As I careen through midlife, much like a fiery meteor might hurtle uncontrollably toward 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 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 first time you’re referred to as “Ma’am” by some pimply-faced, teenage grocery clerk. Or a hot twenty-something guy. Or a sexy thirty-something man.
I admit, all those Oil Of Oldlady products advertised on television are current staples in my own medicine cabinet at home. And yes, I might have a small army of tinsel hair sprouting like indestructible wires from the top of my head, but the silver gives me a little extra sparkle.
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; dwelling on them was like trying to contemplate the mass of the entire universe or why my nipples become slightly oval whenever they get hard. There were no definitive answers to be found in my pondering.
I’m not sure if it’s the so-called “wisdom” that comes with age that makes me look back upon my wonder years and breathe a massive sigh of relief that they’re over, or if it’s just acceptance of the fact that those days are long gone, never to return, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
Maybe it’s a little of both.
As adults, we gaze at the memories of our teenage years through a Barbara Walters-esque photo filter whose soft blur disguises every flaw. It allows our mental imagery of those moments to appear perfect in hindsight. It’s like watching your favorite 80’s teen movie over and over again; a nostalgia that feels like home floods your chest with warm feelings and all you can think is to yourself is, “Damn… remember the good old days?”
Well, I do. Maybe I had an atypical childhood, but the closest I ever came to starring in a John Hughes movie happened 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 because holy shit – he actually liked what he saw?! The dude needed to get his eyes checked apparently.)
I was dumbfounded and completely mortified. Why in the hell would he do this to me? Could he really be that mean? I knew who he was, in passing, but I didn’t actually know him. He was an upperclassman, popular as hell, and I was a brace-faced, four-eyed nobody. His grand romantic gesture 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 once approached me about it and I avoided him like the bubonic plague for the rest of the school year. To this day, I have no idea if he was serious.
I doubt it.
That’s the kind of shit I would never want to do over – the awkwardness of my teenage years. If John Hughes would have written my script, after a series of further misunderstandings and miscommunications, Football Boy and I would have run into each other at the high school dance and shared a memorable kiss in the parking lot, just before the credits rolled.
To be honest with you, there’s not a soul on this earth who could offer me one good reason (or enough money) to go back and relive my youth. While that era is undoubtedly one full of possibilities – anything can happen and everything is brand new – it’s also filled with much uncertainty that is 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 – until you break free in your twenties, launching yourself on a voyage of self-discovery through unstable and uncharted territory.
At forty-something, I’m at a point in my life where, while things don’t always go my way, I’m content. I’m comfortable in my own skin and far more confident in my decisions than I was twenty years ago. I have decades of life experience to thank for that. I have a home; it’s not extravagant and my tiny living room is best described as “cozy,” but it’s a warm place that I enjoy coming back to every day. I have my own family, and while that comes with its own set of challenges and responsibilities, I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
Here I sit, my cracking bones and sciatica the perfect accessories to a gnarly tangle of crepe-papery wrinkles that surround my eyes whenever I smile. It’s true – my laughter instantly makes me look ten years older than I am, but you know what? I’m okay with that. At least I no longer have to fret about who’s going to take me to the prom.