A manhole cover jutting out of the side of a hill isn’t exactly a glamorous place to sit and ponder the questions of the world. I’ve been coming here since I was thirteen and this is the place that my feet always seem to have me find again.
I remember sitting in this place when I was still newish in the world. Now, newly thirty, I’m here again. The big three zero seemed like such an unattainable age when I was thirteen. It wasn’t an age to focus on, not when my sweet sixteen was only a few years away, and after that all the fun coming of age birthdays that would follow. Now as I sit in this familiar spot 17 years later, I long to grasp onto the child that ran away from me too fast.
Depression and an abusive mother made me grow up before my time. I won’t go into too much about what I faced, not because I don’t like to talk about it, but because at this point none of it seems original. At thirteen it was easy to think that I was the only girl in the world who had my problems, but since then I’ve learned how common they really are. Back then my mental health issues led me down a path that no one could have prepared me for. One that some people don’t come back from. That is probably one of the things I wish I could tell my teenage self the most. To look up and see that I wasn’t the only person I knew who thought about ending my own life, I wasn’t even the only person who made attempts. It was just so much easier to think that I was alone because the truth is if I had seen someone else on a similar path I probably couldn’t have helped them. I’ve been treading the dark paths of depression for longer than I care to think about and at thirty all I have to show for it is my life.
I was one of the lucky ones: I came back. Not every teen who deals with similar issues can say the same, their voices silenced by their own hands. I made it to thirty when the world seemed to fall apart around me, but then again what teenager doesn’t think their world is on the edge of ruin on a daily basis? Sometimes I long for the small things that seem like crises when I was a teen. A bad haircut, or getting rejected by my crush would be welcome escapes from major stressors like making sure I have enough money to pay my rent, crippling student loan debt or more serious things like the decaying state of the world.
I’m still here and I give a lot of credit for that to my friends. There have been plenty over the years, some who have come and gone, and some that remain. They all helped me in their own way, even if they aren’t around for me to thank. My friends are the answer to pretty much any question in my life. They are the reason that I’m even able to sit under the stars contemplating and philosophizing like the Emo teen I never was. Looking back I can realize how truly lucky I was and still am to have people in my life who would stretch their hand down to me. They reach out to me in whatever hell I am going through and when they can’t pull me up, they join me instead.
So, what would make a relatively sane women sit in the cold in just leggings, a short sleeve T-shirt, and a hoodie? Let me tell you, as a relatively sane woman, I can explain myself.
I was looking for some clarity. The raised drain where I’m currently perched has served as the setting for many nights like this and many realizations. However, tonight on this metal cover sticking out of a hill at a school I matriculated through, my mind won’t be at peace. I look at the stars, feel the cold starting to numb my fingers and take another breath. Maybe the clarity I am searching for is closer than I realize.
My thirtieth birthday was probably one of the best I’ve ever had. My mother and one of my best friends conspired to throw me a small surprise party, something I’ve always wanted. My mom kept apologizing that it wasn’t a grander affair, but it was actually perfect. The friends who cared about me the most were there, and that was all I really needed. The dread I thought I would feel at turning thirty never came, and I was finally able to realize that my life is far from over. That is enough to keep me going, the realization that I have more time to make mistakes, memories and other things other people might take for granted.
It’s cold and by now it’s nearly two in the morning. I glance once more out over the fields sparkling with diamond studded dew and at the sentinel stars, silently spread above my head and get up from my perch. I glide along the asphalt sea towards the school, mirroring steps I took as a girl. I see the number 1997 on the building, the school’s first year. I was 8 at the time, just starting 3rd grade in the shiny new building two blocks from my house. If I went inside, I would still be able to find my old rooms. Some people might see that as an inability to let go, but I see it as cataloging where I’ve been. The relentless march of time never ends and so I just try to hold on, while not letting go of the important things that have helped shape me.
I walk toward my parent’s house and I breathe in the ice like night air. That is what I told my parents I was going out for, air, so I might as well get my fill. I walk slowly, my head thrown back, taking in the moon and the clear sky. As I reach the front porch, another moment of clarity hits me.
Man learned how to chart the stars and I learned how to map where I’ve been. I’m thirty now, and lucky enough to know what I want out of life. I’m in Grad school chasing after my dream of being a writer, I’m not stuck living in my parent’s basement and I have people surrounding me who will cheer me on no matter what I do. I can see where I’ve been and while I might not know where I’ll go next, at least that old manhole cover will be there for me when I need to figure it out.