Eight years ago on a car trip late one dark autumn evening, a friend of mine told me one of her pet peeves with our experience of American culture –
“There is no coming-of-age ritual! How do you know you’re an adult? I mean, is it high school graduation? Your 18th birthday? 21st? College graduation? When is it?!”
We spent the forty-minute ride hurtling down the road and discussing this with all the confidence, indignation, and naiveté of being just-out-of-high-school ourselves. In retrospect I look at this conversation and laugh at my young, not-quite-adult-self. I wanted to point to a specific day, such as the Quinceanera celebrated by Latin Americans or the Coming of Age Day celebrated in Japan. The message I received about adulthood and the different rights imbued with each birthday or educational achievement pointed to an emphasis on a gradual transition, rather than a definitive one. Could this mean that it is up to the individual to define for themselves when they are really an adult? If so, how do I define it, and when did I first feel like a real adult?
Fast forward from that dark car ride three years to a bright, cold, New Years Day. With the help of my parents I was moving in my meager possessions (mostly clothes and books) to my first apartment. A month prior I had found my first full time job, but without a place to live I had been couch surfing with friends. I had been waking up in living rooms, spare bedrooms, and contemplating skeezy weekly rentals as a place to put my duffel bags. At night I was feverishly searching Craigslist and networking for a place to live.
I finally found an apartment in Beverly, fully furnished, with some pleasant, albeit quirky, roommates. After all, the ad had specified they wanted to live without a TV and have the heat kept low (How low? I wondered, and does TV-on-the-Internet count as TV??). When I saw the place for the first time on the day of a serious winter snowstorm it looked good. Figuring that if it looked good with slush and snow, it would have to look even better every other day of the year, I happily said I would move in the first of January.
As I wrote my check to the landlord that day, and later set out to wrestle with a budget for my monthly expenses, I had the epiphany, recalling that years-earlier conversation. I was now financially solvent, out of my parent’s house, and had a place to call my own. I could make my own habits and routines. Even better there were no squeaky couch springs leaving an imprint on my cheek each morning.
I must be an adult.
By Beth Melillo