On the Cusp of Old

This baby will be ten this year.
I’m pretty sure I’m the same age.

My mother had been looking into going to the aquarium with my father, who unthinkingly pointed out that they would save five dollars if they went next year because my mother would be sixty and could qualify for the senior citizen’s discount.

I snort, because of course my mother isn’t about to be sixty. I’m only thirty-five, so she…

Oh.

I look to the wall, where she has hung a collage of pictures from when my brothers and I were in diapers to kindergarten, then back to her. In my mind, she still looks like the woman in the photographs because it is from that version of her that I learned the definition of “mom.” Yet she is now grandmother to a facially-pierced, young woman who takes driving lessons. I begrudgingly suppose that could make her nearly sixty.

I need a way to chide away this steady march of mortality. I lack a cohesive philosophy that would cure existential dread. Heaven or reincarnation, just something that guarantees that something more opportunity to learn and grow would come after brain death. Despite my intellectual fondness for transhumanism, I am skeptical I will be able to be uploaded. There never seems enough time, which means there is especially no time to worry about the dwindling light.

Through the lens of time, much becomes trivial. My daily job becomes a series of motions I go through in order to get a biweekly paycheck and summers off to write. It’s not nothing — it is enviable to many — but I do not feel purposeful in reiterating a Common Core lesson to a boy on his third stint in two years when there are days to be better experienced. I am paid for my patience when teaching, but I can’t deny I feel a buzz of frustration when faced with boys who throw their lives away until adults stop picking them up and smoothing them back into shape.

As I settle into my mid-thirties, I have less sympathy for people who take for granted this one precious life, those who cling to learned helplessness at the expense of facing the world. Don’t live as a scream against your parents or ex-boyfriend. If they didn’t crawl out of you, you have no business living for them. Don’t hide away waiting for rescue, because you will rot. None of us is blessed enough for divine intervention. I doubt the gods are actively listening. Live your life daily to the best your body and brain let you.

Without identifying details — I mean this as a general screed and not a call-out — I know people who have ostensibly traded living for a sort of screeching rusting. They want to make plain their fruitless wilting, how miserable everything makes them and how Prufrockian they are. They want sympathy and perhaps they deserve it, but I am revolted. I am worried that I will never have time enough yet they waste years trying to exact revenge on people too busy to notice passive-aggression. When they go into one of their whines about the unfairness of the circumstance in which they have fought to remain, no matter how many ropes they’ve been thrown and bridges they’ve burned, I feel like a relatively healthy person in the presence of a plague victim. They have my pity, but at a distance for fear they will infect me and, truth be told, I think they are beyond saving by any man who cannot walk on water. It is selfish but I have to keep myself thriving if I am to be any good to those who can use my help.

All this angst-infused navel-gazing may make it seem as though I am a hypocrite, not appreciating my life, but there is an increased importance on enjoying what I do because I may not get another chance. This day, though gray and rainy, is the only day I am getting so I might as well find something in it to enjoy. Let me live fully and write it well. It is the only immortality I can imagine.

Yet life is never made of big moments. They form the chapter headings we pretend exist, but turning the page doesn’t usually change the story. We build word by word, never knowing which day will bring us something that will one day prove essential. I found Daniel on a dating site because my male friends were vacating the Hudson Valley. I met Amber in a backyard at a ritual I barely wanted to attend. I discovered my current publisher out of a need to prove a point in a Facebook argument. None of these were anticipated as things I expected to become important. Each has altered my trajectory in ways I can hardly fathom from the ground.

My graduations from three colleges meant nothing to me since they merely thrust me toward another plateau to climb. My wedding was one of the most emotionally days I have experienced, but my soul was married before then, woven thread by thread. I have wept over the deaths of grandparents and friends, but they didn’t shape my daily life. Breakups have counted more, though I now acknowledged they shouldn’t have, because they signaled that I walked the path unescorted for the time being.

I don’t know the imprtant moments of my mother’s life. I am sure she would say the birth of her three sons and perhaps that of her first biological grandchildrank high, as did the death of my grandmother. At fifty-nine, she’s had a bouquet of joys and disappointments I can hardly imagine, any which could have shaped her to the woman she is now. I don’t know if she feels successful, if this is even a drive (pathological need) she has to the same degree is I do.

I cannot envision how I will feel should I be on the cusp of sixty. I still experience moments of bafflement that I am thirty-five, a decade out of graduate school, nearly two years married. I am the age where celebrity magazines and websites react with bold shock when my female peers manage to look attractive instead of like shriveled hags. I am no longer a young adult, but an adult proper. I have considered people five years younger than me “old,” though of course I am not old now, all evidence to the contrary as I begin my late thirties. I teach boys who could have been my sons, but I am not old, simply an over-experienced twenty-something, barely any wiser than the tow-haired little boy in the pictures hanging on my mother’s wall.

Originally posted at Xenex.