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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

growing up and getting older

Growing up is terrifying. The worst part is that it doesn't ever stop. I remember

being in the fourth grade, crying to my mom about how I didn't want to ever be a grown-up. She looked at me and laughed, pinching my cheek. "Oh honey, you have so much time." Now, I'm nearly 23 and that time has come and gone without any concern for my comfort.

I went back to my alma mater yesterday for the first time since graduating and for what will probably be the last time for the foreseeable future. I was nervous to return, afraid that it would make me feel deeply nostalgic, unfairly envying 19-year-old freshman for having their entire college experience ahead of them. Luckily, that didn't happen. Instead, what I experienced was this very subtle disconnect. Standing in an open backyard, surrounded by an equal amount of old friends and unfamiliar faces, I could feel this sense of calm washing over me. The way that a gust of wind would. The air was a little chilly, the sun had just set, and suddenly this environment wasn't mine anymore, but I didn't feel sad. That wind was telling me that I have finally allowed myself to let go.

Later, I ate sushi and drank an espresso martini on an outdoor patio. Nobody gave Annie and me permission to bring our rolls out there, but we were absolutely desperate to devour our food. Then, Maggie and Gen joined us to sit in a hidden oasis of a room at the same bar. With dim lighting, the perfect amount of chairs, and a crackling fire on the television, we talked and laughed. I've never felt more grateful to be an adult, old enough to just be so aware of how rare those moments of friendship are. Annie said it perfectly, "We are making a memory right now." It was all too serendipitous and peaceful.

Of course, this morning we woke up tired and worn out from the day before, the kind of hangovers you get when nights to feel young are infrequent enough that you walk to your old college bar at 2 a.m., insisting that you aren't tired enough for bed. We got there in time for the door to be locked, but at least I got 20 more minutes to feel that freedom and lightheartedness with the best people.

It is terrifying to grow up. To walk into a room and not recognize half of the faces. Even scarier, when only half of those faces recognize you. I spent so much time there -running late to class spilling half my iced coffee on my shirt, crying on my walk home from a party because I wasn't sure if I was ever going to find happiness, running into people's arms because I hadn't seen them for two hours, smiling to myself when the leaves turned orange and a person I had a crush on held a door for me. While those highs and lows felt so groundbreaking, they had no hold on the world. I walked through the front door of my sorority house every day, just to walk out another with my millions of bags and knickknacks and somehow, the world stood still.

There's no imprint of my footsteps on the floorboards, but I'm still glad I took them. I made memories, and failed, and grew, and then failed again. I walked up hills with friends, I walked alone, I walked with millions of voices in my head telling me that life might always feel cramped and suffocating. I was there and now I'm not and the truth of the matter is as terrified I am of growing up, I would be even more terrified to spend the rest of my life wishing I was frozen in time. I'm happy I got to go back again. I'm even more happy I had the chance to walk away for the last time with peace finally settled in my bones.

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