It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 19 is my lucky number. My email, all my social media accounts all include the number 19. The story behind why 19 is my favorite number goes all the way back to 2006. In 2006, I lost my older cousin Esraa. She was the sweetest and most kind-hearted influence you could have as a little girl growing up. She would collect me from school on her half-days and take me to McDonald’s with her friends. We would get the bus back home, and walk and talk all the way home. That was our tradition every Wednesday. She straightened my hair and handed down all her make-up to me and clothes that no longer fit her. I would always hide in her wardrobe which was attached as part of the wall. I loved most how she treated me as though we were the same age. She never belittled of me or babied me. She confided in me as if I were a really young adult and I was always eager to live up to that. Esraa was 18 years old when we lost her. I was too young at the time to understand anything more than that I would have to grow up without her influence in my life anymore. No more hangouts with her friends at McDonald’s, and my mom would resume to collect me on Wednesdays from then on.
It was the first time in my life for me to see a young person pass. As a child, you think that people grow until they’re very old and then they die. I didn’t realize that death could come at any time, to anyone. Whatever way my brain interpreted it at that age, I took it to mean that if you made it past 18, you would die old. I thought that if I just made it past my 18th birthday, if I reached my 19th year – that was it, I would live to see old age. I understand now that obviously that is not the case. Never the less, a part of me has always been waiting out for my 19th birthday. I knew it would be special and I knew I wanted my 19th year to be the most livable year of my entire life. I wanted to really grasp the most out of my life in my 19th year – a dedication, if you will, to Esraa. I wanted to live out the things that she missed out on, and to feel like I shared that year with her in mind.
And though I didn’t plan it out, that’s exactly what happened. No bucket list, no intensive planning, but life seemed to just fall into place and grant me a year filled with life and grand living. I spent my 19th birthday in Cairo, in a beautiful city, high on the type of summer love that feels like it’s part of a movie or a dream. I made incredible friends in my 19th year, the type of friends that last your whole life, that you share all of life’s milestones with. I got to travel – always a sign of grasping the most out of life. In my 19th year, I traveled to Glasgow, Barcelona, and Canada. Barcelona was a trip I was able to treat my mother to, with my own work and money. Canada was a solo-trip at the most vulnerable time in my entire life. It was me facing all my fears with an open heart and a fearless determination to make the most out of whatever life throws my way. And I did.
I lost people – friends I thought were true. I lost in love, but I learned that I am luckier to have had real love and lost it, than to not have had it at all. I am of the lucky few to know that I have tasted real love. I learned the power of “myself”, of me. What it means to truly realize that knowing yourself is the most important thing in the world. I also got published in The Journal twice and I saw my blog grow drastically in a single year since I set it up. I graduated my BA degree at 19 years of age. I saw myself come to terms with my undeniable need to do what I believe in and only what I believe in. This is what gave me the restored relationship that I now have with faith and God. This is also what gave me my first tattoo. I learned to say yes more than I say no, and I’m working on trying to say no when I’m too scared to.
I learned about motherhood and about the type of mother I want and hope to be by spending time with my baby cousins. In the time that I spent with them I tried to be for them what Esraa was for me. I have acknowledged that my mental health is the most vital weapon I own, and I no longer apologize when it is a working progress. I came face to face with certain things in my past, and accepted the scars that although might sting, will eventually heal. I tried new things, went out more often, let myself go under bright lights and loud music – because I feel most free on a dance floor. I saw some of my favorite artists live, like Russ, G-Eazy, Kendrick Lamar and the Bahamas.
I learned that learning has no end. 19 was my wake up call to the fact that I still have my whole life to live. I used to think that by 20 I would “have my life together”. I grew up saying that I would be engaged by 18 and married by 20. Yesterday, I turned 20 and I couldn’t be more grateful that I was wrong. I have a lifetime of travel to do, of impulsive decisions and stupid mistakes, of career dreams to pursue, of friends to make, of love to lose, of trust to build, of hard work and struggle. In all that I gain the greatest gift of all; life. Living is not measured in the number of years you get, but by what you choose to do with them.
I wish Esraa had got more years, but more than that, I hope that in the years she did get, she truly got to feel what it really means to live – both the good and the bad.