Today, she’s eighteen


Kennedy Mikel

At Nonna’s Trattoria for one of my best friend’s birthdays a week ago

As a kid, when time was a concept too elusive for my little fingers to grasp, I always knew I could start talking about my birthday when the grocery store aisles overflowed with cheesy reminders of love—hearts and chocolates and everything you can imagine in pinks and reds.

I was born an hour and 53 minutes after Valentine’s Day ended, saving my mother from having the Valentine’s baby she didn’t want, but not saving her from the association that would always be drawn in my mind. 

“When’s your birthday?” has always been answered by, “February 15th, the day after Valentine’s Day.” And eighteen years later, I literally did not shut up for two weeks about how excited I was for February 14th, because my first birthday gift ever was the pink thread that ties my birthday and Valentine’s Day together.

But this year, I spent my first Valentine’s Day encompassed in a love that’s not so platonic, and simultaneously, I spent my first Valentine’s Day grieving.

Today, February 15th, I turn eighteen. 

For weeks, the thought of eighteen has left me feeling cut open, vulnerable to the cold gaze of uncertainty. Seven days ago, I promised myself I’d write a poem every day for a week leading up to eighteen, and I did, surprising myself not only at my dedication, but also at the way those poems were distinctly broken. 

And all day yesterday, I felt far from ready. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA played through my headphones as I walked through the halls from my second hour to my third hour, and as “young and sweet, only seventeen,” echoed through my mind for a time too high to count, I felt a little piece of my heart break. 

But it’s 1:01 a.m. on February 15th, and that piece of my heart doesn’t feel so broken anymore.

My best friend reminded me in a text, on her eighteenth birthday four days ago that, “We were twelve when you said you wanted to be an adult already, and I was fourteen when I joined you with that sentiment, and guess what? We’re adults now. We did it.”

And I didn’t think that’d be the thing to make me cry on my birthday, but a switch flipped, and I’m sobbing in my room, eighteen years old, not at all alone because my best friend just picked up my phone call at 1:07 a.m. And she’s right. We did it.

I did it. 

And I’m proud of the girl who made it here—proud of the poems that she’s been writing all week that she told her therapist about today, proud of the light that she emerged into from every patch of shadows, proud of the things I stand for and the person I’m becoming. 

I want to take the hand of every version of myself that wondered if I’d ever make it here, saw eighteen as a pastel smear on the horizon. I want to tell her that she’s going to be okay. 

To the little girl in a red shirt, leaning over her hand-painted ceramic bowl filled with strawberry shortcake, waiting to blow out the six-shaped candle: that ceramic bowl is going to break someday, but you’ll move past it, grow from it. You don’t think you’re very strong right now, but I promise you, you will be someday.

To the little girl who preferred talking over writing: someday, people will read your stories. The very words that you have too many of right now will become just enough to say what you need to. You will be just enough, not too much for the right people or the right places. 

To the little girl who couldn’t quite call anyone her best friend: your people are just as important as your words, and they love you unconditionally. They understand you, understand you when you worry you’re too much, understand you when you read them the things you’ve written, understand you when you need help and can’t ask for it, understand you when you hesitate before driving through intersections, understand you when you simply can’t be alone.

To every version of myself, abounding energy bottled up in a small package, loved by so many in ways you can’t understand: today you’re eighteen.

We did it.