The Week I turned 21

This letter is open.

It’s to you who took the time to be present with me, laugh with me, and select an object that reminded you of me. It’s for you, though maybe not physically with me, who shared words of gratitude, of well-wishes, of love. But it’s also for the silent you, whose day came like any other. And you whose path I have not crossed in ages, who very well may never see this. Even you I haven’t met, nor may I ever.

Blessed be those who have loved you

Into becoming who you were meant to be,

Blessed be those who have crossed your life

With dark gifts of hurt and loss

That have helped to school your mind

In the art of disappointment.

 

20 years of life holds so many faces.

They ask if I feel older, what it’s like to have made it to 21.

I don’t feel older, but I feel more awake.

 

I remember being afraid, of being alone, of having no one physically present to share the day with. 21 is supposedly a big deal. And before coming to Scotland, I fed myself the expectation of it coming to pass in silence. But again, as I’ve continually found here, I was surprised in the best of ways.

When desolation surrounded you,

Blessed be those who looked for you

And found you, their kind hands

Urgent to open a blue window

In the gray wall formed around you.

 

I was given a time and street corner to show up at. Escorted to the Bluebell Tea Room, an adorable place to get afternoon tea. Plus, all comes gluten-free.

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That meant I was spoiled with smoked-salmon sandwich wedges, scones, jam, miniature cupcakes and sweets, all on gold-rimmed flower china. English breakfast tea with milk, topped-up before my cup ever fully emptied.

A purple crown on my head and huge 21 button on my chest, I felt like a princess at a grown lady’s tea party.

They didn’t know my fears. But they overcame them. They didn’t know 8-year-old Alexis carried around a white-tiger stuffed animal named Bluebell wherever she went. That 21-year-old Alexis, sitting in Scotland in a tea room bearing the same name, knew exactly where her childhood best friend now hid in her closet.

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Bluebell in all her glory

When I told my mom and dad later that night where I had gone, they knew, without me saying, it was more than I could’ve hoped for. Being here, so far from them, it’s different than just being a 2-hour drive away at Susquehanna. At times, I wonder how it is for them. What it’s like to have a daughter learning to put one foot in front of the other, this time, without their hand right there when I fall. But the thing is, being here, I’ve never felt them closer besides me. I see my mom when I try out a new recipe and it becomes my favorite dish. I see my dad walk besides the loch at uni when the eyes of a little girl, strapped to the back of her own dad, flutter between consciousness and sleep.

Praised be your father and mother,

Who loved you before you were,

And trusted to call you here

With no idea who you would be.

And that’s how it is here. I’ve met people with personalities I didn’t know existed. Who notice small things about you—like how you flirt with words and find joy in cuddling a warm cup of green tea—and let you know in small gestures. I’ve learned distance doesn’t kill a relationship. People do. It’s easy to let our adventures and hectic schedules cloud our brains, make us temporarily forget those not with us. But that alone doesn’t pull relationships apart. I’ve seen friends step closer to me. Find ways to share their days with me still. I’ve heard from those I wouldn’t have expected to. There are those who make an effort to be in your life, no matter where they or you are—physically, mentally, and emotionally. And there are those that step away. Yesterday, on my birthday, only further proved that to me. I’m learning to look at those who won’t let go. To remember those at a distance with soft eyes.

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I’ve been here two months, but these girls made me feel as if this is more than a temporary place. I’m here across the sea, but those at home made me feel like I wasn’t even gone.

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Julia, thank you for gifting me such a great day you beautiful soul.

I don’t think ‘thank you’ quite captures the way love painted upon my skin and seeped into my pores.

I say I love Scotland, and I do. I say I will miss the sheep, and in a way, I will. But, the thing is, I love New Jersey, too. I love Pennsylvania, and the breadth of the East Coast, Colorado, and Nevada, Washington and the DR. There’s Japan, and Spain, Italy and Ireland, Hungary, Canada, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Lebanon, Nepal, China, and beyond. I’ve been to some, haven’t to others. These are the places where the people live who have crossed my life.

They say that people make a place. I’m quite sure it’s completely true.

So here’s to 21. And to you, I say, thank you.

Love always,

Alexis

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