I awoke with a case of ‘bird-brain’. No, I am note referring to my squirrel-like attention span or my too-often ditzy moments (which due to the language barrier, thankfully go unnoticed quite often), but to an actual case of the densest bird alive. This feathered fiend has been flying into my window every single morning for the past four months, a heavy thump indicating his first full-bodied attempt, followed by a series of sharp, hollow clacks, his efforts to peck his way through the glass into my humble abode. Thump, clack-clack-clack. I groggily adjusted my sleep-laden hair as nature’s dimmest alarm clock persisted outside, delivering his scheduled series of blows to my window.
March 5th- today was my birthday. I began the celebration by brushing the teeth of my now 22-year old body, settled into a state of comfortable routine rather than excitement with the day ahead. 22 is one of those ages that’s really not too stirring in terms of birthdays. The exhilaration of legally consuming alcohol has now worn off, you’re old enough that society expects you to support yourself, but you still possess your youthful naivety and cluelessness about the world. Your personal motto: Maybe I’ll have things figured out by [insert next year’s age]. The only bragging right that any 22 year old can boast is the ability to accurately follow Taylor Swift’s musing of “I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ 22”, which, given my current state, should truly be changed to, “I don’t know about you, but I am 22 with the boundless energy of a 4 year old, the facial appearance of a 16 year old, and the mental anxiety of a 47 year old in the thralls of his midlife crises”, but the tune to that probably wouldn’t carry as nicely. I suppose if you average all of those numbers together they come out to approximate 22, so maybe Taylor Swift was right after all.
Anyway, my 22 year old feet dragged my 22 year old body to my bird-brain infested room, where my 22 year old fingers and 22 year old hands accessed my email account, phase 2 of my morning routine, as my 22 year old eyes were greeted with the first email of my birthday, my Fulbright ETA Application Status. My 22 year old heart pounded its heavy footfalls into my sternum, accompanied by the steady clacking of the bird-brain outside as I opened the email, prepared to have either the best or the worst birthday of my life. My freshly brushed 22 year old teeth, clamped down in anxiety, let a small squeal escape as I read over the first line, “Congratulations!”. I had been selected as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia [be on alert for a There and Back Part 2]. Suddenly, 22 wasn’t looking so dull after all. After jumping up and down and girlishly squealing more than I care to admit, I called my sister and parents to share the exciting news (and so that they could simultaneously lavish me with birthday wishes, as well). Indonesia…..Indonesia….Indonesia, the words gleefully pranced from the vault of my heart, their rainbow, ribboned streaks hungrily exploding in my mind, their aftershock escaping from the giant smile formed on my face as I finished up my breakfast and headed to the morning assembly.
I floated across the field, making my way to the flag pole as I was amassed by a joyful mob of sugar-frenzied kindergartners, delivering me my morning hug. A dozen wiggling hugs, a few lessons, and one cowboy walk later (I hosted a Wild West lesson in kindergarten, and my cowboy walk happened to be the highlight of the day, with a bouncing room of 5 year olds cowboy walking like they had just pooed their pants) I was back to the flag pole, soccer ball in hand. I was immediately greeted by my sweating unit of 5th through 8th grade boys, the generous hosts of my soccer session. After a quick three minute trial during which I had accidentally kicked two students, tripped a third, and kicked a ball into a fourth boys face, I was politely placed in the goalie net (“Teacher, come!” *points to net*), where I could inflict the minimal amount of damage possible. Prancing around in the net (not because I was extremely engaged in the game, but simply because it was barefoot soccer and the concrete field was HOT), observing the intricate, quickly-timed passes of the ball, the deliberate, calculated dance of the students as they sped down the field, I was finally greeted with the chance to earn my spot on the team as the black and white globe whizzed its way towards me, meeting resistance as I blocked it (rather painfully) with my chest. Met with a simultaneous call of “Sorry, teacher!” and a few impressed stares from my teammates, I returned with a small crab-like victory dance, the wide, impressed eyes quickly disappearing. A calculated jump. A solid thump as the ball passes to another member. A swift, considered glance as a student carefully aims his shot at the net. A hollow SMACK as I block the ball again. Three hours later, reddened from the steady collisions with the soccer ball (embarrassed by the occasional misses), it was determined that I actually wasn’t a terrible goalie. During my time in the net I hadn’t injured any students (or myself) and I had been moderately successful at blocking the ball (this may have more to do with my size than my skill level. Our soccer nets are both student sized and Asian-sized, meaning that I could essentially curl up and fall asleep in the net and still possess a body-mass size sufficient enough to block about 65% of the shots). The summer sun finally growing unbearable underneath our feet, we decided to wrap up for the day (I was invited to the subsequent days soccer sessions, as well) and after downing about 2 dozen glasses of water, I hit the showers, prepared my lessons for the next day, did a little happy dance as I thought of Indonesia, and got ready to go out to dinner with the teachers.
As a birthday surprise, all of the teachers at my school took me out for Korean barbeque in the city. The sizzling grills, the heavy smell of charcoal and grilled meats, the sharp bite of red chili sauce, and of course, creamy vanilla and tart lime ice-cream (ฉันรักไอติม – ‘I love ice cream’) to top it all off. Stomach happily filled with grilled meats and ice cream, surrounded by my Thai family, dreaming of Indonesia, the teachers only added to my already-perfect birthday by presenting me with a birthday card. Carefully planned English characters, waxy crayon hearts, and images of birthday cakes adorn the entire facade of the mint green card, but what is most beautiful is the significance of the words themselves. “May this birthday be the beginning of the best years of your life”. Who says 22 has to be drab? I refuse to let a Taylor Swift song be the highlight of my palindromic age. I am living the unplanned life- I have failed at 99.8% of the actions that I intended to do post-university, but that implosion of my life’s plan (and the subsequent mental breakdowns that have followed) has opened the door to a world of adventure. I have lived, I have tried, I have struggled, I have failed, and I have soared.
I refuse to let failure and rejection dampen my energy and my passion. I am 22 years old and I plan to fail, a lot. Through failure I have learned that I am not alone, that I have a support system all around the world who will serve as my shoulder to cry on, who will finish that pint of Ben and Jerry’s with me. Through failure I have learned to accept the absurdities and seeming unfairness of life and to accept myself. Life is chaotic. I am flawed. But I plan to use every ounce of stubbornness and energy that I have to better myself and the world around me. Through failure, I have learned that there is no such thing as dreams, for my dreams are now my reality. If you had told me one year ago that I would be living in Thailand and moving to Indonesia, I would have taken you to a nearby hospital and patiently checked you into their monochromatic sea-foam green mental ward, because according to my plan, I was going to graduate school. Through failure I have accomplished the greatest adventures of my life. I have ridden elephants and fed wild monkeys, I have played cowboys and astronauts with kindergartners whose only known English sentences are ‘I am happ-EEEEEEEYYYYYY’ and ‘How are you?’, I have given robes to a Buddhist monk, I have explored a volcano and the rainforests of Thailand, I have helped to harvest guava, I have discussed which superhero sidekick I would be with one of my Grade 5 English learners (He is Batman, I am Mystique from X-men. He wanted me to be “Egghead” at first, but I made him pick a real character), I have seen student’s faces light up when they are able to read an entire sentence on their own. I am 22, and I plan to make this Taylor-Swift song of an age the best year of my life. Bring on the adventure!