When I was younger, my favorite game was blackjack.
I loved playing it on Sunday mornings with Dad, back when I was just learning to count hands – still donning my Winnie the Pooh pajamas. The number 21 was a symbol for me of success, reward, and certainly a little luck. I loving winning a round, but getting a perfect hand – that was the real drive for me.
When I got older and hands of blackjack fell farther and fewer between, the number 21 started to symbolize something else for me: the last birthday on the checklist to becoming an adult.
After a driver’s license at 16, a few self-admitted R-rated movies at 17, and a say in the polls at 18, I’ve been stuck in a couple of year rut waiting for the right to walk in to a bar.
Ok, I’ve walked in to a few bars in my time, but as far as legality goes – I’ve been waiting.
Yesterday, I finally hit blackjack – it meant a lot more to me than I thought it would.
On the 24th of April, Rome turned up the heat. 77 degrees and sunny by noon, my Italian teacher, Madda, decided that because it was my birthday and our last day of class that class would consist of no class, and eating gelato instead.
So we marched over to Gelateria della Teatro, my favorite gelato shop that boasts all local, organic products. All of us being treated to three scoops, I chose: Sicilian Almond, Cheese and Cherry, and Almond Fig Ricotta – and ate it too fast to take a real picture.
If that wasn’t enough, she also got me a little bag of Italian shortbread cookies. We’re now Facebook friends.
Back at the apartment, the terrace was calling and was a great place to soak up the sun all afternoon. Alleigh made her way over and brought flowers and wine, and we laughed and caught up until a big group of us headed to dinner around 9.
On a sleepy street in our neighborhood is a great place called Cacio e Pepe – I think I’ve talked about it before because we actually go there all the time. They only serve house wine and three dishes per night. Always Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper pasta) and Carbonara (egg, cheese, and bacon pasta), and a weekly rotating third item. Thursdays are for gnocchi – we know this well.
I got my favorite, the Cacio e Pepe. It was delicious as always, and I’m not going to think about the fact that it may be my last time having it in Rome. But if it was, it was a good way to say goodbye.
I loved having a birthday in abroad, though like Easter, there was a void of family and friends physical presence. But thanks to Facebook, I read and re-read all of your wonderful posts and hilarious photos and I hope you all know I enjoyed every single one. I also received a few very sweet emails, woke up to emoji-filled iMessages, FaceTimed friends, and even opened a few cards!
Every last birthday message was so special to me, but I just want to say a quick thank you to those of you who sent a card via mail. You have no idea how exciting it was for me to open card after card and read your sweet messages (or in Jan’s case hilarious – I actually was near tears I was laughing so hard at your note). You will all receive thank you’s, but I’m going to send them once I get home as it’s the fastest way from point A to B.
Growing up is a never-ending process. Day-by-day, I don’t notice the fact that I’m getting older or smarter or using less sugar in my coffee, but when I look back on where I am and where I’ve come from, I always am surprised by the progress.
In my 21st year, a lot changed. I moved to Italy for four months. I ran a couple of half marathons. I fell in love. In everything I did, there was both struggle and success, but ultimately – there was success.
And I was rewarded – not always, and not in a medal at the end of the race kind of way. Sometimes it was as simple as eating the right foods and not having a stomach ache kind of reward. Yesterday, it was a loaded Facebook wall on my birthday kind of reward to remind me of the friendships I’m so lucky to have.
And yes, there was luck too. Luck to be surrounded by loving people throughout my life. Above all, my parents remain both my role models and superfans, and I love you both for who you have helped me become. I’m lucky to have you two, as well as four sweet grandparents so present in my life – and just as lucky that they’re all tech-savvy enough to follow my travels when we are thousands of miles apart.
So at 21, life’s feeling brand new – and not just because I’m taking my real ID to the bar. Just like hitting blackjack, yesterday wouldn’t have felt so sweet without a prelude of success, reward, and a little bit of luck. Every part of my past has been the perfect combination to get me to this day, and this life. It’s the first birthday in which I feel like I’m starting to figure everything out, and head in the direction which I believe in my heart to be the right way.
It’s a great feeling. I hope you’ve felt it too.
Thanks again for all of your birthday thoughts and wishes from near and far. I can’t wait to see you all again so very soon.
Drinks are on you.
Ciao, for now.