I look at a photo of myself taken recently at a wedding. I’m wearing cherry red lipstick and the last time I’d attempted the feat was back in college when my professor told me I shouldn’t. I’m older now and men can’t boss me around like they used to and I feel freer and more confident in my red lips and strong opinions.
The other day I was telling a story about college and realized, Wait, was that 20 years ago? No, it couldn’t be, because I’m not that old. College still feels like “the other day.” Somehow time has streaked by and I’m 40 this month and it feels weird and significant.
I have t-shirts older than some of my coworkers, and when someone tried to hit on me I did the math and realized he was four when I got married. Baby, you couldn’t handle me, I thought. I know too much about who I am.
Forty feels like freedom.
I remember when my parents turned 40 and we said “middle-aged” and Dad bought a very respectable Honda Accord but we called it a mid-life crisis. “Middle” and “mid” were at 40 and here I am, and is this what it feels like? Am I at the midpoint of a life?
You never know. I could have an anvil dropped on my head tomorrow. Maybe college was the midpoint. Who knows, but I’ll go out with my lips painted red.
“I think I might want to get a sleeve,” I declare to my husband.
“A sleeve?” Alex asks quizzically.
“A tattoo on my whole arm,” I explain, indicating the large stretch of real estate with ever-loosening skin dangling from my shoulder.
“But … I like your arm,” he murmurs, knowing full well that if he tries to tell me what to do I’ll immediately go out and do the opposite.
I’ve been running around saying how excited I am to be 40, waxing on about the liberating effect of coming into age, but yesterday I burst into tears and sobbed so hard I made a pool of boogers on the carpet where I was bent over like a dripping gargoyle. So apparently this birthday is complicated. Alex brought me tissues and let me talk.
“I never had that fun stage, you know the one they show on TV, with the young 20somethings meeting for happy hour after work and going where they want when they want to? It looks fun. I want that stage. I went from college to marriage, and I love you, and I love our life, but I missed the slightly irresponsible stage of staying out too late with friends like in the movies.”
Alex is amazing because no matter how rude I am he doesn’t seem to take it personally. I basically pooped on our whole 20-year life together and he calmly responded, “So … you want to go clubbing?”
My inner teenager is welling up wanting to break out and have fun after two decades of solid adulting, marrying, and raising kids. My heart feels 18, wild and carefree and ready to sneak out on a Saturday night.
Every morning when the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., and I twist in bed to turn it off, my lower back clenches in fury. My back feels 85 and I want to stay in and rub ointments on it.
My brain feels 40. As younger people around me make declarations about life in black and white, my inner cynic feels comfortable with so much grey. My brain feels very, very 40 and I find myself comfortable with the tension in the middle ground. Millennials and Boomers can keep picking at each other. I have my GenX cynicism to keep me warm and cozy, so crank up the Nirvana and leave me alone.
In the scheme of billions of years of Earth, my 40 don’t feel like a lot of living, and yet I’ve built up a bit of human history here on this planet and I like the perspective I’ve gained. Remember when …
The Challenger blew up in front of our eyes on the one TV the whole second grade was grouped around in school?
The Berlin Wall came down and we watched on the news as people chipped off chunks of it and celebrated in the streets?
George Lucas thought it was a good idea to add Jar-Jar Binks into the Star Wars universe?
The plane plowed into the Pentagon minutes after I passed it on my morning commute and I couldn’t get to my husband at his office on the Potomac for hours after the chaos?
In my 40 years, I’ve seen some good and bad and horrible things happen. I’ve seen the beauty and devastation that people are capable of. My children wonder if I sailed the ocean blue with Noah and the animals in twosies.
“Mommy, did they have electricity when you were a kid?”
“Barely, honey. Just barely.”
“But no cell phones?”
“No cell phones. And the phones we did have had twirly cords that attached them to the wall so you had to answer the phone in one spot.”
“Oh my gosh.”
I’m old enough that the 10-year-old boys in our swim team carpool call my music Oldies. We jam out to “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways and they get out of my van going, “Ch-ch-ch-ch.” (I probably should’ve thought that one through.) They think it’s about small explosives and in a way, that’s true.
Forty brings honesty, not that I wasn’t honest before, but I think I’m developing confidence in truth telling. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and with others. I can say no when I’m unable to commit to something and I chase hard after what I want and push away the fear of failure. (And maybe I’ll go clubbing for a night, then come home and ice my back.)
This is what I have to offer the world, and I won’t pretend to be something I’m not and I won’t stay on the sideline waiting for my turn.
Hello, world, I’m your wild girl. I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch ch-ch-ch-ch cherry bomb.
Forty feels like I’m just getting started.