I’m walking up Bancroft Way with my friend Lu. I’m happy to see her. After all, she has been in New York City all summer, and I am finally having a satisfying connection with a friend for the first time this semester. Up until this moment, I feel like I’ve only shouted at people as I’ve passed them on my bike, always late for my next appointment.
We are happy to see each other, but it’s hard to strike a cheerful conversation. A lot has happened in one summer. Over our dinner at Chengdu, I feel a certain weight in the air, so I tell her, “I feel old, but not very wise.”
I used to say this as an ironic catchphrase. After all, it’s a bit too deep, too cliched. You’ll find the phrase on your Tumblr feed, in cursive, written over a saturated photo of red leaves falling over a cobblestone path. It’ll be misattributed to Audrey Hepburn.
I didn’t come up with it either, to be fair. In the end of “An Education,” Carey Mulligan turns to the camera and says my ironic catchphrase with a tired smirk. She has been so busy freewheeling through Paris and jazz clubs — falling in love with a glamorous con man — that she finally feels her exhaustion when she sits down for tea with her teacher.
The reference is no longer a joke for me. I say so with Mulligan’s tired smirk. I do feel old. It’s stupid, because I’m only 21. Is this feeling why they call it senior year?
Lu has real, adult problems. It wouldn’t be right for me to share them with you. I’ll tell you mine, but they’re pretty silly.
This summer, I felt the pressure to reach adulthood when I lived with the woman whom I love. Don’t get me wrong: I have never been more happy. Every morning, she would have breakfast on the table before I even woke up — eggs on toast, with avocado and grapes on the side. Oftentimes, she’d kiss me goodbye and go to work, and I’d still be in bed, waiting for my accounting class at 6 p.m.
But our mismatched routines wore her down. In melancholy conversations, when we would discuss our uncertain futures, she would say that she felt as if she were taking care of a little boy. I couldn’t even find the peanut butter unless I called her on the phone to ask while she was at her office.
Now we’re on a break, as she’s on her own journey afar, and I’m desperate to have matured by the time she comes home. I no longer want to be a squire in the stables. The morning after her flight, I hope that I will be prepared to wake up before her and put breakfast on the table.
These goals are silly, right? It’s just breakfast. Yet I’ve already discovered that taking care of myself is hard on its own without her in the picture. I don’t want much. I want to do well as an editor at The Daily Californian, to not worry the people who love me and to eat well.
But it’s hard to just find time to cook. I wander up and down Telegraph Avenue for dinner, but I can’t stomach any of these overpriced, greasy dishes. I go home feeling nauseated, and I eat granola and celery. I never feel full — sometimes bloated.
I don’t mean to complain. At least I value what a healthy meal should look like. In a way, I think these problems are necessary growing pains. I feel proud of myself for taking these little steps. I want her to come home to a young man.
Yet, as I juggle all of these responsibilities that an adult ought to balance, I already feel out of breath and like I have to keep running before I drop any. Every vacation is a time to catch up on my work — more emails, more forms to fill out. I think this experience is the marathon that is adulthood.
I will know that I have succeeded — that I have become a wiser soul — when I learn to pencil this into my busy planner every morning: “a bowl of watermelon and two hardboiled eggs. No dishes in the sink.” When my girlfriend comes back, I will have enough for two.
Maybe your idea of adulthood is more ambitious — slick business cards and an ironed suit. But last weekend, I made two bowls of dry, Sichuan-style spicy noodles — one for me and one for Lu. It was a hot day, and we both had a beer. She smiled over her home-cooked meal. I biked to the Daily Cal after we ate. There is no better way I could have spent that free morning. I finally felt full.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers are chosen. Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.