Exactly one month from now I will be turning 23. I can’t believe I’m on the sixth version of this now. The first time I started this, I was turning 18. Six years quickly came by in what felt like a blink of my eyes.
A year ago today, when I wrote my first draft of what happened to me before I turned 22, I was sitting at the 2nd floor of Subway fast food, overlooking the Dubai Metro station and Emirates Tower. I just had my lunch. Everything was so different then. My mind was consumed. I was a little bit scared and uncertain with where I was, and with everything that I had. But I was keeping myself intact. I was fighting, with my head above the water.
Now, 12 months later — I am here, back in my home country. Back in the city I’ve lived for almost 6 years, sitting at a conference table, overlooking the city skyline. Saying a lot has changed in a year is an understatement. I mean, look at where I am right now from where I was?
How did everything happen so fast? How about we start from the very beginning.
Six hours before I turned 22, I decided to spend the night and wait until midnight at Jumeirah Lake Tower. That place always had a special place in my heart so I thought why not celebrate there? It was the first time I’d be welcoming my birthday outside my home and I knew it would be exciting. And it was — but not everything that happened afterwards.
I had my last dinner as 21 years old at a Chinese fast-food chain. I celebrated my pre-22 all by myself. I thought it was a good idea to think things through very clearly. I never wanted to turn 22 if I was being honest with myself. I had an incredible year and I felt like I didn’t want that to end. A huge part of me wanted to stay young forever — careless, worry-free, ambitious, don’t-a-shit young adult.
But I had no choice. As soon as the clock in my phone turned 12, reckless party would be over.
So I roamed around for a bit on the shopping boutiques along the JLT Boulevard before I head down to the beach. It was pretty dark already as far as I could remember. I saw this amazing grocery store. I never saw it the last time I was there, I thought to myself. I went in, bought some snacks to munch while I kill time before midnight, and promised to myself that I’d go back later. I didn’t care about the money I was spending, even though I was technically a broke 21 year old kid. It was my pre-birthday after all. I deserved a break.
Finally, I walked to the beach. It was quite dark but I was glad for the moon, the first-world country establishments, elite residential, and Movie Theater in front of the beach that gave tiny light to my surroundings. I knew the Palm Jumeirah didn’t give much impact on what I needed, but I was glad too that I could see it shining brightly on the distance.
I sat on the sand, breathe the salt pre-summer Middle East air, and allowed myself to unleash the real me.
I watched these two kids playing around by the water. Their parents were sitting not so far beside me, watching too. I wondered if they’d grow up to be the person they wanted to be. I looked at them and they seemed really happy and content with where they were, with what they had.
I stood up and had the urge to walk along the beach. There were few people still on the ocean even at around 8 pm in the night. I walked more. The ocean looked blue green. I thought to myself, “I would never forget this moment.”
I pondered about my life as I let my feet drag me further down the beach.
Am I really happy? Is this what I want? I’m so broke here. I feel like I’m living under the rock. Should I just go home? But I’m already here. Besides wouldn’t that be an embarrassing move to do? Especially that I spent the last four years bragging I’d be here sooner?
I was confused. I was somehow lost. Al though I couldn’t remember how terribly lost. I talked to God while I walked. I knew He’d help me. I was also worried about something else. Someone else I needed to save. I was worried about a lot of things in general. Money. Rent. Gadgets. Travel. Food. Savings. Choices. Name it.
There was this weird mist in the air I was having a hard time to explain. But it was like the wind was warm, but the ocean was cool, and they just sort of collided. I don’t know. I hope you could picture that out.
I realized I walked very far. So I turned back to where I left my bag and snacks and slippers. One more reason why I fell in love with the city real hard was that, there was almost no record of theft. You could leave your things and you could always find them.
I sat back to the sand. I looked at my watch. I had less than 4 hours to kill. What else would I do? Should I just head back to my apartment? This was silly. I pulled out my phone, inserted the earphones in it, then played Ariana Grande’s newest album. It was my pre-birthday gift to myself. I loved it.
I dragged myself to the tip of the ocean, careful not to wet my shorts, and listened to Ariana Grande’s songs while I twirled around the water, pretending I was on the music video, and being sexy. I was that weird. Really weird.
I got tired so I settled back to where I was sitting. I thought about my life more. My mind was bleeding — that’s for sure. I was 21. Did I truly know what I was doing? What my purpose was?
I was a very deep person. That was me in my normal habitat.
I got tired, sat back again, then made a list. I shouldn’t forget that to mention here. I made a damn list! One that I would love to call “Jinxed list”. Almost every item in there never came true. The content was stored in my iPhone4s. I should re-read that again. I wrote the list and promised to myself, “These are the things that I need to have or achieve at 22.” Which was bullshit obviously.
But in case you’re wondering, from what I could remember, the list included: having a go-pro, writing another novel, saving someone, focusing on career (?), save money (!), go back home to visit. And so on. I can’t remember them all.
So I was getting a bit bored. I browsed the shops more on the Boulevard, and went back to the grocery store as I promised to myself.
I walked into the store and I said to myself, “This is such a movie moment.” It’s kinda weird but I was starting to feel magic. Like, something was just so different. Like, everything at that moment was special. I looked around me in that shop and I swore I could live in that moment.
I went out with a huge cookie I guess and a ginger ale. A freaking ginger ale because I wanted to get drunk but apparently Dubai banned alcoholic drinks ever since, so I dumbly thought ginger ale would do. Freaking ginger ale.
Two more hours before Angelo officially turned 22! How exciting it was to celebrate by myself. I mean, wow!
I transferred to the back portion of the Boulevard and left the sand because it was getting late and it was getting creepy there. I sat on the well-maintained grassy area with all the beautiful night lights around me. Some expensive restaurants were closing behind me. I could still see the ocean from my spot all too well.
Different people walked pass by me. But it was pretty much spacious since it was a weeknight. Again, it was such a movie moment. I inhaled some air more.
I yawned. I was somehow dead tired, and my emotions started creeping in. I looked at the Palm Jumeirah. Still bright. And I finally faced that one thing that was looming on the surface.
The truth that I had no love life. That I felt lonely for most part. That I questioned myself if there was something wrong with me. But how could there be something wrong with me when I’m so dateable? All of my girl best-friends would testify to that.
But I was all alone, not only that night, but for most part of my life. I guess I shed some tears on that hour. I thought leaving my home country would make a difference in my romantic life but alas, it didn’t. So I thought about going back home again since being there was stupid anyway.
My then considered best-friend, texted me to greet me Happy Birthday and sent me a picture of, ahm, (N). She thought it was a crush joke. I thought too. But subconsciously there was more to that. And there was more to that story later. Specifically how N affected some of my decisions.
Few minutes before I turned 22, I was giddy and pumped and beaten up and sleepy. But pretty much alive. I counted down the seconds before midnight like it was a New Year. And I sung myself Happy Birthday. How sad right? I wished to the world, to God, to everyone or everything that was listening. Do I remember what I wished? Uhm. Not exactly sure. But they had probably the same fate as the lists.
Okay. Take a shift in your seat. This is the turning point of the story.
Not even an hour after I turned 22, shit already came bothering me. And it pretty much set the tone for my whole year. I know. It’s weird and strange and odd. But I felt like that moment, the world was giving me a warning sign.
What bad signs? I’d give a quick montage: no more bus, no more train. Had to take taxi. Paid almost 80 dirhams. Embarrassed myself to the taxi driver. Transferred to the only bus that would bring me to the apartment. 2 am and people had so much shit already. Bus driver yelled at me. I felt weak and just allowed him win over me. Said to myself, “Fuck this. Does he know it’s my birthday?”
Came home safe. Slept.
Want more bad signs?
Woke up in the morning with no breakfast. Cooked my own. Was kinda yelled at. Lunch was whatever. But good thing we had dinner party planned. More personal horrible story I wouldn’t share.
But unto a good one on my birthday, my Aunt — favorite Aunt — surprised me a bouquet of flowers. How lovely! Yes it was but… she was the first person who gave me flowers. But it’s okay! I was still sort of happy. Birthday dinner was okay. It was sweet, small, solemn, and yeah — unforgettable.
End of my birthday.
Worse signs came in after that. And the world didn’t truly give me a break. Not even 3 days after my birthday, my entire hope collapsed.
I went back to the office with no birthday greetings. Nobody cared. My best-friend and few of my friends (?) tried to give pleasant wishes, but they were also just whatever. No surprise. No anything.
I locked myself in the toilet for Idk how long. Cried. Missed home. Felt the loneliest in my life ever. I was wearing something special and beautiful, for nothing.
But here’s the worst part on that day. I was called for a special meeting. I was lectured for not following a company policy for which I ignored, didn’t care, or was ignorant. I informed someone high-ranking through email about me taking a day off as I would celebrate my birthday in the most light-hearted and funniest email I sent in that company. But since I had no luck whatsoever, it didn’t work.
I was 22. It was the only day I took an absent. And it was the most special day of my life. Was that hard to understand or sympathize? Were people really that cruel? Would this be the life I wanted to live in the next 2 years?
I was heartbroken. And nobody knew, cared, understood. I am a human being. I have emotions and feelings.
Things changed after that. I felt even lonelier and purposeless. I had my lunch alone for couple of weeks that followed. I barely talked or trusted anyone. I snapped too easily to anyone. I just didn’t care at that point. Because I was a young 22 year old kid and nobody gave a shit about me. So why would I?
The best-friend I thought would protect me ended up not caring too. The person I had feelings for (N, this was you) wanted me out. The person I believed had a crush on me just stayed quiet, and chose to be blind. The person I shared the same roots betrayed me.
How could I continue to live in that environment? I was suffocated.
I tried to get my shit together and stick around for more.
Back to my personal life, maybe God answered my wish. I was on the lowest point in my life. Literally about to give up. Then you came into my life A. We met on the bus. (For those of you who’s interested in this meet up story. Scroll down and find a piece with the title “June 6, 2016”)
We dated. Or so I thought. No actually we were fucked up. We were complicated. But it was Ramadan. You were weak — I meant vulnerable — for the whole month. I don’t know what we were.
I was worried more, and worse this time. I was worried about the person I wanted to save, about A, about both of them going home. But guess what? We all went home. Wasn’t that the sickest joke?
Back to the working life, so we could wrap these detailed parts already. I tried to change, fitted in, swallowed my pain, and smiled like nothing was wrong. But I was just about to see the worst.
Before things blew up, there was this one morning and I could remember so well. I was in your car N. It was Ramadan month, and as part of your “charity”, you gave me a free ride. Which was fitting because our apartments were only 10 minutes apart by walk.
While you were driving, I was on the back seat, looking at these tall buildings from the distance. They were all perfectly aligned. I wanted to take picture of that scene but was afraid you’d judge me N. What strike me, though, was that I felt something in that particular moment. It was weird. And I almost whispered to myself, “Take a look. Take them all in. You’re going to miss this.” It’s like I was saying goodbye already.
Maybe the universe was screaming at me, making me feel what was about to go down – a preview of what I’d do.
But before we go to that part, I have a question to ask.
Do you know how sometimes, it feels like you have a complete control over a situation, and one little decision can change everything?
Well, I had that moment. And it did really change everything for me from then onwards.
I was having a rough time at work, pissed off as usual. I compromised my liberty in response to your “charity” N. Because I’m the kind of person who has a heart. But you took me for granted. All of your folks took me for granted almost every day. And I’ve had enough. I was honestly tired. You wanted to take more of my freedom, but I couldn’t. What you were all doing to me was too much. Too much.
And if there’s one thing you should know about me N, as I write this, is that I’m smart. I know what I’m doing. What I did on that day was a thought I decided was right.
You don’t know this N, but when you wanted me to finish something and stay longer, I was planning to lie and walk away afterwards. I finished some parts of what you wanted. I had few couple of minutes of debating whether or not I should pursue my plan. A series of flashbacks passed before my eyes as I deliberately weighed my options.
I decided to do what I was about to do. I smiled. I turned off my computer. I stood up. I slung my backpack to my shoulder. I walked pass you. Then you were stunned. You didn’t expect I’d do that. You asked me if I was done. I said, “Yeah”, nonchalantly. You asked if I was sure. I made a hand gesture to confirm yes, and showed how defeated I was already at that point.
Did you see how defeated I was N? Did you even care?
I went to the pantry to get my lunch-boxes, then you watched me through the glass doors as I left. You found out I lied. I left my task unfinished, on purpose. I wasn’t dumb. I knew what would happen next. And I chose that to happen.
But did you know where I was heading N? Did you know why I was eager to leave?
I went to my cousin’s birthday. Yes Adrian. I picked you over them. You didn’t know this too. We celebrated your birthday while I was trying to bury my worries. I knew I was done. But I wanted to enjoy the night. I wanted to see you happy on your birthday.
Because, Adrian, honey, I will always choose you over them.
The following day was, well, the doomsday. I didn’t want to go through the details as few people knew the story already. There was a piece in this website where I told the part when I was standing at the 19th floor, crushed on the inside and so done with the world, while I looked at the highway below. I watched the fast cars raced through the streets and thought it’d be the last time I’d see them.
My final words that all of you folks would never forget was, “This isn’t the kind of life I pictured myself living in.”
It was the bomb that I dropped that destroyed everything.
The list I made before I turn 22 turned out to be defective.
I made bold moves. My theme on my 22nd year was: “Carpe diem that one great leap of faith and have fun for the wild ride.” And I did carpe diem the great leap of faith. Was it a wild ride? I bet.
Half of my 22nd year, I spent sort of lost. I didn’t know what I really wanted. I had no idea where exactly I wanted to be. I was weak. I had so much in my mind. I played a little too aggressively — impulsive even.
I admit that there were so many things in life I couldn’t understand or wanted to understand. All I knew was that I was young and I should be having fun. But I was wrong.
Half of my 22nd year, I spent redeeming myself. I gave myself second chances to do things right, to correct my mistakes, and to begin again. It wasn’t an easy process. Some days, I would get discouraged. Some days, I would regret for what I did. Some days, I wish I could go back in time.
But you know what? As I sit here right now typing this, I am wholeheartedly decided not to go back in the past.
Yes this city I am in right now is stupid. It’s killing me every day with its flaws and imperfections. But this is where I actually feel more at peace with myself than where I used to be.
I have a room for myself. I have a decent salary for my age. I eat take out fast food every day, as opposed to canned goods. I see my grandmother every weekend and it’s the best thing ever. I get to be in my room at the country side every weekend too. My work schedule is light. I have 4x more time here, and because of that, I am able to write for Thought Catalog. I can buy myself expensive clothes in here as well, but I just choose not to. Sure I probably can’t risk my money with chocolates, but will they just eventually destroy me if I go on with that addiction?
Point is, I should truly consider the substance over form. Intrinsic value over face value. It’s true this city is nothing compared to the beauty of Dubai. But I’m actually calmer here. I have more time here for myself, for the things that I love. It’s just a matter of opening my eyes and knowing what makes me really happy. And where I’m genuinely happy.
I recognize that I’ve let some people down because of my decisions, and I choose to silently ignore them, and proceed to living my life. But I just want to say to anyone who rooted for me, that I am sorry you realized I wasn’t that great.
But I think I’m allowed to make mistakes at this age, and figure out what I want for myself, and not for anyone else.
I know it sucks. But I’m trying to move on, be better. And I hope that you do too.
I will be turning 23 soon. It’s a totally different story this time around. Now, I’ve found my voice, my dreams, my goals, myself. And it’s time to make the tables turn.
I am not scared anymore. I am no longer the 22 year old kid running around, always panicked, always worried. I am confident with the skills that I have and with what I can offer to the world. I know what I want to pursue and I have plans in my mind I want to execute patiently.
I see a bright future for me now and I know I can bring a one big success this year. I’m starting to figure out my purpose and why I am here. I am glad with the achievements I’ve had in the last five months, and I think I’m good for it to go on until I’m ready to make my own mark.
I am moving on slowly. And writing down my past allows me to let go. I am comfortable with my own skin. I barely have insecurities anymore. I only do what I love, and not pay attention to anything that’s irrelevant in my life.
I am happy and I think I’m living the life that I picture for myself. This year, I can feel that I’m going to be even happier. I trust myself, the world, and God more.
I am working hard day and night for some of my dreams to come into fruition at 23. I am excited for this year, for all the possibilities, for all the better experiences, for more amazing memories, for more people to meet, for more places to visit. I am more focused on my goal now, and craving for success, than I’ve ever been.
And I think I am finally seeing the stripes of lights, because I know, in my heart, that I’m heading to where I am supposed to be.