“People cry, not because they’re weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.” ― Johnny Depp

I turned twenty-one yesterday.

It didn’t dawn on me when I received a barrage of phone calls in the morning; it didn’t dawn on me when my parents, still-dressed in pajamas, sang “Happy Birthday” off-key in a falsetto that I can’t shake; it dawned on me when my siblings hooked their arms through mine in the backdrop of seagulls, the boardwalk, hagglers, and chatter. For a moment, all I thought was it has happened. I had crossed, seemingly, the purgatory that lies between girlhood and womanhood.

There was no party, no balloons, no cake, and no fanfare. It was quite, private, and intimate which is not too uncommon. As an individual with a summer birthday, I rarely throw large events and rarely entertain the presence of my friends. Birthdays, for me, at least, have always been a family affair. We explored the boardwalk. We took pictures. We stopped by Michael Kors, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic in search of attire appropriate for medical school interviews.

It was different, so different from previous birthdays but it was unbelievably nice to spend an entire day with my family. I have not been home since spring break and prior to that, winter break, but during both of those vacations I spent a large amount of time with my nose in the books (I know, I know!).

Okay, I will admit that no, I did not gamble or take any shots — I’m still not sure how or when alcohol will play a role in my social life.

I want to address something that is more of the personal variety. When I was fifteen, I bumped into a dear friend after tennis practice; it was a week before his sixteenth birthday and nine days before mine; ten days before my sixteenth birthday party. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and a half and it was absolutely wonderful to catch up and be at exactly the same place as before–a hallmark of a strong friendship. You can imagine my surprise when my friend Emileigh called me and told me, the very next day, that he had passed away. It was sudden, shocking, and raw.

Each year, I find myself spending some time remembering him and the type of person he strived to be. He, like myself, wanted to pursue a career in medicine, was passionate about tennis, and was the oldest child. His family was wrecked when he passed and even now, they do not seem to have entirely recovered.

With each hallmark — graduation, eighteen birthday, college acceptances, and the big 21 — we leave him further and further behind. I like to think that he watches over us, our own variety of a guardian angel. I like to think that he is proud of us. I like to think that he is glad that our tears, for him, have finally come to a stop.

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