen in love with this city – its rhythm, its quirks, its sights, its sounds and above all, its people. This is my home now, and I will never be alone here again.

That said, it wasn’t easy. This year has been riddled with challenges, some I anticipated and many I did not. There were nights I was so tired and so achy I couldn’t move to turn off the lights, and mornings I felt so sick I cried getting out of bed. There were complications at every turn and frustrating surprises, but there were also moments of pure triumph and pride when I succeeded where I feared I wouldn’t. Nothing was ever ideal, but I adapted, managed and rediscovered time and time again how strong I am. I was determined not to let anything get in my way, and I didn’t.

At 19, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before and proved myself from scratch. I had no idea how stressful (and occasionally infuriating) my position at the Center would be or what a toll it would take. But when all’s said and done, I think I will always look back on it fondly for one reason: the people. If it weren’t for the Center, I would not have the community that I do. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible, unique, good people. I have friends for whom words do no justice, and have had experiences so random and so amazing I could never have dreamt them up. I’ve gained beautiful people in my life without losing any I had before, and have lived memories that will last a lifetime.  

At 19, I learned a different kind of happiness I never believed existed. I used to say, “Happiness is not a state of being, it’s just fleeting moments that pass you by and you need to know how to notice them.” Now I know that the only kind of happiness I knew before 19 was incredibly fragile. That’s not the smile I wear anymore. Now, when shit hits the fan it turns into sparkles, because the happiness I have found is the kind that doesn’t run away. It trembles, sometimes, but it’s a pure and true joy that miraculously refuses to leave.

At 19, I fell in love. How strange to think that for the first half of 19 I didn’t have Tom. So much has happened, to us and between us, in just six months. He is everything I ever dreamed of, and everything I didn’t realize I should dream of. It took me a long time to believe he was real, to feel like we were real. But he is, and we are. I melt at the thought of him, and I never feel as at peace as I do when he finally embraces me in his arms. I never smile as widely as I do when he gets excited or want to sing as much as I do when I’m with him. He makes me shine. Or rather, I let myself shine when I’m with him.

I have no doubt the memories I made this year really will last a lifetime – and a lot of those memories are with Tom. We’ve gone through some really tough, trying times together, but regardless of whether I was crying or laughing at the beginning of a conversation, I was always laughing at the end. We’re the absolute cutest. We’re so in love even we think it’s a bit much. We’re a real life couple, but we’re a match made in heaven.

At 19, everything came up roses. I had fun. I worked, I worked out, I sang. I saw sunlight everywhere I looked. I cooked, I cleaned, I crashed, I took the stairs without realizing. I talked to strangers. I wrote, I read, I filmed, I edited, I felt like I could fly. I laughed so hard my collar bone hurt and I jumped every time I got a text. I cried. I listened. I took walks and got lost on purpose.

I watched the sunsets from my balcony and fell asleep on my roommates. I supported my friends, new and old, and I supported my partner, as each and every one of them went after the things they want and deserve in life. I spent hours and hours on the phone, being long distance not only with Tom but also my family and my friends from home. I took it all in and then I brought all of my worlds together.

At 19, I existed under a new sky, not because I went somewhere else but because I became someone else. I became who I’ve always wanted to be.  

I’m not 19 anymore. But whenever I walk the streets of this city, I will always be 19 again. These roads will be my memory lanes. Everywhere I walk I’ll feel the rush of independance and exhilaration all over again. Stairs will remind me of stories, buildings will remind me of people and alleys will remind me of feelings. Every step will remind me how it felt to be young and in love.

It’s on these streets that I felt more alive than ever before. It’s on these streets that I lived a life I wasn’t sure I would ever get to have.

It’s on these streets that everything changed.

I’m about to say my third big goodbye in three years. Everything is going to change all over again. Another new city, another new adventure, another chance to find myself fearless in the face of all of my fears. It’s the end of an era that has taught me more than I could probably realize right now.

Turning 20 is a big deal. It’s a big number. I always hoped I would get a chance to be a healthy teenager, but that’s not how things have worked out. After graduation I began the journey of figuring out how to live my adult life while sick, and I’ve done that. I’ve succeeded. I have been fearless. And I know, I’ll be fine. I just wish it didn’t have to be such a struggle to be fine. I’m so tired of the endless circle of pain and I wish I could make it end. I never talk about it anymore because I try not to think about it. I’ve learned to soften, lean forwards and allow my feelings to be engulfed by the presence of another person, whoever that person may be. I find solace and refuge in words that having nothing to do with pain. I submerge myself in interactions, in conversation, in laughter, so that what weighs on my heart isn’t heavy enough to hurt it.

I wish I could say there was no sadness laced into this birthday, but there is. As much as I love my life, I was forced to give up a lot and I think that will always hurt. It comes and goes in waves, the sting of all that my health denied me. But I can say there are no regrets laced into this birthday, because I have proven to myself and everyone around me that healthy or not, I’m going to achieve every goal I set for myself and love every step of the way. I may be sick and sick of it, but I am living the life.

At 20 I can say with my whole heart that I am happy. I am confident. I am in love. And I am ready – to continue having the time of my life.

~~~

Ella

“That’s the delicate way you’ve shown me, you’re the strongest person I know.” -The Streets

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