In further deeply worrying developments: in a few weeks, I
turn thirty-four. Of course it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for
way more than just those few weeks. When I was about to be thirty, I joked
about being horribly, terribly old, that thirty is next to death, that as the
clock clicked over to midnight, I would suddenly be only a painful stagger away
from a broken hip and a very short and unhappy lifetime of embarrassing suppositories.
But I didn’t actually believe that. Mostly I didn’t believe that. More or less.
Not believing that every year past thirty brings me closer to death.
I’m going to be older. But thirty was not terrible and thirty-four…thirty-four is not old. Ish.
But old is not, in the end, what I’m worried
about, really. Thirty wasn’t the marker between young and old, strong and feeble, rosy
and withered. What it felt like to me, that thirty thing, was the big
roundabout that directs you one-way from kid and grown-up. It felt like some
kind of inescapable, unavoidable fast-and-strong dividing line between being
allowed to be an immature idiot still just figuring things out, and a real-live
Adult. What the hell do I mean by adult? By thirty, aren’t
you supposed to have gotten well, not everything straightened out, but aren’t
you supposed to have a pretty good goddamn idea of what the hell you’re doing,
an inkling, just a tiny inkling of who you are, and where you need to go?
Aren’t you supposed to start thinking about getting your life in some kind
order by the time you are thirty? I know there isn’t some kind of law somewhere,
scrawled in permanent marker on the side of a building or carved deeply into a
mountain by the terrifying hand of god, I know that this isn’t actually any
kind of rule made up by anyone but me, but I just cannot shake this idea of
thirty, this feeling of required adultness, this vague sense of failed
Thirty, I think, is a good age. It was an important age. And
being this idea of an adult, being this idea of thirty, I can’t shake—right there is something I still haven’t got any sort of handle on. And that’s
why it felt, and still feels, like I wasn’t allowed to be thirty, yet. In my
thirties. I hadn’t gotten my twenties right, and for fuck’s sake, there are
things from my teens I think I’m still supposed to have taken care of.
When people are surprised at my age, they’re not saying to
me, "Wow, you’re really thirty-three? I thought you were twenty-six or twenty-seven!" because they
are thinking ah, she is so fresh, so vibrant, so youthful! They are, in fact,
thinking ah, so young she acts. They don’t say to me, "You look so
young!" That would be nice. No, they tell me, "You seem so
young." I don’t have the poise of an adult, or the self-possession, or
even the resources to fake poise and self-possession. Of course, nobody thinks
they do, and yes, all of us are perpetually caught up in an elaborate dance of
social fakery and so on and so forth, fine.
That doesn’t change the fact that I’m still an emotional
wreck, with all the immaturity and wretched self-absorption of a fourteen-year-old girl. I jump up and down, I shriek, I have little to no self-control. I am
selfish. I don’t know anything. I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know
how I’m doing it. And for fuck’s sake, I haven’t accomplished much of anything,
either. Thirty-four years on this earth is supposed to have been plenty of time
to have done important things. Some kind of important thing? Just one thing?
Okay, I thought. A list of accomplishments! Write a list of
accomplishments, and it’s bound to soothe you, if only a little bit. The list
fizzled out around number four, and then I was writing things like "can
walk in straight line!" and "have thumbs." It wasn’t very
And, and, and. But you know, I’m not going to catalog
everything that makes me unqualified for being in my mid-thirties, because then
I’ll have to start last-minute panicking about how I’m not ready for forty.
I might be having a crisis. Just a small, uninteresting
When I turned thirty, I was in
sense of that adventure would flavor the rest of the year, follow behind me, be
carried around inside me. Maybe I thought, I want to be outside of my regular life
when it happens. I say "when it happens," as if something was going
to magically click over, and things would start ticking, and the rest of my
life would be impatiently waiting for me, up the path and around the turn,
tapping its toe and wondering what the fuck it is that was taking me so long
to catch up.
I saw the city I’ve always wanted to see, before I turned
some significant age. Being in
thousands of miles away from home, it gave me a sense of perspective. A way to
look at the long view, the panoramic view of my life, and a chance to figure
out exactly what it was I was fumbling my way toward, what it was I wanted and
what it was I only thought I wanted.
That didn’t last long.
This year, I will turn thirty-four in
and important emblematic number, maybe this will be the year everything turns
around and I become smart and polished and socially apt. Maybe this will be the
year I slough off all the stupid. Maybe this will be the year I have a
breakdown, and wouldn’t a nice warm hospital be an excellent place to live out
my end of days, where the only pressure I have is whether I want the red or the
It is a comfort, though, to know that I made it through
thirty and thirty-one, -two and -three. And if I got this far, maybe I am not as far
away from being whomever it is I am supposed to be someday. Or I could just
keep making my way through the years and someday that’ll be enough.