3 weeks ago, my 21st birthday passed. Because I don’t drink, I instead chose to do brunch and have some good afternoon relaxation. Thanks to great company and a delicious carrot cake, my 21st was the happiest birthday I have had in memory. Because I don’t drink, this specific year wasn’t so important. In fact, I don’t feel 21 at all.
Part of it is apparently my appearance. A few months ago, I was going through airport security and handed the ID checker my ID and boarding pass. He looked down at my ID, I looked to see how quickly the lines were moving, and he asked me how old I was. The question surprised me, and to reinforce the idea that my age doesn’t matter, I responded, “21. I mean 20.” He offhandedly mentioned that I looked young and handed back my ID. When I related the story to my mom a few night later at the dinner table, she matter-of-factly said, “Of course you look young.”
In that moment, I felt like my mom had revealed the great purpose of my life. I knew that both of my sisters looked young, but that it should apply to me was a revelation. That fact remained a curiosity to me for a few months, and I tried to slip it into conversation as non-awkwardly as possible, just to read reactions.
“Wow, I didn’t know your birthday was coming up. You don’t look like you’re 20. Do you think I look like I’m my age?”
“Your brother is 2 years younger than you? I’m surprised. How old you think I look?”
“Great job on your chemistry test. Do you think I look young?”
I was riding the train with a friend the day after my birthday, and I asked her if I looked young. I noted that although we often say that people look young (she looks much younger than she is), it’s rare for anyone to look older than they are, or to at least say so. “Well, some of the other guys are bigger, right, so they kind of look like they’re what they are. You’re kind of… slender.” That was the confidence boost I needed right there to tackle the first day of the rest of my life.
Even though I mistook myself for an older man in front of a government official, I’m still not ready to deal with the consequences. On a recent Trader Joe’s run, I did the math on the cost by weight and ended up with a large jug of balsamic vinegar that we still haven’t dipped into. While I was rolling up to the checkout counter, I noticed how much like alcohol the vinegar looked like while I was judging whether my cart would pass in the express lane. I wondered whether the cashier might mistake my vinegar for something far more potent and put me in an awkward spot trying to explain why a minor had what looked like alcohol. Only then did I remember that I was actually 21 and have a driver license that still says “UNDER 21” to back me up.
I got my vinegar without any trouble.
And at a reception recently, servers walked around with beverages while the crowd mingled and discussed important but esoteric topics. All the old people reminded me that the sparkling apple cider was actually champagne, though the orange juice looked quite good. I almost reached for it, though two others grabbed the last two before I did. Although I was disappointed for a moment, I enjoyed my sour grapes moment when one of them told me that it was a mimosa, not orange juice.
Before I left for college, I was talking to a friend who had just completed his freshmen. Since he as well had gone to college far from home, we were discussing the merits of running away. When I said that it was my chance to break off from my life as it was, he responded, “You’re still going to be the same person you were.” On July 31st, 2010, I was the same person I was on July 30th, 2010. I’m not really sure when, or even if, I’ll pick up my first drink. If my peers are right about my appearance, though, no matter when it happens, I think I’ll be carded. If not by the server, then by myself. Just to make sure.