Life When Your Next Big Birthday Will Be Your 50th
You’ve made it. You have it all. That’s what your friends say. You married your soul mate (25 years and counting!), you have two beautiful children, a lovely, welcoming home, good friends far and near, a loyal rescue dog, a career that most people can only dream of. You have it all. And you know it. You thank your lucky stars, your guardian angel, the powers that be. You’re not quite an atheist, so you even thank whatever god(s) might be watching. “Thank you,” you whisper. “Thank you.”
The years are slipping by, the clichés uttered to friends and strangers: “Time is flying,” “This year will be over before you know it,” “How can it be summer already? It feels like there was snow on the ground yesterday.” You catch a glimpse of yourself in the reflection of a store window. It’s your mother, you think for a quick second. But she’s been dead for eight years. That image stays with you. You change your hair color, buy a new dress. You’re happy to be the age you are, but why do you have to look like your mother?
You read the Facebook updates about people your age, some of them even younger: The unexpected heart attack, the cancer that struck (again), the divorce that came out of nowhere. The starting over, the fighting through, the hope, the prayers, the wondering, “What next?” You read the articles about diseases and disasters and families torn apart by misfortune. You knock wood, grateful. Ever so grateful. “Please, not me. Not my family,” you whisper, feeling guilty. Why not you? Why are you the lucky one?
You feel as if you’re living in a protective bubble. Nothing bad has happened to you. Nothing serious, that is. Oh, okay, you almost died earlier this year. Pneumonia that turned into sepsis. Where the hell did that come from? The doctors don’t know. You consider yourself lucky you survived, but you wonder: Are you strong for having survived, or weak for having gotten so sick in the first place? There isn’t an answer for that, either. You move on and celebrate another birthday, have a second slice of cake. To the victor go the spoils. You survived your near death experience. The prize is life, with more awareness. There but for the grace of the god you’re not sure you believe in, goes you.
You forget what year it is. Hell, you forget the day of the week sometimes. You have holes in your memory—other people say, “Remember that time when we went to that place?” and you can’t remember the time or the place, and you eat up every word of their story, as if it’s being told about someone else, replacing the blank spot in your memory with their version. You’ll never know if their version is true and accurate because your version of that time and place is long gone. Eaten up by new memories, responsibilities, to-do lists. “Baby brain,” they called it when you were pregnant. No one told you it lasts forever.
You’re going to be 50. Not this year or next year, but soon. It looms, that big number, the mid-century mark. It seemed so old once, when you were first married and your boss said he’d just turned 50. So old. Like life was, if not over, at least solidified. Written in concrete instead of flowing like water. Stable is good, you tell yourself. Predictable is preferable. Yes, yes. True. Happiness, health, financial stability, a measure of career success. It’s all good. But you yearn for other things. A wildness beats behind your breastbone, a desire to scream at the top of your lungs. Not in anger, or sadness, or pain—just to scream. To let go. To be wild.
There was that book you read last year, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. You knew what she was feeling, though you’re long past the age she was in the book. You have never hiked a day in your life, but you know what it’s like to look for something, want something. You write about it instead of traveling to find it. No Eat, Pray, Love exotic trips for you, you just write. You try to capture it in words, this fleeting moment in time known as a human life. You remember a line from your favorite ’80s movie, St. Elmo’s Fire: “We’re all going through this,” Rob Lowe tells Demi Moore, “It’s our time on the edge.” The movie was about a bunch of 22-year-old college students and you saw it when you were 18. Now you could be those characters’ mother, but you still feel like you’re on the edge of something.
Here, now, this day. This is what you have. You want to remember everything about it, but you know by this time next year, this day will have blended into so many others. Good days, all. Mostly. The threads of individual memories will be woven into the growing tapestry of your aging life. You will try to capture it in words, try to write it down so you can reread it later, remind yourself. “Who is this person?” you will ask, 10, 20 years from now. “I don’t recognize her.” But it’s you, you know it’s you. You can feel it in your bones. The wildness still beats in you, you’re still on the edge. It’s still your time.
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