How utterly ridiculous it feels that I am 17 today.

16 is an age that seems chiselled into my bones, old & worn but familiar still. & now I shed its skin for something new & wholly terrifying. I have a horrible habit of forgetting birthdays, most of all my own—this day has snuck up on me, & I would not have remembered it if not for my sister parading into my room this morning to sing happy birthday, with the 7 AM enthusiasm that only a 12 year old can muster.

I confess: I am not quite sure I even want to be 17.

I had such hope that 16 would be the year that everything would become okay again. What "okay" implies, I could not tell you - perhaps my mental illness diagnoses would turn out to be wrong after all. I'd stop feeling sad for no reason whatsoever. I'd finally be satisfied with my own existence; the deep-seated yearning for something greater than this would flit away.

All that jazz.

I am a little terrified to think that seventeen will not be The Year—capitalisation absolutely necessary—& even more that it will be. You cannot, to be truthful, do anything important when you are 17. 16 is driving. 18 is drinking, tattoos, & R-rated films. What is 17?

You're the dancing queen, I suppose. (Even though I can't actually dance. But no matter; it is enough of a badge to wear proudly.)

I don't know whether I've truly worn away at 16, whether I've slipped fully into its skin & absorbed all it holds. I don't know whether I achieved all I set out to do.

But 16 was not an idle year, though it is so easy for me to convince myself otherwise. I made good art, & I shared it proud & shining even when I was quaking with fear in the background. I wrote a book & released it into the universe & watched it touch lives. I curated the first issue of a literary journal. I cried over gorgeous poems & wrote some of my own. I listened to some damn good music. I had my work published in journals I've admired for years. I did interviews. I watched Captain America many, many times. I laughed a lot & cried even more. I started sponsoring the education of a child in the Philippines. I stopped apologising so much (though, to be truthful, this will always be a work in progress). I made friends, & I let some go. I loved & I loved & I loved. How I loved.

& now there is 17.

I can only hope that this year I stumble upon the warmth I have been chasing for so long. Or if not that, then at least something truthful along the way. Something as bright as all of the art I consumed at 16, all of the things I created, all of the people I held & the songs I sang & the words I wrote & the softness I found, hidden in crannies I never expected.

So here it is. Happy birthday to me.

Welcome to 17.