I remember being somewhere in the middle of high school and lying under the pool table at my friend Elli’s house. We were, of course, having the time of our lives, laughing and eating the worst pancakes I’ve ever had (sorry Elli). We talked about college, and our various trips to D.C., France, Ireland, and Russia over cups of milk and left over barbecue potato chips. We were the perfect image of privilege and naivety. But somehow, in that moment, I knew to say “I don’t want this to change, I don’t want to grow up.”
It might seem strange to think that I would remember this moment so clearly, 15 years later. But in addition to the distinctive and horrifying breakfast spread, there is was a moment that morning that burned the memory on my brain. “I don’t want this to change,” I had said, “I don’t want to grow up.” And Valerie looked me dead in the eye and said, “Of course you don’t Mary, you’ve always been this way.”
At the time, what solidified the memory was that I was offended. I thought she was criticizing me or saying I was immature. I thought I had to figure out how to enjoy the idea of growing up, of things changing, in order to fit in. I did my best, buying things for my college dorm, and dating a guy for awhile that believed in marriage and wanted children, always remembering that moment that I felt meant I needed to catch up, to grow up, to give up.
Eventually I grew up, as all children do. I learned to like driving, and living on my own. I liked getting my first job, buying myself a car. I was even overjoyed at the tiny humans that began appearing from the wombs of my friends and family, always eating off my plate and napping in my bed like little slobbery puppies. I grew up and found out that being an adult isn’t so bad. That is until it is.
Being an adult means suffering through hard choices for your children like surgeries, and diets, and deciding if you’re loving them too hard, or not enough. Being an adult is expensive, and being the friend of adults choosing to be adults together forever can be even more expensive. Being an adult means coming to term with all the shit you did, and had done to you, as a kid. Adults have to figure out how their body works, what makes it sick, what makes it better. Words like blood pressure, sodium, hormone levels, and ovulation begin to create a dreadful feeling liken to hearing “lima beans” as a child. Being an adult means losing people, finding people, and trying to figure out if you really even know people.
It turns out 14 year old Mary lying under the pool table knew exactly what she was talking about. Being an adult is terrible. But Valerie was also right. “I’ve always been this way.” And I will always be “this way.” Which means that while I may have caught up and grown up, I will never give up. I will hold onto whatever that magic was that made pancakes and barbecue potato chips feel magical when mixed with milk, and I will insist on everyone else participating in whatever weird combination of eccentricities brings them joy.
This week hasn’t been kind to many of the adults in my Rolodex. It certainly hasn’t been kind to me, either. Which made me wonder if this gets easier, if this gets better, this stupid “adult” thing that everyone seemed so excited about in high school, that freaked me out and made me want to cling to that pool table in Elli’s basement.
Being a librarian’s daughter, I figured maybe the answer would be revealed through a little research, so I looked. I looked for friends that had gone to hell and made it back. I looked for friends that had great losses, and found great solace. And I found them. I found them among the adults in our lives, quietly keeping pace and staying strong despite life’s cruel humor and affinity for tragic plot twists. I found them finding love in new places, and love in themselves. I found them modestly sharing the successes that grew from their failures, as though they were trying to show the world “it gets better.” Which means I can now say with certainty that the research shows, it really does get better.
So when the walls can barely keep you standing, just know it gets better. When moving boxes, and rent prices, and balancing a new budget starts to get scary, know it gets better. When Adele hits that sweet spot and you crumple to the floor, know it gets better when you stand up. When your pain is strong, and your exhaustion at a max, know it gets better. When the clock seems too fast, know that there is still time for it to get better. When you’re out of words, out of faith, and out of fucks, know that it gets better. I know because I did the research for you. I know because I grew up but I refuse to give up. I believe it will get better and I will help it get better.
I know it gets better.
And until it gets better, know that I will lie with you under a pool table and eat pancakes and barbecue chips, and talk about world travels, Cole Porter, Heath Ledger and your favorite books, anytime that you need, and it just doesn’t get better than that.