Happy almost-birthday to me. This shit sucks.

Tomorrow, I turn 34.

This birthday feels a little different from the others. Thirty was supposed to be the big one; I spent that year watching as friends desperately clung onto a youth that was slipping away faster than an avalanche buries a skier. As proof of their vitality and relevance, they became besties with the college-age interns at work and spent weekends partying like it was 1999. Only, it was now 2008. And no one buys it when you’re partying with something to prove. The beauty of youth is that it’s carefree; twenty-somethings party with reckless abandon. Thirty-somethings, on the other hand, party with the same weary, tense-jawed determination that a soldier brings into battle.

I was pretty smug about turning thirty. “Who cares?” I asked. “It’s just a number. You’re being silly.” I felt proud to know better than those who were panicking about leaving their twenties behind. I had perspective. See, nine years earlier, when it really was 1999, I’d done a lot of reading about Y2K. I was young then, and had nothing to lose, and prepared for the collapse of modern society like most children prepare for a slumber party – with lots of snacks and giddy, palm-rubbing glee. Beyond the possible inconvenience of limited television programming, the end of the world was a promise of pure entertainment. Sure, the power might go out, but Diet Pepsi, Doritos and HoHos could stay good indefinitely with no refrigeration, and this was at the height of the scented candle-gifting craze so we were all set for light as well. I stocked up on D batteries and relished the vision of huddling under a blanket with some chocolate donuts, cuddled up to the radio, listening as the more civilized people went insane and started shooting each other over cans of soup with star-shaped noodles.

When the clocks turned over to 12 midnight, and then 12:01, in the year 2000, and not even a light flickered, I would have been disappointed. I write “would have been” because in actuality, I’d passed out well before the ball dropped. This was a rarity for me; even in my early twenties, I wasn’t much of a drinker. Beyond an obligatory sip of champagne, I hadn’t had a drink at any of the New Year’s Eve parties I’d attended in previous years. The exception in New Year’s 1999 may have been that there was no party – it was just Nick, me, and a bottle of fortified wine that I, in my naivete, didn’t know had a higher alcohol content than some Labatt Blue. Around 10 pm I was pouring another glass and saying, “Just because I don’t drink much doesn’t mean I’m a lightweight!”, and then it was noon and the sunlight was stabbing me in the eyeballs and how the hell did I get to be laying the wrong way across the foot of the bed with my legs hanging onto the floor and a sock on my hand? And to make it worse, the world was just fine and the only thing on TV was B-string newscasters trying to make it sound interesting that everything was completely, totally, mind-numbingly normal.

After the technology crisis failed to deliver, I became an avid reader of articles deconstructing the reasons why computers stubbornly kept working when all evidence had indicated a spectacular crash. A point that was made time and again was that the year 2000 wasn’t even the end of the decade; this made no sense to me whatsoever but the experts said it was a mathematical quirk and since I’m blessed with the stupid when it comes to numbers, I took their word for it. Technically, 2000 was the last year of the 1990’s. The new decade would begin in 2001.

Hence my positive outlook on turning thirty: thirty wasn’t even the start of my new decade. It was the last year of my twenties! So while my friends panicked, I was secure in the knowledge that really, numbers are fucking stupid and I was still in my twenties after all.

Thirty-one was a little bit rougher. But only a little, as I’d already been saying “thirty” for a year and that helped soften the blow of officially entering the next decade of my life.

Thirty-two and thirty-three, I couldn’t have cared less about, except that I began struggling to remember which one I was. Mentally, I stopped aging somewhere around twenty-seven and every advancing year has been marked by an increased reliance on finger-counting to figure out how old I am.

But now I’m coming up on thirty-four and I’ve got to say, I don’t like it. I’m not in my “early thirties” anymore. Now I’m in my mid-thirties, which sounds distinctly less fun. Mid-thirties is when obstetricians tell you you’re of “advanced maternal age,” which roughly translates to “You’re the reason why my malpractice insurance costs so damned much; stop having babies, old lady.” I don’t know if more babies are in our future or not, but it sure is nice to know it’s a possibility. For how much longer, though, is the question.

And that’s the thing about getting older. Whether you want them to or not, your options begin to change. There’s a phase in life when your decisions seem endlessly to be yours, and there’s a phase in life when your decisions are only yours for a short time and if you don’t make your choice then time will do it for you. In spite of me running as fast as I can against the flow, I’m speeding away from the former and toward the latter, as though I’m on a massive, sociopathic grocery story conveyor belt. Like a sack of apples. Or a roasting chicken. Or a lobster.

Yes, definitely like the lobster.

And I know that people who are closer to 44, or 54, or 64, or 74, are chuckling at me (if they’ve made it this far… Because, honestly, I find people who whine about turning 25 or 30 to be intolerably annoying). I know I’ll get there and look back and think I was being melodramatic and silly, too. Especially if society has finally collapsed by then, since that shit really does have a way of putting things in their proper place.

In the meantime, though, I’m adjusting. And glad I wrote my life’s goals in pencil, so that all the things I wanted to in my twenties, I can now revise to say I want to do in my thirties. And that gives me until I’m forty-one, yo.

2 Responses to “Happy almost-birthday to me. This shit sucks.”

  1. timesnlatte

    Fuck, talk to me when you’re staring 49 in the face. That is, if I’m not senile by then.

    Seriously, there’s something about being “late” whatever decade that makes you sound older. Somehow “early 50s” sounds better than “late 40s.” At least I’m choosing to believe that.

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