TGIF: On Turning 29

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Princess Di, guavas, first loves, finding my voice & showing up for life.

I am 29 today.

Twenty. Nine.

Two words that sound familiar and foreign, at once. Like if I were to eat a PB&J sandwich in Bangkok or Guam.

I am 3. I am in Dubai, home from school and begging my mother to let out our yellow-green lovebird out of its cage. I want to see it fly around the room. She succumbs. The bird flies right into the ceiling fan. Thud. I cover my eyes. It’s my fault. To this day, birds make me nervous. It’s like they know  …

I am 5. I am in India, my grandfather slices open a guava, sprinkles it with paprika and salt and offers me a piece. I remember the cool uneven tiles of the veranda under my feet as I chomp on the fruit. He is telling me stories about World War II and typewriters. He has the longest legs and the most animated eyes I’ve ever seen.

I am 6. It’s New Year’s Eve. My cheeks are grapefruit pink and my hair is moist from running around with my cousins. I hear music. I weave through the forest of adult legs until I find a clearing. Half-full glasses raised around the room. Everyone is swaying and mumbling along to Auld Lang Syne, or as I used to sing, “All my Enzymes, my dear. All my Enzymes …”

I am 8. I am standing in a lineup outside a confessional, waiting to take my ‘First Confession’. Kids around me are discussing what they are going to confess. Something about not doing their homework and pushing their little brother. My confession is big. Really big. I’m not even sure if it’s my sin. This is going to take longer than 5 minutes. Will Father Daniel tell my parents? My heart is racing. My stomach hurts. I no longer feel like a child.

I am 10. I am visiting my aunt who is a missionary nun in a little fishing community in South India. I’m swatting mosquitoes as we eat kanji (rice porridge) for dinner. I hate the food but I love the sound of the Indian Ocean. We wake up at dawn, pray and sing hymns for half an hour. We walk out onto the beach to see the fishermen push their boats out into the water and the silhouttes of their wives and children waving goodbye against the backdrop of a jaw-dropping sunrise. I want to be a nun. I feel safe and happy here.

I am 13. I am angry all the time and I don’t know why. Angst. I worship my Math teacher. He listens. He gets me. My mother asks me if I have a crush on him. I nearly punch a hole in the wall.

I am 14. I am on a school bus, singing Alanis Morissette’s Ironic in 3-part harmony at the top of my lungs with the girls from my choir. I really feel like we can change the world.

I am 15. I have the haircut from hell. The lady cutting my hair was distracted and chopped off 12 inches. I start crying. She scolds me, tells me she gave me a Princess Diana haircut. “Except I’m short, fat and have a unibrow!” I want to yell. I try out for the lead in the school’s annual production. “You don’t look the part … but you sound great!” they say.

I am 16. I write my first song with my best friend. It’s really good. I get braces. Eating hurts my jaw, so I get skinny. Boys suddenly pay attention to me. I get the lead role in the play.

I am 17. I leave Dubai for Vancouver. My dad drops me off at university. I’m scared out of my mind but I put on a brave front. I’m living with white people. They all look the same…goshdarnit!

I am 21. I am in Ontario, selling books door-to-door for a summer job. I’m armed with a map, a backpack and encyclopedias.  I come face-to-face with brokenness and humanity in lower-middle class families trying to live “the dream.” Leaves me raw. Single mothers working two jobs, neglected seniors, emotionally abusive parents, kids that crave validation, etc. 16 hours a day. 10 weeks. 2500 doors. 40 sales. You do the math. I’m defeated. I look at my dad differently. He is a salesman. A darn good one.

I am 22. I record a 14-song album in Dubai. Some of the songs play on the radio. My best friend and I have a falling out. She’s my oldest friend. The one who knew me before I needed a bra. *That* friend.  I stop singing. It hurts too much. I’ve lost my voice. Every time I open my mouth to sing, I cry.  I stop playing guitar. I study Television Broadcasting. I find my church. I’m finally home.

I am 23. I move back to Dubai and work in Radio and TV. I love my boss. He trusts me and gives me free creative reign. Turns out I’m good at what I do. I am living with my dad. He is really lonely. I don’t know how to talk to him. So we cook together. We eat together.  But mostly in silence.

I am 24. I’m madly in love. First Love. He has a baritone voice that makes me weak in the knees. Toxic-relationship, ergo Toxic-Tina. I stop writing.

I am 25. It’s over … Tsunami tears. I move to Lethbridge, Alberta for work. Tears. Pray. Tears. Pray. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am 26. I am in Vancouver. I’ve missed the majestic mountains, the cleansing rain, my sister, the smell of home and my family at church. I make an unexpected friend: My mother. I cut off 10 inches of my hair. This time by choice. Tears of joy. I’m alive. I’m still here.

I am 27. I buy my parents’ old camera. Everything looks different now. I have new eyes. The world is so beautiful, it makes my heart ache and bloom at the same time. I am surrounded by unrelenting, untiring beauty. I feel myself thaw. I am dreaming again.

I am 28. I am singing again. My voice is soft and unfamiliar at first. But slowly, it gets stronger, powerful and sometimes even fearless. I meet an incredible circle of women that challenge every lie I have ever believed. They teach me to “never dim my light.” They assure me  I don’t have to worry about being “too much” or “not enough.” I feel whole for the first time in years.

I am 28 and 10 months. I am standing in a church watching my baby sister say, “I do.”  My ally. My closest friend. My constant. I grieve for days. I start to define my new normal. Exhale. I’m okay. We’re okay.

I am 29 today.

It feels like a well-earned gift.

I am evidence of a girl, nay a woman, willing to try again, to show up for life, to make a fool of myself, to feel deeply, to love hard, to cry hard, to be authentic, to be transparent, to be vulnerable, to flail about while I get my bearings, to admit that I don’t have all the answers, to laugh at myself, to ask for help, to fail and get up again … and again … and again.

I’m not afraid because I know Whom I belong to.

I’m done being the supporting actor in my own life.

I’m ready.

Love you more than buttercream icing on birthday cake,

xoxo,

Teen

P.S. We will go back to regular programming next week. Thanks for listening.

To read more TGIFs from Tina: Click here.

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