I turned 21 years old yesterday. It passed quietly: I sat by the sea and let the rain drift over me like mist. I ate mango cake and introduced my father to electric lighters. I took 2 milligrams of melatonin at 10pm and knocked out before midnight.

The day was memorable not because I got a year older, or because I can now legally buy alcohol and cigarettes and rent a car, but because it was the first day in as long as I can remember where I didn’t want to die.

I’d forgotten this feeling, for which hope is too strong of a word. There is just this sense of—not knowing. If I had to choose a word, it might be weightless.

I’m realizing, slow as water, slow as molasses, that we don’t have to live in the world we inherited. We can accept it and take everything that was beautiful and painful and strange and say, Hey, thank you. And then leave the rest where it belongs, buried somewhere off the trail.

The strangest part of the miracle is that nothing really happened. No near death experiences, no lightning strikes. Everything that took place, took place within the confines of my own brain. Just a few neurons firing in slightly different manner than they’re accustomed to. That is probably a gross misrepresentation of how the brain works.

We were driving back on 280, everyone wrung out and withdrawn into our own worlds, me most of all. I watched the speedometer. The temperature rose a degree for every mile south we drove.

The cuts on my arms itched under my shirt, and it hit me suddenly: twenty-one means it’s been ten years since I started cutting myself.

An entire decade of trying to die. Failing. Trying again. I have worked at this longer and harder than I have worked at anything else in life, and after ten years—I’m tired.

I’m tired of this feeling, like I’m already dead, and what’s here on earth is the aftermath. I’m not dead. I’m still breathing and shitting and paying too much for coffee in every major coastal city in America. I’m still writing. I’m still sinking my feet into the grass and listening to the crickets and thinking to myself, It wasn’t all bad.

The mist was gone by then. Only sky, a vast, uninterrupted blue. And I had this single thought:

I don’t want to want to die anymore.

I don’t really know where it came from. I just knew the second I thought it that it was true. Maybe it had occurred to me in bits or pieces before: when the sun glinted on the surface of the lake, when the wind blew so powerfully it reminded me of flying. But that was the first time it had ever appeared like that, fully formed, in my mind. The first time it was a thought I could hold onto.

I’ve been, at best, ambivalent about living since I was four years old. It’s no one’s fault, not really. Every immigrant kid (every human being?) has a history that leaves them somewhere from slightly dysfunctional to irreparably damaged. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, don’t immigrate. Your kids will end up sad forever.

Someone once told me, You can drive any man to suicide if you convince him that nothing ever changes. When the present and past are unbearable, we live for possibility.

I never got the chance to believe in possibility. Ever since I was old enough to have a past, I thought I would never outlive it. My choices in life then came down to being miserable, or being alone (and still miserable, but in a way that I could endure). I continued to live largely out of some misplaced notion of strength, and in the moments when my strength faltered off, my light flew all on its own.1

If I truly believe that all there is to life is choosing between different forms of unhappiness. That there is no timeline in which I will ever be remotely okay with myself and the choices I made. If I am certain of this—then I should actually kill myself. I have nothing to lose by dying.

But I haven’t killed myself. Ten years, and I’m still here. Shitting, breathing, writing. Which must mean—that I’m not certain. Not yet. I suspect, I fear, I speculate— but I don’t actually know.

I don’t know the future. I don’t know anything at all, really. And it’s funny how a statement that simple—I don’t know—is actually enough.

It turns out, you don’t need to believe that things will get better. You don’t need to believe that pain ever goes away. You don’t need to believe that you will one day be happy or at peace or surrounded by all your grandkids on your deathbed as you look back and say, It’s a wonderful life, or Rosebud, or whatever white people say when they pass from this life to the next.

All you need is that glimmering sense in the back of your mind that says, I don’t know.

No–more than that. I can’t know. No one can ever know.

We’re just tiny ants in the random chaos of this universe. We hardly know anything about ourselves, let alone each other, let alone the future and love and death and other worlds. Other universes.

Everything in human history—the good and the bad, the sublime and terrifying, the mundane and no less terrifying—is all still, technically, possible.

And if everything is still possible, even on the slimmest of technicalities—then I already know what I’m going to do.

Fuck it, we roll.

The planet is warming at an ever faster rate, life’s hard as shit even when it’s stupidly easily, and maybe it never gets any easier than this—but fuck it, we roll.

Maybe that’s the answer to all of this—to realize that you have no idea what will come next, and live anyway. To just immigrate, and trust that your kids will survive the sadness. That no one is ever irreparably damaged.

I’m the most stubborn person I know. Once I decide on something, nothing can make me compromise before I change my own mind. I know how to follow through, I just have to make the decision.

So here it is. I decided. I’m going to live. I’m rolling.

I’m going to grow up and be an old, bitter hag who drinks too much coffee and has rotting teeth and racks up overdue fines at the local library and resents everyone who got married and had children and sometimes I’ll be lonely and sometimes I won’t. I’ll get a dog and love it to bits, and when it dies, I’ll be sad forever, and then get another dog and give it the exact same name because I never learned to let go of the past. And in the moments when it’s not shitty and hard, it’ll be good. It will be mine. Or maybe I won’t do these things. Maybe I’ll stop hating every man I meet and settle down and learn my manners and my children will speak better Chinese than I do. And I’ll resent them for taking my dreams away, but never more than I love them. I could be content or I could be miserable or I could end up like most people, somewhere in between. I have no fucking clue.

I’m just looking at the universe and saying, Hey, God, show me what you got. My eyes are peeled, my head is tipped back in wonder. Show me the worst version of life and the worst version of myself. Or don’t. Show me love. Show me death. I’m still a child. I still want to see it all.

I’m twenty one years old, and I don’t want to die anymore.

  1. Ada Limón, Field Bling.