By Jamie Berube
At 2 a.m. this morning I poured myself a bowl of Raisin Bran and sat down at the dining room table and took a bite. Between each cold spoonful I alternated between staring at the ceiling fan above spinning a soft purr in the dead-ness of the early-morning hour, and gazing out into the chilly black night from behind the glass of our sliding back door. The sound of my munching on mouthfuls of bran flakes and chewy, sweet raisins against the backdrop of the hum of the fan provided just enough noise to make the hour not feel totally empty, though the same could not be said of how I felt as I sat there in a tired, old tee-shirt and wrinkly sleep pants, slurping up cereal while most of the world as I know it lay peacefully asleep.
I wasn’t eating a bowl of cereal at such an hour because I was struck with the late-night munchies or couldn’t sleep or even because I really like Raisin Bran. I was eating a bowl of cereal at the dining room table at 2 a.m. because I realized about four hours prior after a high-anxiety, unsatisfying, everyone-must-be-out-to-piss-me-off kind of day that I really, really have nothing in my life figured out. At all. And the things that I thought I’d figured out and decoded in the naivety of my early twenties are still absolute mysteries to me – unknowable and unfamiliar still, even after thinking time and time again that it finally all made sense.
There are days in this life that render me helpless and confused and leave me…well, exactly where I was at 2 a.m. this morning: alone under a ceiling fan staring out the back door with a mouth full of cereal, wondering why the heck life has to be so messy and hard.
Yesterday was one of those days. And rather than panicking and collapsing in the kitchen corner with my husband’s bag of BBQ potato chips or a glass of cheap Merlot while sucking back the tears of uncertainty and insecurity and disillusionment that so perfectly capture the twenty-five-year old experience as I and many of my friends have known it, I chose to keep composed and feel what I was feeling with no judgment. So I sat down and tried to work through the feelings over a bowl of Raisin Bran with the restless and relentless face of a befuddled zombie. If ever a zombie could appear to look befuddled.
I’d say this was healthier than a kitchen corner breakdown with both hands in a bag of potato chips.
Nothing catastrophic happened to provoke this — nothing outside of my own head, of course. The world did not end. My heart did not break. I ate well and exercised and read a little bit of the Bible before work and acted responsible and did my typical workday thing. But I found myself feeling restless and irritated with myself and my circumstances as I combed through thoughts about people and life and what I want and who I want to be — stuff that I’m still figuring out. The process of “figuring it out” doesn’t make sense all the time. People and life and growing up don’t always make sense. And I hate that, which may have been the problem and the very reason I was up so late, feeling restless about life over a bowl of Raisin Bran.
In our twenties I think a lot of us are perpetually after the prized “milestones” that society has told us we sort of have to accomplish in our twenties. Sociologists have defined the “transition to adulthood” as marked by these five steps: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. It’s the formula we’re fed our whole lives. And the pursuit of these things thrusts us into the rat race after them at an early age whether or not we are ready for the chase, or even know what it is we are chasing.
Knowing there are so many things we are supposed to do so that we can run the race well and achieve the success we’ve thirsted for all our lives can put us on edge in the constant striving and straining for lofty, romantic things things like dream jobs, exotic travels and adventures, networking with the right people, maintaining fulfilling relationships, having a good-looking social life, finding true love, contemplating grad school, and keeping up with general well-being and mental growth and maturity.
These choices affect the whole of our lives. These choices are the foundation we lay for who we are to become as an adult.
And then there’s other stuff like remembering to get an oil change, paying back student loans, and deciding whether or not you are the lamest, most pathetic human being on the planet because you stayed in all weekend watching Homeland and Real Housewives of Atlanta on the couch instead of training for a marathon or writing a novel or swimming in the ocean like cool twenty-something’s do on their off-days.
All of this, the rat race and the restlessness and the things we tell ourselves in our heads we should be doing, is enough to make life nothing but miserable and monotonous and void of joy.
And what a tragic way to live in what we’re told are supposed to be “the best years of our lives.”
I wish I had a fix for this. I wish I had a way to make all of the crap that happens to us at this age that hurts and confuses and discourages us make sense. But if I did, I wouldn’t be a writer. Or a girl who can’t sleep and contemplates the complexity of growing-up at 2:30 in the morning.
Not having it all figured out is normal at this age. My therapist tells me this almost every time I see her. So I get it. But the fact that it’s normal doesn’t take away from the fact that it can still cripple me with restlessness and anxiety. Restless for something greater, and anxious for that feeling of “oh, my life has started now, I’m where I want to be” — a feeling that I’m not entirely sure ever really comes.
I think this is especially true post-college when we are working jobs we don’t like, are unlucky in love, can’t seem to get ahead with pursuing that dream that we’ve set our lives upon chasing, or can’t figure out what we want or what’s true in the world.
At some point in all of our lives, we will all experience these things. Maybe even all at the same time.
What I realized around 2:37 a.m. this morning after polishing my cereal bowl clean is that there are no answers. There are no formulas or recipes that can rescue the restless twenty-something spirit. But more than answers I think that at this age a lot of us just need to be assured that we are not alone — to hear other people’s stories of struggle and change and growing-up and how they survived the rat race without giving up or giving in to anything less than greatness.
It might not resolve the restlessness or mend the bruises of broken dreams and aching hearts, but it can make it more tolerable. Because when we make the struggle a part of our story rather than something to try and escape, and we’re transparent about it with others, it can make the hard parts of life much less lonely to navigate.
I put my empty bowl in the sink at a quarter to three and walked into the bedroom and closed the door behind me as I shuffled toward my side of the bed. I slipped under the blanket and pulled the covers close to my chest. And for just a moment before finally dozing off, I felt like maybe I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Sure I had a frustrating day and my circumstances aren’t perfect all the time but what if that’s the way my story was intended to play out? What if my life started a long time ago and I’ve been too busy trying to keep up in the rat race to enjoy it?
There are days in this life that will render me helpless and confused and leave me restless over a bowl of Raisin Bran at 2 a.m. But maybe that’s okay, because maybe restlessness is a sign that we are still in the fight — still after something bigger and greater than ourselves. A battle that for me has yet to be won. And if the sleepless nights and moments spent staring off into space like a zombie in disheveled sleep clothes contemplating my life and future have taught me anything — it’s that I may be getting closer to the day when I can look back at these years and say “now it makes sense — now I think I’ve figured it out.” Even if it takes one thousand more sleepless nights and one thousand more bowls of 2 a.m. Raisin Bran, it will all be worth it when (or if) I ever get there.
Bio: I am a recent transplant to Southern California from the South where I work as a social worker and freelance writer. I miss the boiled peanuts and thunderstorms and my mama’s lasagna back home in Florida where I spent my childhood as a barefoot tomboy but have learned a lot from the mysteries of the Wild West. Writing is my passion. I seek to use every opportunity I have and view every life experience as valuable to my growth as a writer. I blog at: Everydaydolce.com and tweet at @jamberube