Tonight I will go to bed as a 39-year-old, and tomorrow I’ll wake up and be 40. In a switch of a minute, I’ll be in a whole new decade of my life.
Ten years ago I ushered in my 30s with a private party that included over 200 guests and a band of drag queens twirling glitter. I was so afraid of being “old” that I wanted my 20s to go out loud—and long—into the night.
This year I celebrated with a handful of friends over a quiet dinner. The only glitter I dusted off was from a card that read: A Wish for You!
Tonight I’ll likely be in bed by 10.
I’ve loved my 30s. It’s where I discovered my voice and the real beat of my own drum. It’s where I found my people, said goodbye to a few, and allowed myself to finally be let go by others. I’m sad to see what’s felt like the best decade of my life disappear overnight, but I am embracing this crossroad. I’m at a place where I can look back for miles and appreciate, while looking ahead beyond the horizon and dream for what’s to come. This middle part of life isn’t scary or threadbare. It’s f-ing fantastic and I’m going to live it up . . . even if it means I’ll have to start using more eye cream.
If my 30s were spent coming into my own, my 40s are going to be spent on the things I Iove (and only on the things I love). I will learn to say yes to the right opportunities and no to the things that do not get me any closer to where I want my life—and dreams—to be. This middle part is going to be selfish and selfless because only now have I learned to balance both. I needed my 20s to learn how to be selfish, my 30s to be selfless, and now these equal parts will carry me forward.
At that quiet dinner a few nights ago my niece—who will turn 20 two days after my birthday—said she couldn’t wait to be out of her teens and into a whole new decade where it will all really happen. I was too quick to add, “Well, your 20s are nothing. Your 30s is where it’s really at.”
I wish I wouldn’t have said that. “Old” folks say stuff like that. But we both laughed it off in a moment between two people, half-a-life apart, imagining what’s in store and who we’ll be 10 years from now.
And that’s what growing older is really about. That anticipation keeps us moving at any age.
The candy apple red two-door Nissan—with jet black windows and a spoiler on the back—kept whispering my name as I made a beeline to her in the parking lot of the dealership. My husband, Cory, examined the sticker price details on a used four-door sedan. He hadn’t noticed my departure.
A dealer shuffled across the lot toward me and the red sports car. “You wanna take it for a spin?”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
I yelled for Cory to come. He shook his head as he approached. “Really? This?” He kept stealing glances at the four-door sedan.
I was barely over thirty but well over the line toward an early mid-life crisis. The car I was there to trade in was a maroon four-door that had practical gas mileage. I longed for something new; something fresh . . . something fast. Something that proclaimed to the world that I was still full of youth and not . . . aging.
After a jaunt around town and testing the limits on its speed, I got my way that day and we drove off the lot in my brand new sports car. The first of its kind I’d ever owned.
For almost ten years, that little red car treated me well. I took her on several cross-country trips as I made my way to and from Indiana. I used her to pick up #1 New York Times bestselling authors from the airport, and let a state Senator or two hitch a ride. Everyone commented on her beauty. “Wow, nice ride!” they’d say. There were arguments and apologies and celebrations in that car. There were, indeed, many memories.
This week I said goodbye to her. I traded her in for a wagon. This summer I will be forty, and the last couple of years I’ve stolen glances of my own at other cars on the Interstate; more practical cars that could fit more than one box in their trunk. Cars that ten years ago I wouldn’t have given a chance. As I walked away from her for the last time, I felt guilt and sadness. I had left a part of my life behind there in the parking lot of the Subaru dealership. My entire thirties. I thought somehow that little red sports car knew I wouldn’t be back and that I’d left her for something steadier.
“What will happen to her once I leave?” I asked my dealer.
“Well, we’ll see if it’s something we can sell on our used lot, but, if not, we’ll send her to auction.”
As I drove away in my new twilight blue four-door wagon, I imagined a sixteen-year-old kid driving away in my old car. He’ll probably see it on some lot as his dad checks out the sticker price on a more reasonable sedan, but he’ll win the argument and that little red car will get him through high school and college. I hope it makes him the coolest kid in school.
Grief first came to me in the fall of 1987. It wasn’t my own. I watched it from afar as my great-aunt Maxine pulled the blankets from her bed and carried them to the laundry room; her head buried in their scent from days—maybe weeks—worth of wear. Her husband had died suddenly that morning. A heart attack they said. It took him out right after breakfast.
Maxine rolled all of the blankets in one big wad and stuffed them into the washer. “Damnit! Damnit!” She kicked at the bottom of the machine and slammed the lid shut. She lay the top half of her body across the washer and hugged the sides as she cried and screamed. Screamed and cried. A cycle of repetition. I watched from the doorway as she reluctantly let go.
I’ve experienced my own grief on multiple occasions since that November evening. It never gets easier. Two days ago I experienced it again. We said goodbye to our Sammy, that gnarly-toothed Lhasa Apso who never left my side. And now, he’s not here. I’ve closed my eyes for minutes at a time and have thought I could feel him nestled between my legs, but I’ve opened my eyes and he’s gone. Then the wind rattled the storm door this morning and I thought it was the tags on his collar clinking together like they used to do when he jumped from the floor to the couch. Eventually, these feelings and sounds will fade away.
I’ve sat here on the couch, in my pajamas, for two days. I want to let go, to move on, but I can’t. My thumb scrolls all of my newsfeeds up and down, down and up. Half the time I’m not even paying attention to what goes by. Once in a while, a funny video will catch my eye and I start to laugh only to have it slapped away by this aching pain in the pit of my stomach.
Tomorrow our housekeeper will come. She texted Cory to make sure it was still okay. “Is it?” he asked me. I nodded. Although I’m not ready for the last remnants of Sammy to be washed away, I know that I can’t go on like this forever.
I’ll shower today and will make it to the gym. I’ll kick the side of the weights as I scream “Damnit! Damnit!” and reluctantly let go.