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I have an “untitled document” infestation. I believe that titles are important; they’re a beginning. Names bring certainty. They bring direction. My problem is I don’t always know where to begin. I can’t see where I’m headed. So my documents remain nameless, lost in the mess affectionately known as my Google Drive. This is how it starts. It’s how it always starts.
I’m a writer. My computer hard drive is an appropriate analogy for my current state. At the moment it’s blank. After a last brave joust with Netflix, it decided to give up the ghost, only to be revived by complete erasure of memory. My computer’s a new android. I am a new woman.
I turned 19 in May. The man at the liquor store reminded me as he looked at my ID.
“It was your birthday three days ago,” he said.
“Yeah.” I was aware.
In my passport picture I’m 14 and I look like I’ve just escaped from a nearby prison. Somehow, I’m still legally able to buy alcohol. I was buying a $10 bottle of wine to bring to my boyfriend’s hotel after his show. “Brian” (according to his name tag) asked me if I wanted to upgrade. In celebration of my almost two decades on Earth.
“This one will go nicely with a steak, or perhaps a light champagne instead? It’s only two dollars more.”
I stared at him blankly, wondering if there was anything that went particularly well with pizza. “I don’t have two more dollars.”
I’m a student. It’s a student joke. Actually, sir, I’m saving up to pay off my loans! Hilarious, I know.
He didn’t get it. I should have invited him to my birthday party. He could have brought the liquor. Or paid my tuition.
I left with my wine in a brown paper bag, feeling slightly more grown-up. It didn’t go very well with pizza, but I’m discovering that cheap Chardonnay doesn’t go well with much. Ah, adulthood.
I’m on the cusp of something. It’s a strange, mildly awful period of your life, this “cusp,” this transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s comparable to having your hard drive erased on your computer, except there’s no friendly Apple employee there to hold your hand.
This fall, I moved from Vancouver to Montreal, armed only with some hope and a down parka that weighed as much as me. When I told people in Vancouver that I was moving to Montreal, they nodded and told me how cool a city it was. They then told me how cool I was. I was now cool in relation to Montreal. I donned my Ray-Bans and nodded along at my own looming adulthood. How brave, they exclaimed. How adventurous! How young!
When I got off the plane in Montreal. I continued nodding at how grown-up I was. I had it under control. I was a cool girl in a cool city. I was going to be a writer. It was then that the uncertainty began to close in. I started to realize just how little I actually knew about being independent. No!, I screamed (in Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport). They didn’t tell me about this! They said growing up was fun.
That panic was a glimpse into what it would feel like over the coming 12 months. Becoming an adult is heartbreaking; you realize just how scary it is to be a human. This year I became aware of my own fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of fear. Yet among all that terror was a glimmer of bravery. I’d come this far. That was something. Being away from everything I’d ever known allowed me to discover what I had always known. I started to see who I was.
I say making the transition from being a child to an adult is like having your hard drive erased for a reason. When my computer crashed, I was the only person who could remember what was on it. When I got off the plane in Montreal, I was the only person who could remember who I was. There was no other proof. No years of friendship. No communal involvement. Nothing to tie me to the city except the thin soles of my Doc Martens.
It’s terrifying stuff, being that aware all of a sudden. Then I realized that being a teenager is not the in-between space. When you’re 16, you can have that heartbreak (sixth of a life crisis) and then eat all of your parents’ food. When you’re 19 and buying your own groceries, you end up eating a lot of Doritos. Doritos are cheap, and the cheese dust mixes nicely with your existential tears.
You’re a child, then there’s this crazy, confusing ordeal, then you’re an adult. You come out on the other side shot through with bills and overwhelmed by your own existence. I think I’ve arrived. Or at least I will, as soon as next month’s rent is paid.
After year one of real (adult) life, I’ve found a cheap bottle of wine, a whack of good friends and a little more wisdom. I live in a house in Montreal. I have a pet fish named Steve. Sometimes I go to coffee shops with my boyfriend and we sit and write and maybe I cry a little because that’s an acceptable thing to do when you’re a cool girl living in a cool city.
I’ve arrived here, at the beginning. I think I may have found my direction. I’m starting to feel comfortable with this fragile certainty. I know that all too soon, something new will shake up. Is this what it’s like to be an adult? Beginning after beginning? Dorito after Dorito? Untitled document after untitled document?
I’ll keep you posted. Maybe it’s time for a title.
Rhiannon Collett lives in Montreal.