As I careen toward 40, much like a fiery meteor might hurtle uncontrollably toward the unsuspecting earth, I’ve begun to realize that there’s something really wonderful to be said about aging. It’s not just crow’s feet and silver hair and sore joints, although if you’re a female you should brace yourself for the fact that there’s naught to be done about the overwhelming dismay that will bitch slap you in the face the very first time you’re referred to as “Ma’am” by some pimply-faced, teenaged grocery clerk. Or a twenty-something guy. Or a thirty-something man.
Sure, all those Oil Of Oldlady products you see being advertised on television are current staples in my own medicine cabinet at home. And yes, I might have a few stray tinsel-like hairs sprouting like deranged wires out of the top of my head, but the world will never know because my colorist is awesome.
I don’t mind getting older, but it doesn’t mean that I have to look my age. I certainly don’t act like it.
When I was younger, I dreaded reaching middle age. These years were notches located so far along my personal timeline that they were more of an abstract concept than anything else, sort of like contemplating the mass of the entire universe or why my belly button looks the way it does. There are no definitive answers. It seems to me now that the tumultuous years between my past and my present have sped by me in an instant. I’m sitting at my desk with my feet propped up on a toasty baseboard heater, happily settled in my chosen life and its rustic-yet-comfortable surroundings while I sip lukewarm Lapsang Souchong tea and spew forth my tangled thoughts as eloquently as I can manage, reveling in all my middle-aged glory.
I’m not sure if it’s the so-called “wisdom” which comes with age that allows me to look back upon my wonder years and breathe an endless sigh of relief that they’re over, or if it’s just my own acceptance of the fact that those days are long since gone, never to return. Maybe it’s a little of both.
There’s not a soul on this earth who could offer me one good reason to go back and relive my youth. While that era is undoubtedly one full of possibilities, it’s also one filled with much uncertainty, unfairly coupled with the inability to exercise most of one’s own free will. You’re at the mercy of your parents, your teachers, and society’s stereotypical idea that you’re just another lazy and worthless teenager.
Maybe I had an atypical childhood. I didn’t get to experience the sort of quintessential teenaged life you’d associate with any of the iconic 80’s flicks I grew up watching. I idolized Ferris Bueller. I wished my life could have been that carefree and spontaneous. Samantha from Sixteen Candles had such trivial worries compared to my own. The closest I ever came to starring in a John Hughes movie was when I was a sophomore in high school. A popular football player sent me a “secret admirer” balloon during some school group’s balloon fundraiser sale. It should be mentioned here that I wore braces and glasses, although I’d finally gotten the remnants of a really bad freshman-year perm cut from my hair so I had that going for me. The note said “I’ve been watching you in algebra class and I like what I see.”
(Yes, it really did say that, verbatim. I never, ever forgot those words.)
I was dumbfounded and completely mortified. Why in the hell would he do that to me? I knew who he was but I didn’t know him – he was an upperclassman, popular as hell, and I was a brace-faced, four-eyed nobody. It had to be some sort of a joke. Had to be. No other explanation made sense.
Well, I wasn’t falling for it, not me. I ignored it completely, and like magic it went away. He never approached me about it and I avoided him like the plague for the rest of the school year. To this day, I have no idea if he was serious.
I never dated much in high school, at least not until the second half of my senior year. I had a few crushes and I was asked to go out on dates a few times during the course of my high school career, but I never acted on any of those requests for good reason. I knew that any boy I dated would have to come home to meet the family, and that simply couldn’t happen. My number one goal in life during that time was to be at home as little as I possibly could without my drunken father screaming at me about it.
He was unpredictable and mean. So mean. The names that he called me and the things that he said to me over the years were inexcusable, I know that now. I knew it then, too. But at the time, his spontaneous rants and verbal abuse were all that I knew and they were something that I wanted few to ever know.
I stood poised on top of eggshells whenever he was at home because I never knew what to expect out of him from one moment to the next. I couldn’t bring anyone around that.
Eventually, I did stand up to him one night when I was seventeen. I don’t remember what the fight was about, and at first it didn’t have anything to do with me at all. I was dutifully washing dishes in the kitchen sink after dinner, as I always did, while my father screamed at my brother (whom I should mention is totally deaf, which made the screaming even more absurd). At one point, he had my brother pinned to the floor in the dining room, smacking him around, and something inside of me just… snapped. That was it. Driven by nothing but years of pent up anger (my common sense was conveniently missing in action that evening), I threw a glass into the sink and stormed into the adjoining dining room. I confronted him and roared something to the effect of “Why don’t you fight with someone who’ll fucking fight back?”
At that point, I just stood there. Shocked. Much like my father was. He rose from his position over my brother as I backed my way into the kitchen, silently calculating whether or not I would have enough time to reach the back door before he could catch me. I didn’t. My body’s fight-or-flight instinct decided that I would remain to finish what I started. Stupid body. My father stopped and stood directly in front of me, raised his fist and pulled back to swing at my face while I just stared back at him, wide-eyed and disbelieving the ridiculous situation I had just willingly put myself into. I wanted him to punch me so badly. I really did. It would have been an easy way out of that house forever, something I’d wished for as long as I could remember.
His arm remained positioned to throw that first strike for a few moments before it slowly relaxed down at his side. And then he turned and walked away. He just walked away.
And he spoke to no one, not even my mom, for three days.
After the post-apocalyptic dust finally settled, he’d pick a fight with me just about every day. Always over stupid things that didn’t matter. We were constantly at war and I became the primary target of all of his aggression. But I never again hesitated to raise my voice and stand up against his wrath because I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. It was liberating and I remember wishing that I would have done it a lot sooner. I found I had gained a lot of personal strength from him and the way he treated me. For all of the torment I felt during my youth because of him, in the end I came out a better person for having gone through it all because it shaped the parent that I’d later become. From him I learned all the things not to do.
Even when I grew into my early 20’s and I was living far away from where I grew up, life was turbulent for other reasons. I moved around a lot. I was unsettled. I was young… I guess it was the thing to be. I moved three times while living in Las Vegas which, although it was a bustling city, I loved. I had a great job that I actually looked forward to doing five days a week, a couple of favorite “alternative lifestyle” LGBT clubs where I enjoyed dancing my weekend nights away, and Ramen was only ten cents a pack. Ten cents!
I lived in a loft apartment that was situated along the farthest western edge of the city in an area that was just beginning to be developed at that time, far from the tourist areas and noise. At night, I’d sit outside on the balcony, smoking menthol cigarettes and enjoying my view of the distant lights of the Las Vegas Strip. They reminded me of Christmas lights, and Christmas lights are one of my favorite things in the world.
I remember how the Nevada sky was so much bigger than anywhere else I had ever been. It always felt as though the desert was somehow closer to outer space than the rest of the world was. If there were clouds above, they would glow in shades of pink and green from the city’s nighttime reflection. It was beautiful.
I have Las Vegas to thank for helping me to find Whovian. I put a ring on him at 25 but even then, long-term settlement was still nearly ten years away for us. We lived in metro Detroit for a few years after we married. I gave birth to two girls there. Also lived with cancer for a while. I was lucky enough to be treated at the Karmanos Institute in Detroit, where the doctors and everyone on staff are nothing short of amazing. I kicked cancer’s ass and we moved across the country, yet again. This time to San Jose.
For someone who doesn’t much care for the noise and traffic of city life in general, it seemed that every new place I moved to would always be a bigger city than the last. I’m highly adaptable that way, I guess. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, and to be honest with you I was miserable in the beginning. But California eventually grew on me, if for no other reason than the food. I really miss the food. And San Francisco.
I also miss the rainy season, although the rain in northern California never smelled quite right. Having grown up in Ohio, it’s possible I was accustomed to a different ratio of green earth and heavy clay soil that’s affected by the rain in some magical way, or maybe there’s a special midwestern type of ground bacteria that causes such a noticeable difference between the petrichor from one side of the country and the other. Who knows.
(Off subject: Why is Ohio considered to be the Midwest, anyway? It’s situated more toward the East coast than anything else. Although I guess “Mideast” would be too easily confused with “Middle East” which is already taken. Central East? Semi-Middle Northeastish.)
At any rate, several years ago we moved from heavily populated Silicon Valley to barely-populated rural northeastern Ohio and we’ve never been happier. Our rustic cedar home, while it isn’t huge or extravagant, it is perfectly suited for the four of us (and our two dogs). The kids love their school and their friends. My husband loves tooling around on four-wheelers and doing manly things with tractors. I live within a relatively short driving distance to my mom, who is one of my most cherished friends in the world. We have some land and a big patch of forest to run around in, and we’re surrounded by open spaces and fresh-smelling air. Well, unless it’s the time of year when liquid manure is being spread across the fields, in which case everything smells like shit. Oddly enough, though, it’s sort of a good stench. Farm reek. You get used to the odor after a while, I guess. Stinks like home.
There is a sense of contentment that I’ve never felt so strongly before this point in my life. I’m doing important work that I enjoy – things which are beneficial to my family and my community. I suppose you could say there is a greater and much more defined purpose to my existence than I had ten, fifteen… twenty years ago.
Every piece of who I am right now is a direct result of the aging process, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.