today is my last day being 35. i have, for years, taken some time before a birthday to reflect on the past year and wonder about the year to come. i suppose other than focussing on the fact that i am hurtling dangerously into my late 30’s (writing this makes me break a sweat) that the thing that i have noticed about my life, is that there is a lot less anxiety, less wondering if things are going to be alright. less struggle, less fight. but this has happened in the last year and a half. and although wonderful (believe me, it is), it is hard to get used to. it would be like an animal who has lived in a cage its entire life suddenly being set free into the wilderness without the knowledge of what living in that wilderness is like. it is wonderful and terrifying. struggle has always just been the way it is. i was pretty sure it wasn’t the way it was for everyone, and i hoped that it wouldn’t be the way it always was, but i became very good at sheltering myself from destructive or unproductive thoughts. the way it could be. the way it was for others. so it was fight until, by some miracle, the war was over, never knowing if and when that would happen.

i moved out young. i was 15. i worked my way through the last couple of years of high school, training 4 hours a day and working towards a scholarship in track and field. i got good marks. i worked hard. i went to school during the day, trained after school into the evenings and worked on weekends. at a track meet my senior year i was doing 8 events in 2 days and practically collapsed after my last event. i was sick. i had mono and that meant i was out for the rest of the season and the scholarship i had been fighting for for 4 years was gone.

i worked my way through 7 years of post secondary education. i was a conscientious student. looking back, i am not sure how i did it, but i was determined. there was no can’t, there was only do. my friends were in similar situations. none of us came from money. we were all working a billion jobs, going to school and doing ok. on top of that, there was rent and bills and it was a constant fight to keep up. i felt like i was always waiting for a bill i couldn’t pay. i fought for years with hydro because they kept “estimating” my usage claiming they had no way to get into the building even though they had been given a key every time they’d asked. i fought the phone company who would charge me for extra services every month, just to make sure i was paying attention. it was exhausting. near the end i was working for a man (and i use the term loosely) who was the worst human being i had ever met. he was corrupt, greedy, immoral and i am pretty sure sociopathic. he was the result of overly supportive parents. he had an inflated sense of his own awesomeness, but he was a monster. he ran his clinic like a 5 year old who had been eating candy since 5 in the morning, had every toy he had ever wanted and had never heard the word NO. in between patients i would think about what i would do to him. i wanted to wait until after everyone had left for the day and shit on his desk being careful to have eaten a very spicy curry the night before.

but i left the war. but that wasn’t clear to me then.

things got really bad at one point. the breakup of a long term relationship, the death of a grandparent, my father coming back into my life under terrible circumstances, my best friend moving away and the loss of my mentor and confidant… all within months of each other. and suddenly, i was alone. alone in an apartment filled with things that reminded me of a time that no longer existed. like the past, taunting me in the present. i cried. i cried every day for a year. but still, i had to go to work. i went to work and helped people with their pain, all the while feeling that i would be consumed by my own. i woke up every morning and cried at the prospect of another day, went to work, then came home and cried myself to sleep. it was the longest year of my life.

my friend, seeing my pain would show up at my apartment with baked goods, and force me to get into the car and drive me around to try to pull me out of my despair. she understood. she had been in the war as long as i had, she knew it well. it was hard for her to watch. it was close. too close.

and then, by some miracle, the pain i thought was infinite started to dissipate. there were spaces in between the sadness and it was no longer a constant state. and then, something happened. i came back to myself. and i tried to remember who i was. i realized that i had not been LIVING life, i had been letting life wash over me, trying not to drown. i was reacting to life, rather than living it. life would happen, and i would deal with it, rather than taking life by the balls and living the fuck out of it.

i started remembering what it was like to dream. to want. to hope. i rode my bicycle around in the middle of the night. it was so quiet, and the energy was so good in the city at night. i discovered parts of the city i had never seen. i sat in parks, took my shoes off and walked in the grass. i became AWARE of the world i had been living through instead of IN. i could see auras around living things, hear the hum of life. i was alive.

i met a really sweet boy who helped me to heal my heart. the heart i thought would remain shards, unrecognizable as an organ of love, just a pile of broken glass sitting in my chest. we held hands and walked in parks. he lived in another city, but the times we saw each other were good. innocent. clean. there wasn’t a lot of speaking, just being. enjoying simply being, basking in each others light.

i was healing. little by little, i was feeling more whole. i was no longer feeling like the sadness was so oppressive that i might die. i wanted to live. life was better.

i had always wanted to live abroad. not just for the adventure of it, but because i had never felt like the city i had grown up in was home. nowhere had felt like home. one could argue that when you have never had any stability in your life that this is going to contribute to your feelings of safety and would cause your sense of “home” to be, well, retarded. and yes, that is true. whatever the reasons, i had never felt at home there. i often wondered if there was a place that i could go and when i arrived, this feeling would wash over me. a feeling i had never felt, but would instantly recognize. like, “yes! this is it! i am HOME.”

and that was it. this had been something i had been feeling my whole life. as soon as i started thinking about it, it was like my entire being started wrapping itself around the idea, and wouldn’t let it go. the thought created such a feeling of happiness in my being that i knew it was right. there had been this quote that i have loved for as long as i can remember (i am a total quote whore), and it came back to me then. it became a sort of mantra. it is this:

the important thing is this: to be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

damn. that was it. that was IT.

so, i left the war. i took off my fatigues, the boots, the blood stained socks. the rounds of ammunition hanging from my body. the backpack, the guns, grenades, the knives and bullets. i washed the mud off my face, bandaged up the blisters on my feet and i walked away. i got on a plane and started the life i wanted to be living. and it took losing everything, to have everything i could have ever imagined.

so now, as i look back at everything that has made me who i am in these past 35 years, i am grateful. because if it were not for those experiences, i would never have come to the place where i had lost everything so that i had the courage to hurl myself into the unknown for a chance at everything. and that it exactly what i got.