Timeline: Twenty-Three

This follows on from Twenty-Two, and before that, Twenty-One, and before that, Twenty, and before that, Nineteen, and before that, Seventeen & Eighteen, and before that, Sixteen, and before that, Fourteen & Fifteen, and before that, Twelve & Thirteen, and before that, Eleven, and before that, Seven Through Ten, and before that, Zero Through Six.


2003, aged twenty-three: On my twenty-third birthday, we have lived in Charleston for nine weeks, occupying one half of a basement flat in a big stone house on Charlotte Street. This is the first place we have lived together, Sean and I, without other people, and though the rooms are tiny, the ceilings low, and the outlets placed, curiously, halfway up the walls, we love it because it's ours. The bathroom linoleum is checkered black and white, the most glamorous thing I've ever seen.

When we arrive in Charleston in our Penske truck, I have five hundred dollars in the bank. What I want to do is write and I want to get paid for it, so with a determination I force myself to wear like a borrowed shirt, I claw my way to the place I want to be. I cobble together a shaky freelance career---seventy-five dollars here, ten cents a word there---and I am meticulous with my money, religiously writing down whatever I buy. My days pass in a blur of addition and subtraction. One afternoon it snows when I'm walking to an interview; the flakes are like dust motes, almost imperceptible, but I grin like a loon in the empty street.

Sean is gone a lot, working nights and weekends, training Navy recruits in nuclear engineering. I make a friend, Melissa, in the bath accessories aisle at TJ Maxx. She is nine years older but we are alike in so many ways: writers, list-makers, chlidren of parents from afar. Years later, on my wedding day, Melissa will stand next to me in a tiny seaside chapel in California and read aloud Psalm 29 as the afternoon sun streams in through the high stained glass windows, but here, now, at the cash register in TJ Maxx, we just scribble our numbers on old receipts and I walk back, hopefully, to my car.

I take a tutoring job for which I am wholly unqualified. Through some combination of charm and courage, I talk the owner into paying me fifteen dollars an hour, and on my first day I am confronted with long division, a particular horror I haven't encountered in years. John William, my fourth grade charge, is suitably fooled by my peripheral knowledge but I leave the tutoring studio with a math book under my arm: homework for the evening. Cross-legged at the coffee table, I study it anxiously and am relieved to find that long division is much like riding a bike; the knowledge comes back when it needs to. In the weeks that follow, John William and I are amused by each other, cautiously and deferentially. My British accent makes John William giggle. I glggle when John William calls me "Ma'am."

My family is living in Singapore and Sean and I fly out in May to see them. It is our first long flight together, and we miss our connection from Charleston to Detroit, which means we miss the entire flight altogether. We slink back to our apartment in our flying clothes, suitcases heavy behind us, and head back to the airport the next morning to try again. When we arrive in Singapore, the airport is bright and crowded at midnight, the promise of my parents just steps away on the other side. I walk faster towards them, spurred by a surging relief. For ten days, I don't have to think about what we'll have for dinner. What a glorious feeling, I realize, to know that someone else will be in charge.

Oct 07, 2010

This is just lovely. At 23 I was in my final year of law school and also making friends I will keep forever.

Oct 08, 2010

Twenty-three was beautiful! I love your timelines. :)

Oct 08, 2010

Oh wow. I'm 23 right now.

Your 23 kind of sounds like where I was some 2 years ago. Jet-setting across the world to visit family during long school holidays, and feeling glad to not worry about what to cook because mum's got it all figured out.

Great series!

Oct 08, 2010

Yes, yes, I love these. And this sounds a lot like my 22nd year. Lots of worrying about money, loving being on my own, and then loving when someone else would take care of me.

Oct 08, 2010

Yay, they're back! Timelines, we've missed you!

Laura B.
Oct 08, 2010

Timeslines are my FAVORITE! And this one is no exception. Love Love Love!

Oct 08, 2010

i love this series! this kinda sounds like where i am now. trying to get by so i'm not forced to take a job i hate...refreshing to hear others have been there too.

Locusts and Wild Honey
Oct 08, 2010

ANOTHER TIMELINE!!! World's biggest fan here.

This reminds me of how incredible it was to visit my parents at this age and just open the pantry doors. They had so much food in there! Expensive, nonessential food like cookies and crackers! And why was there so much of it? Were they preparing for the End Times?

Now at 32 their pantry just looks normal to me. But then again, I'm no longer working at the front counter of a coffee shop.

Other Holly
Oct 08, 2010

I'm 23 right now. And my favorite feeling is going home to my parents and someone else is in charge. I just started my first "real" job. Love the timelines!

Oct 08, 2010

I love this year. During that year of my life (2003) I was in such a similar place, working a million strange jobs, counting pennies, uncertain about so many things. Work and school and relationships have changed, but some of that old uncertainty is still there, underneath. It makes me feel a little wistful, somehow.

I always love your timelines. :)

Oct 08, 2010

Oh, I want to be 23 again. (though, I really like 31)

Nathalie Beauty
Oct 08, 2010

I'm always amazed at how nice and positive your relationship is with your folks.
23 is definitely a figuring out the rest of your life kind of time.

Oct 08, 2010

I'm 36 and I still cherish the times when I go home to see my parents. It's sooo nice to be taken care of. And once (if) you have kiddies it gets even better. They take care of them and you!

Oct 08, 2010

Too love your timelines. i

Sensibly Sassy
Oct 08, 2010

you are such a talented writer, I devour your words like I do carbs.

Oct 09, 2010

Think of all the potential Melissas you unwittingly walk past in your life. It makes me sad to think of all those strangers who in another universe where you were confident or just lucky enough to strike up a conversation turned out to be the kind of people who one day give readings at your wedding.

Oct 09, 2010

I'm so glad the timelines are back!! I love them!!

My god I love how you write.

Oct 11, 2010

i'm 23 and still lost! your 23 i love <3

Oct 11, 2010

I love your timelines. At 23, I was doing the remodel you are living through now and I GOT MARRIED. I cannot believe I got married so young! Lucky I chose well because we are still happy 10 years later.

Diane Harvey
Oct 12, 2010

Love the Timelines and all of your writing.

Oct 13, 2010

Love this post, and your writing.

Oct 13, 2010

Another longtime reader thrilled to see the return of the Timeline series!!

Oct 14, 2010

Sigh... I love these!

Oct 14, 2010

Sigh! I love these!

Oct 14, 2010

Hi! I just discovered your blog, and I love it!

Oct 16, 2010

I love your timelines. I had a thought though. Perhaps the outlets were halfway up the walls in case the basement flooded? Only a guess since I grew up in Ca. and we don't have basements here.

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