Saturday, July 19, 2014

Always the Bride's Boy, Never the Bride

The alarm on my phone went off. The alarm wasn't so much an "alarm" as it was "Black Velvet". You know, that song by Alannah Myles that was huge in the 90's? I love that song. There are few things I enjoy more than belting out the chorus to that song while I drive down the road with my windows rolled down; sunshine warming my skin, the wind blowing my hair and my voice straining to sound as soulful as Alannah. Except the only sunshine here was the sun creeping in from the blinds covering the window. It was Sunday, July 6th, 2014 and I was 24 years old.

I sat up and checked my phone. It was 6:02 am and I was in a hotel room surrounded by sleeping women. Before you get too excited, I should point out that I was in town for a bachelorette party and the women in the room were the fellow bridal party members and the bride. That's right- I was a Bride's Boy in one of my best friend's wedding, a title that I am so honored/excited/touched to have held that I might put it on my resume'. I tried to pull myself together and figure out what was going on with my life. Alcohol had been aggressively consumed the previous night (at least on my part), but I was sober enough to know that I had an 8 hour drive across the state, back to my house where my family was waiting to celebrate my birthday with me. As soon as my headache subsided enough to get my footing, I gathered my belongings and slipped out the door. I dropped my good friend off at her house and I swung by Starbucks for coffee and breakfast. Starbucks on my birthday had slowly become a tradition of mine. I had gone every birthday since I turned 21 for a birthday coffee and today would be no different. I got my coffee and I was off on the road.

I hate when it's my birthday and people ask me, "How does it feel to be 24?" or "Do you feel any different?", as if the stroke of midnight hits and you suddenly have this life-altering experience. Except, while engaging in some much needed self-reflection on this drive, I realized that I did feel different. I felt many things. On a literal level, I felt hungover. On a spiritual and emotional level, I felt closure. I felt as if a period of my life had come to an end. The Bradley Story, Chapters 0-23 had been volume 1 of my memoir and I felt like I was embarking on a new volume of my life. As I drove around mountains and over plains, I began to realize how redundant my life had been up until this point. I felt like I was a song that was being replayed over and over. I was predictable. Who am I? I am Bradley. I'm 24. I'm a Cancer. I'm a law student. I'm a son, brother, grandson, friend, nephew, etc... I love dogs. I love sushi. I sing loudly to the song playing, even though I don't know all of the lyrics. I'm a Democrat. I'm #ReadyForHillary. I'm gay. I'm funny. These are all labels; characteristics of me that collectively work to comprise me in my entirety. But as I drove the long drive home, I reflected on how predictable my life had become and, rather, how predictable I had become. I felt that I had started to settle into a role of normalcy- a role that was familiar and comfortable to both myself and the others in my life. I knew what to expect of myself, but so did everyone else. I was in a rut- constrained in a box of my self-imposed limitations and lackluster expectations and goals that I set out for achieve for myself. I felt typecast. I felt like I was only known for a few things, specifically that I am the funny gay guy is more comfortable being the sidekick instead of being the star. My stunted identity was warm and familiar- a blanket that I wrapped around myself constantly because it was safe.

Somewhere into hour 2 of my journey home, I had a panic attack. I'm 24 and I haven't lived my life. I'm almost a quarter of a century old, and what do I have to show for it? I've seen and done remarkable things. I've met incredible people. So why am I unhappy? Why am I feeling this way? Oh my god. That's it. I'm unhappy. I'm not satisfied. I'm displeased. There is more to life, right? There has to be more than just going through the motions. I wake up, I shower, go to school, study, come home, go to bed and repeat. I'm 1/4 of the way to being 100 and I'm doing the same damn thing over and over again. What am I doing?

I love the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love the wisdom on every page. As I continued my drive home, I began to think that maybe I needed my own Eat, Pray, Love experience. Maybe I need to experience life? Maybe I need to live? Maybe I need to go to Italy, India and Bali? One problem. I live in Springfield, Massachusetts, which ranked on the FBI's top 10 most dangerous cities to live in. I'm also a poor grad student who can't afford to travel. Then it hit me. I don't need an Eat, Pray, Love experience. I need an Eat, Gay, Love experience. Now that you've stopped laughing enough to continue reading, allow me to explain this rational.

Actually, there is no explanation. I thought it was a funny title because I'm gay. You caught me. I want my 24th year to be one of change and excitement- one of growth and achievement. For starters, I want to run a half marathon. 13.1 miles. I want to lose 27 lbs. I want want to learn to cook something amazing. I want to develop a authentic and meaningful relationship with someone. I want to cut back on alcohol consumption. I want to look and feel better. I want volunteer more. I want to be an advocate for LGBT rights. I want to help get Hillary Clinton elected President. I want to excel at school make my dreams come true. I want 24 to be a pivotal year for me. I want to make this count. I don't want to go through the motions anymore. I want to walk through life instead of being dragged through it. I want to be....happy. I don't need to travel to be happy. I need to work on myself to be happy.

What is happiness? I believe that happiness is a byproduct of divine intervention and willful effort on our part- it is what we choose to do (or choose not to do) with the opportunities and blessings placed in front of us. I don't fuck around with my blessings. I celebrate them. And I need to celebrate life. I need to celebrate myself. I need to become an active participant in life rather than a passive bystander.

So here I am. Two weeks into being 24, with a lot of work cut out for me. But I'm excited and I'm ready for the journey- the journey of Eat, Gay and Love- volume 2 of the Bradley Story.