Growing up, I used to dream about my eighteenth birthday.

I imagined an exhilarating burst of freedom, and the ability to walk out of the door to my parents’ house and never look back. I thought turning 18 would make me an official adult, which would finally mean making my own decisions.

So, when the day finally came, I wanted to do something big.

There were many different factors involving my decision to drive to Dallas for my birthday. For one, it was where my best friend had moved the year before, and my birthday wouldn’t be complete without my best friend.

Then there was Neverland, my boyfriend at the time. Neverland and I were introduced by my best friend a few weeks before when we ran into her boyfriend, Jack-in-the-Box, at the mall. Jack-in-the-Box and Neverland were best friends as well, and naturally wherever Jack-in-the-Box went, Neverland went too. Mostly because Neverland was Jack-in-the-Box’s ride for the night, but that’s not the important part.

The important part was that while Jack-in-the-box and my best friend snuggled in a secluded space in a park we all ventured to, Neverland and I found a space of our own, and got to know each other. Three days later, we were an official couple, deluded into thinking it was love-at-first-sight and would last forever.

But the cynicism wouldn’t come until much later.

At the time, our happy bubble of new love was excited for my eighteenth birthday, and wanted to make the eight hour drive to Dallas to spend the weekend with my best friend. I would drive, Neverland would navigate from the passenger side, and Jack-in-the-Box would supply occasionally entertaining conversation from the backseat.

I’d never driven farther than Austin before, and never on my own. I had my phone GPS, an address, and a map which my grandmother gave us when we stopped in Austin (the halfway point) for a bowl of birthday stew. But I wasn’t nervous. Neverland sang to me the whole way up, replaying Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are several times. I was smiling so much, I’m surprised my cheeks didn’t fall off.

We made it to Dallas just before midnight. My best friend was still at work, so we went to pick her up. Jack-in-the-Box wrote his number on a scrap of paper and stuck it to the window of her work, pretending to be a creepy stranger. We saw her laugh and shake her head, and before long she had joined us.

It had been a cold winter, and snow still capped the roofs of many of the houses. I remember being mesmerized by the sight. I’d lived in Texas all my life, and very rarely ever experienced real snow.

My best friend was a master chef, so after a quick run to the local grocery store (Neverland bought a random gallon of milk because “It’s only a dollar here!”), she made us dinner. I don’t remember what it was. Pancakes? Or Grilled Cheese? Or perhaps TED Sandwiches (grilled cheese as buns with a bacon cheeseburger patty, and two bbq chicken strips)? Whatever we ate, I’m sure it was delicious.

After dinner, Neverland gave me my surprise birthday gift: he had written me a song. He used my best friend’s guitar to play it for me, and I cried tears of joy at the beauty of it. It still remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I’m sure we watched a movie or drove around recklessly or something. We were much too young and wild to go to bed at a decent hour. But I don’t remember the rest. I remember the song, and I remember falling asleep that night on the air mattress on the floor at the top of the staircase with Neverland, our bodies intertwined.

My eighteenth birthday was everything I could have hoped it would be. There was laughter, love, great food, amazing fun, the perfect gift, and even snow.

But most importantly, the day I turned 18, I was free.

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