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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

Opinion | It’s my 21st birthday, and I’ll cry if I want to

Opinion+%7C+It%E2%80%99s+my+21st+birthday%2C+and+I%E2%80%99ll+cry+if+I+want+to
Izzy Poth | Staff Illustrator

Behind the sweaty gyrating bodies of people who don’t care whether the birthday girl lives or dies is a hallway leading to heavily graffitied public restrooms. Inside is a stall occupied by a girl who lied and is not taking a shit –– even though she has IBS and has heard that alcohol shits are, in fact, a very real thing. Instead, she is sitting on the toilet, temple against the stall’s wall, crying into her fist to muffle her sobs. A dripping mess, she fears smearing her makeup by wiping away her tears, swiping at the snot pooling above her upper lip. 

She wants to gather herself. She really does. But whenever she opens her phone to find solace in distraction, she is met with her most recent screen — Venmo, which shows her most recent transaction from her long-distance best friend, reading, “Birthday shot BITCH!!!!!”

It’s Aquarius season, which means I’ve had a birthday since I last published a column. I have always been a part of the club of people that cry on their birthday. On my 17th birthday, I realized that one day my parents would die. At 18, I lost my grandmother. My 19th birthday was my first spent away from home. 20 was a bid goodbye to my teens. Now, at 21, I must confront one of the most daunting notions yet –– that I may never live up to my own expectations.

The funny thing is that I love my birthday and anticipate it all year long. The day before I turned 21, I began with a seemingly minor setback — the dress I had ordered to wear to my birthday celebration had its delivery delayed and wouldn’t arrive until the day after I planned to wear it. Then, after being late to my first commitment of the day, missing my bus and realizing I forgot to do an assignment, I made a joke that didn’t land — the straw that broke the camel’s back. At that moment, I walked myself into the staircase of the William Pitt Union and unleashed the tears I had been holding in since I’d woken up. Everything I tried to do to fix my mood had backfired, leaving me to wonder why I felt I had any right or agency to control my circumstances when everything I tried clearly wasn’t working. It was a bad day. My best friend came to console me, and together, we decided I should skip my classes and take a mental health day.

I am incredibly lucky. I have friends I can be honest with and know will help me get through hard times. I also had the good sense to begin processing my difficult emotions before my birthday, leaving the day itself relatively unscathed by the sourness of self-resentment. I would actually say that my 21st birthday was perfect in the most stereotypical way.

Milestones are scary. Like, so scary. There is an immense amount of pressure on this snapshot of your life — what it looks like and what it means about your capability for success as a whole. 21 is the last birthday that celebrates you for your youth, your novelty, your potential. The day before I turned 21, I felt like I was failing at literally everything.

It’s also important to note that I had legal access to alcohol for the first time ever, and I drank every night for three days. I wasn’t using it to cope — I had engagements to attend to — but, man, it would have been easy to do that. The event of turning 21 is entirely centered around drinking, meaning for someone that needed a good excuse, it would be so easy to play it off as debauchery when in reality it’s more “I will drink because it’s the thing I’m supposed to do, and at this point in my life, I’m desperate to know what I’m supposed to do.”

Especially in moments when we ache for separation from our unwanted realities, alcohol is an attractive option. It’s nothing novel — you’re you with fewer inhibitions and less self-consciousness, a languid blob rather than a frazzled wreck. But that euphoria will always come to an end. Suddenly you’ll be 21, puking behind a dumpster, wondering who would be holding your hair back if you just respected yourself a little bit less.

Sad Person Birthday Culture™ combined with excessive and unrestricted access alcohol begs you to forget your sorrows! I had eight drinks on my 21st birthday, and every last one of them was bought for me — there is this passive opportunity for substance abuse to occur that no one is talking about. A night of wild and carefree celebration can only be that if you have enough self-awareness to check in with yourself and recognize when more than debauchery is riding on that next drink.

If I hadn’t started to deal with my shit before then, I would likely have been drinking to drown out the noise of my own mind. Change is scary and avoidance won’t replace processing. It’s better to cry than to drink for the wrong reasons.

Getting older is a privilege. Your birthday is a time to celebrate another conquered year while you prepare for the challenges of the next one, but don’t let the emotion of the night hold you hostage. Know your limits. Know yourself. Be smart and be safe. You’re 21, and the world has decided that you’re officially a grown-up. It’s time to face the music and let out those tears.

Gabriela Herring is an English writing major with minors in English literature and secondary education. She mostly writes about things that her friends (and her mom) are tired of hearing her talk about. Write to her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Gabriela Herring, Staff Columnist
Gabriela Herring is an English Writing major with minors in English Literature and Secondary Education. She mostly writes about things that her friends (and her mom) are tired of hearing her talk about. Write to her at [email protected].