I wake up shivering under two fleece blankets, annoyed that I have to get out of bed to turn up the thermostat. I flick on a light. Shit. No light.
“Hey, I think the power is out here. Do you know if it’s the whole building?” I message my Airbnb host.
On Twitter, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has announced rolling blackouts lasting ten to fifteen minutes each, but people are already complaining that they haven’t had heat for eight hours. I am still hopeful that “rolling” means the power will come back soon. I put on two sweaters, sweatpants over thick leggings, a knit beanie, and two pairs of socks.
“I’ll make some hot oatmeal,” I think, before realizing that the stove is also electric. I venture into the kitchen where, I swear, the wind gusts through the walls like I’ve stepped into a vast, snowy tundra. I retrieve the chocolate-espresso cupcake I bought the night before and scurry back to bed to eat it.
It is my birthday, after all.
I was born on February 15. My mother doesn’t remember what time. This means two things: I can’t do a proper star chart, and I have the worst birthday. Being born the day after Valentine’s Day seems like evidence that my existence is in a cosmic battle with love, and I lose every year.
The year I burst into tears while walking home from a perfectly nice birthday party because of a boy who didn’t show me real affection for years.
As I wept openly, a passing stranger remarked, “Looks like someone had fun.”
“The fuck is your problem?” I barked.
They apologized, and I ended up tagging along with them from Williamsburg to the West Village to go to a specific gay bar that turned out to be closed so we went to McDonald’s.
We were headed home when we jumped into a cab with a beautiful man and invited ourselves over to his condo in Brooklyn Heights where we both unsuccessfully attempted to throw ourselves at him.
In the morning, I crawled home, too exhausted to cry anymore.
The year I got into a screaming fight with my ex in the middle of the road because of interpretive dance.
After a year of living like a cloistered nun, I chose to spend my 35th birthday in Austin, Texas because I wanted sunshine and tacos. Instead, I got a record-breaking winter storm that left millions of people without heat, electricity, or water.
Thankfully, I have everything I need to survive: six external battery chargers, a bagful of HotHands, plenty of food, and a three-season tent. When I packed my car for a ten-month road trip across the US, I imagined I would be using these things under starry skies during breezy summer nights.
I set up the tent on top of my bed and hunker down. Thanks to the advice of friends and the very helpful people of Yahoo Answers, I figure out my next steps: Drape the windows and outside-facing walls with whatever towels, sheets, and clothes I'm not wearing. Move the bed to the center of the room. Put the rain fly on the tent-- it makes a surprising difference. Collect water in every pot and bowl I can find while it's still dribbling.
For the next three days, I hibernate inside that cozy tent, clinging to the glow of my phone's screen. The steady stream of “Happy birthday!” and “Are you still alive?” messages keeps me buoyant.
There's something thrilling about playing survivalist. I say "playing" because I am not in real danger. I have a car with a full tank of gas and enough money that I could get a hotel room in a neighboring state, but I decide it would be more dangerous to drive on the icy roads. The truth is, I want to tough it out. I like the way my attention snaps to the most essential. I get to prove that I am capable of taking care of myself. I feel like a grown-ass adult.
Thirty-five seems to me the year at which a person is no longer considered young, only young for. Young for a senator. Very young for a grandmother. Too young for death.
My conception of a default, neither-young-nor-old, adult is someone between thirty-five and fifty-five with a mortgage, a kid, or some career accomplishment that justifies not having the other two.
If life were a multiple choice test, I’d have to scrawl in, “D: None of the above, but I’ve lived, man.”
In a video call, two friends agree that thirty-five is our first year of not-young.
“But I’m going to amend that,” says the lawyer. “Now I think it’s actually thirty-six. Especially since 2020 doesn’t count.”
Both those friends got married during the pandemic. One also got pregnant and bought a house. 2020 definitely counts.
It’s only as I embark on not-young that I realize I have been young all my life. I’m not quite sure how to be anything else. I suppose that’s true for everyone. Each age is new to you no matter how long you live. Every year is a revelation.
The week prior to the Great Texas Snowpocalypse, I matched with someone on Tinder who gave good banter. We met for tacos a few days before the storm, and we continued texting throughout it.
When he offers to walk over and hang out, I don't hesitate at the promise of a warm body. By the third frigid day without power, I've stopped caring about COVID. One potentially life-threatening crisis at a time, please.
I send a screenshot of his profile to a friend.
“If I get murdered today, this is the guy who’s coming over now.”
“He looks exactly like a guy you would meet in Austin,” she replies.
We stand in the living room, bundled in our winter coats.
"Do you want to, um, see the tent on the bed?" I ask.
With two bodies inside, the tent heats up quickly. Our chatter generates a rapid-fire energy, spiraling off into stories and asides that branch and connect and loop back around. After a few hours, the air is thick with breath and sweat.
"I should get back before the sun sets," he says finally.
He lets in the freezing air as he exits. The tent turns damp with condensation. The blue of twilight makes the cold feel colder.
I go out to the car to warm up. On the way, a neighbor in a cowboy hat invites me to a fire he started in the parking lot. Folks gather around a barbecue grill burning scavenged logs and cardboard beer cases. I wonder if the plastic coating on the boxes affects the toxicity of the smoke as I scarf down the grilled fish they offer. One life-threatening crisis at a time.
Most of these neighbors don’t know each other so I feel at home among the introductions. When I tell them I just turned thirty-five, they insist I look their age. One twenty-five-year old leans into me and shouts, “I can’t believe it! Asian women age so well! So well!” again and again until I tell him that's racist.
A girl with a sweet smile talks about hitchhiking in Washington. Another plays songs by Portishead and Sublime that were already a decade old when I burned them onto my high school CDs. At some point, a guy wearing a faux-fur coat announces that his buddy is bringing coke, and the night hardens with the edge of anticipation. It’s a strange comfort to know that twenty-five-year olds don’t change.
“This is so great! We should do this every weekend!”
That is the refrain we sing around the parking lot bonfire, and we mean it at the time.
When I am awakened at 3am by shouting outside the window, my first thought is, “Dammit, those kids are all coked up and causing a ruckus.”
Then I realize the light is on. The power has returned. I holler too.