I had a lot of mouth problems when I was a kid. Not that I was a brat if I didn't get my way — though, yes, I had a bit of that too — but more so in the realm of dentistry. My teeth (and as I’d soon find out, my entire body) operated on a clock similar to the pace of nursing home jazzercise class. Translation? I’m beyond a late bloomer. I was so behind that my baby teeth never actually fell out, but instead, had to be yanked out so frequently that the smell of those bubble gum rubber gloves still haunts me to this day.
In the midst of my (many) dental appointments, it was also discovered that I was born without some permanent teeth. My dentist at the time declared that one day, when I was much older, I'd have to get a “bridge”. Given that I was terrified of needles — and that a grown man just looked into my baby mouth and told me a mechanism Medieval troops pulled down to charge a castle would be installed centimeters from my throat — I was, naturally, horrified.
On the day when that terrible, horrible no-good mechanism entered my childhood vocabulary, I asked my mom what it was and how soon I should start panicking about it. "Oh honey, don't worry about it,” she replied. “You'll be 27 when that happens. You’ll be all grown up and it’ll be no big deal. It's a long way away."
A few years after that, I had eleven teeth pulled at once, which allowed me to move the bridge conversation from "imminent panic" to "we'll re-explore when you're older." It was great! Except that it left me with about eight tiny Chiclet teeth in front and nothing else. For six months, I looked like I had some sort of crazy Wheel of Fortune board with two four-lettered words between my lips still waiting to be solved. (If given the chance to solve the puzzle, FUCK THIS, perhaps, would have been the right choice.)
Though four years of braces in high school (quite the look!) all but squashed the one-day-you’ll-need-a-bridge discussion, the low-grade, stomach-kneading nerves about its eminent possibility never dissipated. All that kept me calm during those lengthy stares at oral x-rays during each cleaning was one thing: I was a long, long, long way from having to worry about that bridge nonsense. I was young! I was a child with knobby knees and weird gangly legs! One day, I’d plop down my lady work bag and slip off my trenchcoat and muscle through a dental procedure with the strength of a grown woman who can pop out a baby like it’s a microwaved popcorn kernel. I had time. Tons of time! I was living in my world and that grown-up rendering of me was, like, an eternity, a career, a husband and a small home upstate away.
Except for one thing.
Today is my 27th birthday.
I am not that adult I envisioned in any way; all pencil skirt, patterned shirt and black pumps. I’m not that grown up lady, who’s figured out how to do that thing to make her hair look good, whose nails nary sport a chip, whose bank account has more plenty more zeroes than the amount used to spell out “BOOBS” upside-down on a calculator.
I am not that woman yet. I wear dresses that are more Japanese Fruit than Ann Taylor art curator. I used male hair product in my hair today because I didn’t want to bend all the way down again to pick up another one. And, yeah, my manicure is as spotty as my knowledge of where in the hell my tax return is.
I can’t help but feel like I’m instead a paper mache of an adult, all season-old H&M clothing but no real investment pieces, two steps towards the future but one electric slide back.
But, I’m trying my damnedest to not recoil out of disgust and shame that I'm entering the sunset years of my twenties — mostly because it’s taken me exactly 27 years to learn what I want out of life.
It sounds like the drunken ramblings of a teenager, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I finally realized what “being yourself” meant. I honestly, embarrassingly thought "be yourself" meant “be yourself within the close confines of what everyone else is” for the entirety of my life. I was being myself, dressed in a glittery A+F t-shirt that no one else in my sixth grade class had yet purchased. I was me, watching TV shows and movies I despised, laughing along, trying to understand what everyone else saw in it. I was myself, feeling my heart sink whenever a quintessential New York girl walked by in uniform — so-short shift dress, cool wide-brimmed hat, leather biker jacket, those Rag & Bone boots — while I’m left standing there in something old, feeling blue.
But, for the first time in my life as I stumble slowly towards my thirties, I feel that shifting. I'm starting to care less about everyone else and more about me. It seems innate, but in a way, I’ve always needed someone to tell me it's OK to behave the way I wanted to. It’s OK to stay in on a Friday, It's OK to know you don’t like drugs without having to try them. It's OK to be so fucking over trotting down the street in five-inch platform heels because Alexander Wang says I should. I just didn't realize until now that that person had to be me.
Instead of fighting against my self, I just have to embrace the weird. It’s a new philosophy, and it’s hard and confusing and uncomfortable, but not doing it is always, always worse. Sure, I spent $70 that should have gone towards a solid colored adult skirt on a JCrew children’s pineapple purse last week. And yes, I consider these dummies to be among my bedmates. And you know what? That’s OK. It's finally stuck that it's just as important to know what I want as it is what I don't want.
Last week, I turned down two jobs. And no, not offers — in the interview stages, the chit-chat levels, I took a step back and bowed out gracefully. The idea of insurance and an office that doesn’t have to be paid for and paid vacation (paid vacation!!!) is tempting, but deep down, I knew they weren't the right choice. I've choked that inner monologue down many (many) times before, but this time, I wasn't doing it. Just because it was the right choice for my horrifying bank account did not mean it was the right fit for me.
Turning down money is terrifying, scary and something that’s universally unheard of in my family. But in the past 27 years, I’ve known what happens when you do something simply for numbers — and the effect it has on my entire being. I've learned what it's like to not be true to yourself, and all of the wild, emotional ways it comes out.
27 is old enough to know what your flaws are, and to know and accept that you're different. Not bad, not lazy, not unable, not unwilling. Just...different. Different skills, different talents, different skeletal structure that makes doing a Pinterest-worthy squat near-impossible.
27 is old enough to just start seeing the repercussions for your irresponsibilities — the wrinkles, the scars, the poor posture — and knowing that you’ll feel worse ignoring your problems than doing something about them.
And 27 is old enough to know that, even though I wouldn’t be caught dead in a trenchcoat with a lady work bag at that hypothetical dentist’s office (like, ew), I could still handle any medical procedure that comes my way.
Even if still, to this day, I haven’t the first clue what a bridge actually is.