I’ve been a kid, I think maybe my whole life, until this year when I grew up so much that I think I became addicted to it. Size-wise, I grew down a little, but I think mentally I have finally hit five foot seven. And I think age 21 brought me a new wrinkle, maybe in my forehead, or my cheeks, or my brain, but quite possibly—and most of all—I have a new wrinkle in my soul.

Soul wrinkles are different than forehead and cheek wrinkles, which usually indicate the aging process, and maybe dry skin. Brain wrinkles indicate increased knowledge and since I am college student, I suppose it makes sense that I’ve acquired a few more of these. But soul wrinkles are a different breed of wrinkle. A soul wrinkle isn’t visible. It isn’t surface level. A soul wrinkle takes its shoes off and wades barefoot through your bloodstream. It builds a little nest in your heart and settles for the season. A soul wrinkle isn’t visible, yet it registers an identifiable shift in your outward demeanor, and therefore people can tell you have one.

So what is the origin of this unexplored wrinkle? I can pinpoint two things this year that brought it about: My travels to Europe and my relationship with Shaun Michael Johnson.

Chronologically, it makes sense to first discuss my travels. “My travels” include the month spent agonizing over whether or not they were actually going to happen. For those of you who don’t know, I started my year with every intention of going to Metz, France to be an au pair (which is a glorified nanny) for eight months. I sold my purple Provo apartment, deferred my enrollment for a semester, broke things off with my nameless casual male attachment du jour, and quit my job, thus putting all my eggs in the European basket, which was decorated like the inside of Versailles and plastered with paintings by Leonardo DaVinci. I wasted January waiting for my work visa to arrive, and as soon as it did, I got “the fated email” from the family that I was supposed to nanny for. Would you like to see it? Here it is, verbatim:

“Bonjour Sierra,

I am deeply sorry not to write you back but something happens last week and we had a serious conversation with Pierre this weekend. Actually, I didn’t have the courage to call you because I am really upset, but Pierre lost his job and financially with the crisis in Europe, we are not able to welcome you for the year…. I AM SORRY SORRY because you are so great and it was a hard decision to take…”

While I am sure that her decision was actually hard to make, for me, it was difficult to take. With this startling introduction to 2009, I was almost certain that the year was going to be a complete wash. I spent two full days on my mother’s leather sectional watching “The OC,” (which, let’s face it, only made things worse,) and bemoaning the loss of my adventure. Yet, in retrospect, I embrace this experience as part of “the wrinkle.” Because out of the dust, I came back stronger– a life motif I’ve discovered this year. Finding another route to Europe required me to be resourceful, to not allow my metaphorical kick in the crotch to physically debilitate me. I still had my European adventure, and in retrospect, fighting for it made the journey even sweeter.

In Ireland I stuck my face out over a 300-foot drop into the ocean. I sat where William Wordsworth composed his poetry. In Wales I visited the country of my ancestors and felt them rooting me on with resolute fists punching the air. I read Peter Pan under a tree in France, and could feel myself growing up as I encountered the boy who never could. I came to find that there was something much deeper to me than just my little American body. There, in Europe, were the roots of my existence. I dug up my roots and wiggled my toes around in the dirt surrounding them. I planted a new part of myself, writing along the way about the changes that were taking place inside me, about the wrinkle that was forming. I romped around the country that gave me life. It was no accident that I got that fated email from my French family that day. Because going on the British Literature Study Abroad was so much better for me. It changed me. It made me wiser. It gave me a new purpose and a new understanding of self. I’m better because of it.

And so it’s only fair to explain the other half of the year, maybe (dare I say it?) the better part of the year. I am nervous to write it down for fear that he is reading it, but ultimately I think it’s just all too fair that I pay tribute to the boy that made 2009 the best year of all 21 of my years. If it hadn’t been for the fated email, I would have been in France when I was supposed to be meeting Shaun Johnson. Thank goodness for disappointment.

Shaun Johnson made me smart. He gave me confidence when I had none. He taught me about how I deserved to be treated, and how much better it was to have one person truly care about you rather than several other people who are mildly interested in the way your butt looks in jeans. He taught me how to settle down. He taught me that I was pretty without the makeup of the day, or the disguise of the century. And even if things didn’t “work” between us, I’m thrilled that he happened to me, because otherwise I would just have 21-year-old forehead wrinkles, and those are absolutely no fun. Without Shaun Johnson, there would be no wrinkles in the surface of my soul. Shaun Johnson inspired words to write. Journal entries, and stories, and letters all happened because of him. 2009 would have been a sour peach with a worm embedded within. Instead, 2009 was a succulent watermelon that leaves sweet juices trailing from the corners of your grin—even if you had to spit out a couple of seeds.

2009 has been described by someone other than me like this: “2009 was like a really great book that had a disappointing ending, but I still really enjoyed reading it.” Can I echo this? But can I make an amendment? “2009 was like a really great book that had a disappointing ending, but I still really enjoyed writing it.” I authored my own version of 2009, and despite the extreme ups of the last 365 days, bumps and bruises definitely elbowed their way into my story. I do not shun them. I embrace them. They mingled with the good of 2009 and made it the best year I’ve ever written. The bumps and bruises are part of “the wrinkle”, because let’s face it, a wrinkle is not an entirely good thing.

2009 brought 21. It brought a 3.8 GPA, and acceptance into my major, and it brought Xan home from a mission. But most of all it brought me a soul wrinkle that forces me to grow up just a little bit. It forces me to say goodbye to kid Sierra, and embrace the burgeoning adult that I’ve been threatening to become my entire youth. So I’m a little bit wiser after this year. Maybe a little bit sadder, but a little bit happier too.

  1. Jan 02, 2010

    :), you mentioned me, cute. Thanks for everything Sierra.

  2. Jan 02, 2010
    Michael Paul Bailey

    What a beautiful post.

  3. Jan 03, 2010

    Whatever your parents did (or did not do) to raise you, Jared, and Bethany, is what I'd like to do (or not do), too, when I raise my future children. Excellent, introspective post with fun metaphors, and meaningful memories.