I remember turning 21 like it was yesterday. How could I forget such a day as memorable as that one, right?!

**Flashes back to college days in the stall of a community women’s bathroom **

“Oh my God girl, you just about threw up everything in that tiny little body of yours. Maybe I should’ve solicited suggestions for alcohol instead of accepting the first ones that came my way,” Jazzy stated. I, hanging over the suspiciously sanitary toilet, rolled my eyes as the brown and clear liquor that I chugged 30-minutes ago floated in the murky toilet water. There I squatted in my teenie weenie dress over the toilet seat of the community bathroom.

“One day I’ll look back on this moment and laugh,” I thought to myself. That day, which I’d looked forward to for so long, was the day I was free! Free to do a lot of “hoodrat things” that, up until then, could not occur due to my age. Unlike other college freshmen, I, along with my friends waited until we were 21 to take our first sip of alcohol. What kind you might ask?

Well, if I can recall it was somewhat of a mixture of Taaka Vodka and Boone’s Farm. **sticks finger in mouth. “Yuck!” We, my best friend and I, didn’t think to ask anyone for background information on those beverages. In college, you accept what you can find. I still can’t recall how we even stumbled upon that liquor, but it fell into our laps just in time to kick off my birthday festivities.

But by the time I had made it to the restroom (scrambling in at that) I realized Taaka Vodka ALONE was a one way ticket to the hospital. Its blendable texture and taste, made it extremely easy for those partaking in it to feel a buzz within the first cup. “Taste like Kool-aid,” was the only thing I could recall saying before my face landed into the center of the second-floor women’s community restroom.

**Flashes back to the present**

And now 18 years later, here I stand in the very bathroom, of the very dorm where I spent 60% of my time during my early twenties. To say my college days humbled me, just wouldn’t do my true feelings any justice. Sometimes I wonder how I lived in those conditions, in scrunched up living quarters with a complete stranger, eating the worst processed food you could think of, while plotting how many days left until I could exit this chapter and live my best life….as an adult!

**begins singing** “In my own place, with my own car, two jobs, work hard! Im’a bad….b…” Nevermind. Lol. Leave it to Lil Boosie to get you off track from the story with such liberating lyrics.

Any who, boy, if only the young me knew what my life had in store, from losing close family/friends from death, gaining/losing weight, job hunting for a duration of time that was almost sickening, and REALLY learning what the meaning of “broke” was. On top of that, I’d be short-changing my description if I failed to acknowledge everything that goes into becoming a parent. And let’s just acknowledge the elephant in the room, and that’s that everyone’s life portrait won’t resemble the completion of what makes the magic number “three” from School House Rock.

Though it is probably the most rewarding job I’ve ever had by far, it’s HARD. I mean HARD – HARD. Like, getting on your knees for the very first time and praying to that God that you remember your parents talking to during the hard moments of your childhood. Hard like, hoping and wishing a (hate to say it but) dead beat dad would come around and simply be present in his child’s life for once. Hard like, getting paid on Friday, and you are broke by Saturday because your single parent income within your household is eating up your entire paycheck.

No one tells you that. Not momma. Not your therapist. Not even God. All they tell you is that, “life will be hard,” but they never tell you just how hard. And quiet as kept, it creeped up on me faster than that cup of Taaka Vodka I drank years ago.

And standing in this bathroom, with my now 18 year old daughter, I feel a wave of emotions. Surprisingly, it’s not from the ever so interesting female scent that lingers the stalls, or the instant reminder of my poor college decisions, but more of the realization of how fast life is moving.

“Wow,” I said out loud. Eighteen years of a marriage, 1 child, 7 jobs, 1 divorce, years of caretaking of my parents, 1 loss of a parent, and at no point could I recall a moment during the last 18 years where I’d actually LIVED for me.

In that moment, I begin to question whether or not I robbed myself of this freedom I worshipped as a young adult. These experiences weren’t what I imagined. I imagined being able to do all the things that I desired to do that I felt would make my life more fulfilling!
**pauses to think**

But perhaps, maybe, just maybe, I actually did experience a level of freedom these last almost 20 years. I did do the things I wanted to do based upon the decision I made for myself. I’ve lived, loved, and learned a heck of a lot! When life knocked me down, I always somehow found within myself the courage deep inside to get back up and keep going. Why? Because I had PEOPLE in my life that relied on me, and that gave me purpose.

You see, THAT is freedom. Freedom is understanding that each of us are granted the luxury of making decisions over our lifetime and you can bet that we are responsible for holding ourselves accountable to whatever(or whomever) comes from those decisions. When life serves you a cup of hard liquor, you take it as you would have if you were 21 again.

**Flashes back to college days**

As I wiped my mouth in dismay, tossing remnants of tissue into the toilet, I got up unsteadily until I was standing tall in my red patent leather pumps. I looked at Jazzy, and she looked at me and asked, “You good?!” I replied to her with a nod. “Cool, now let’s get back to this day, there is still more of your birthday worth celebrating!”

Moral of the story: Don’t let the struggles (poor decisions, setbacks, or just the growing pains) of life keep you down. Get back up, dust your clothes off, put those heels back on, and continue to LIVE!