In one month, I will turn 39. Egads! 39. Seriously? How the hell did that happen? I mean, I can see the whites of 40’s eyes glaring at me from the not so distant shadows. It’s the beginning of a whole new decade of my life and that much closer to middle-age. Oh wait, am I middle-aged now? Oh God, now I’ve scared myself. I suppose it’s safe to say that I am not really taking this whole 39th birthday thing too well. I never do and really, who does? I remember a time when I couldn’t wait for that next birthday to come. Age 10 meant I could ride my bike on the street; age 16 – driver’s license; age 18 – emancipation; age 21- legal liquor. Then it all just sort of fizzled out. After a while birthday excitement got harder and harder to muster until one day the very thought of another birthday left me curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, murmuring unintelligible nonsense over and over. What? Never happened to you? Hmmmm…strange. Happens to me every year.
As the days tick by, edging closer and closer to June 16, I find myself feeling reflective. When I turned 29, my beautiful daughter was not yet one and my son was still under the false impression that I was, if not cool, a least a little bit fun. But for all this happiness and promise of what my 30s would bring, I didn’t start the decade off on the right foot. Indeed, I squandered almost half of it by feeling afraid. Afraid of the future; afraid of change; afraid of finding out who I really was as a person – or perhaps rather, who I wanted to be as a person. It wasn’t a good time for me. I retreated into myself, alienated friends and got myself good and fat. I could snarf down an entire bag of Oreos without coming up for air. It was actually quite an impressive feat, if I do say so myself. I stumbled my way through my early 30s this way until I saw the family Christmas photo in 2004.
I was excited about that photo. It was the first photo of all us in years. I picked it up and opened the envelope with much anticipation. It was going to be great, I just knew it. Wrong. Sure, my family looked amazing. Megan with her chubby little cheeks and Brendan with his dazzling smile and Nolan looking every bit the part of a proud husband and father – then there was me. Double chin, round face, sunken eyes, frizzy hair, sausage arms accentuated by the festive red sweater I’d stupidly chosen instead of my usual black. My gasp of horror was irrepressible and was surely heard by everyone in the photo studio. I don’t think I have ever laid eyes on a worse photo – not even my senior pictures which were mind-blowingly bad to say the least, was that bad. I’ve alway wondered how I made it out of that place without disgracing myself but I made it safely back to my car before I dissolved into a sobbing pile of goo.
That terrible, awful, disgusting, repulsive – I could go on forever – picture changed my life. It was like someone flipped a switch in me. I didn’t want to be the person I saw in this picture staring back at me with dead eyes. I wanted to be something more. First thing I did was lose the weight. Wasn’t easy – it never is. One of life’s little ironies is that it’s always so much easier and a lot more fun to get fat than it is to get un-fat. I did it though – me, my stationary bike and reruns of Alias (only the greatest show on television – EVER). Once I did that, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. I mean, if I could lose 50 lbs, what else could I do? What did I want to do? I wanted to write. Writing was something I’d dabbled in since childhood but never had the confidence to pursue.
I took a basic novel writing class at Collin County Community College. Best thing I ever did for myself – well besides loosing weight and getting healthy. I learned several things about myself during this class – 1) I am quite capable of carrying on conversations with complete strangers without making too much of a fool of myself 2) I sweat and shake profusely when I am nervous – I am talking sopping wet pits 3) Letting others read and critique my work doesn’t make the heavens come crashing down around my ears. 4) Change isn’t all that scary.
In my mid-thirties, I learned that the universe has a sick sense of humor. I was taking baby steps in my endeavor to be more open to change and find myself. I was more than happy with the pace of things. Apparently, the universe didn’t quite see things my way. In the span of just a few months, I lost my house to a fire, my father to cancer, my mother came to live with us and then was diagnosed with cancer herself. Like it or not, I was going to have to deal with some serious change – quickly – like right now. If it had been five years early, I might have crawled into my bed, pulled the covers over my head and waited for the storm to pass but it never crossed my mind. Instead, I dealt with it, bit by bit and I let myself grow from the experience. I signed up for another writing class (the one I had to drop because my father passed away) and I met the most amazing people. (Funny how the universe worked there – I never would have met them if I had stayed in the first class.) They read my work – I had to stand up in front of them and watch while they did it. As before, it didn’t kill me. I did sweat like a pig and shake like a leaf but I survived. I discovered I liked sharing my work, I liked the honest feedback and I learned that I wasn’t a terrible writer but I had a lot of room for improvement. I found that I liked them. Everyone different with their own thoughts and creative ideas. And every one of them just as quirky as me. I felt a kinship with these people. I found my group.
As I make the climb up these steep steps toward 40, I am not happy about it. I hate the new wrinkles around my eyes, the laugh lines that frame my mouth and the saggy little skin I’ve just discovered under my chin that no amount of miracle cream can seem to tighten. I hate that no matter how much I exercise, I will never get rid of that bit of fat that is threatening to overtake my knees. My feet hurt, my knees ache a little and I can’t fall off a ladder anymore without really hurting myself. I’m still scared of losing the tight grip I keep on my life – I will forever be a control freak but I am learning to be more laid back and maybe even the tiniest bit spontaneous. I understand now the importance of nurturing good relationships, cutting out the bad and not being afraid to step off the ledge without looking – well maybe just a peek before I leap. I am getting older. I can’t stop it, I don’t like it anymore now than I did ten years ago but the difference now is that I can accept it and feel almost a little bit of excitement about what I might be able to accomplish in the coming years. I am a 38-year-old college student, after all. Right now the possibilities seem endless.