By Jennifer Baker-Henry
It used to be that I couldn’t wait to get older. So, nine years ago, when my twenty-first birthday arrived it seemed like a milestone. It meant I had one more year to go as a college student and it also meant I had met that goal of being considered an official “adult” by the state and city of New York. Twenty-one is the age when you can legally drink. It’s the age when you can bring someone younger than you into an R-rated movie. It’s the age that you can drive a car with a full adult license and no longer have to worry about curfews. It was freedom!
In celebration a group of my friends and I decided to hang out in Manhattan all evening. The first stop was a cheap BBQ chain in midtown. As soon as the waiter came by I pushed my ID on him as I requested a strawberry daiquiri, non-virgin. “You want to see my ID, right?” I urged. He did not. I showed him anyway.
While my friends and I ate and, drank in my case, and talked about what everyone else would do on their twenty-first birthdays—I was the first to turn twenty-one that year of those of us born around the same time—I also listened to a friend of mine tell me about her travails as a new single mom. My birthday party was the first day she’d been out without her child in months. She was only a year older than me, but had had one child—and in the span of a year would have another.
She told me how her new husband who was several years younger than her tended to disappear for hours at a time and make up bizarre stories of where he was. Working a twenty-four hour shift at Macy’s. Really? Having troubles getting home through extensive transit problems. Well, in NYC perhaps that wasn’t so odd. Not getting a job because no one was hiring anywhere. (Later we’d find out those supposed hours spent pounding the pavement were actually spent attempting to conquer Super Nintendo at a friend’s house.)
As I listened to my friend bemoan her husband and praise him in the same breath I thought of what responsibilities I had once we left the restaurant. In truth, my friends and I were going do whatever we felt with no reservations. We weren’t going to track our movements by continuously checking our watches or call home to see if our child was already asleep. Our plans that evening would take us to a comedy club that was lazy on the comedic aspects. After that I’d go home, say hi to my mom, and go straight to bed. Day over.
And that was when the realization hit that my sense of adulthood was quite different from my friend’s who’d spent her twenty-first birthday preparing to be a mother with a man she thought she knew. Yes there were things to look forward to in terms of what state laws would allow me to do, but there was no need for me to rush the whole aspect of adulthood and maturity. While I had been excited about the more trivial aspects she had more serious things to worry about.
After parting ways with my friend, the bulk of us wandered the streets of Manhattan on a Friday evening, looking for other forms of entertainment and just enjoying the crisp January air as people who had nothing to do or anyone to answer to in that moment. We experienced the city by walking around and ducking into stores for blocks on end. There was a satisfaction in just enjoying the moment, and I found I wasn’t in a hurry for time to move so quickly anymore.
A native New Yorker Jennifer Baker-Henry has been writing and reading since she entered the academic institution and continues to do so every moment she gets.
She works as a production editor, but also freelances as an ESL tutor, proofreader, editor, and also is a freelance writer for AroundHarlem.com. Jennifer was a mentor for Girls Write Now and now volunteers for the organization and was recently a writer-in-residence at Jentel Artist Residency Program.
Jennifer is working on a variety of flash fiction pieces in addition to focusing on an anthology centered on race and family. Her stories have been featured on Raintiger.com, and published in Boston Literary Magazine and Eclectic Flash. She updates her blog regularly about writing, book (and NYC) events, and delicious dessert items. Mmm, dessert.
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