Today I turned 29. So I guess that’s it. My life is over. I’m an old woman and I must spend the rest of my days lying about my age, buying more and more expensive face cream, and counting the wrinkles around my eyes. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a bollocks way to live the next 50-70 years.
I’ll be honest, though, I’ve felt old for years. It started in the Army. My sore joints from running and push-ups coupled with the influx of younger soldiers made 23 and 24 to be pretty sage years. It was worse when I got out and started community college. It was disorienting being around people with whom I didn’t automatically share experiences. They hadn’t gone to BCT or AIT, had never deployed, and had barely been out of the state. And they were all so young. They were only a few years junior to me and yet I felt I had decades on them. When I transferred to CNU, the old-woman syndrome intensified. At least at community college, there were lots of non-traditional students who were older than me, had families and life experience, and could relate with me about all these “kids.” CNU felt like I’d been plunged in the kiddie pool again.
The big moment for me came when I recently realized that I have a decade on the freshmen. A decade. Now, I still look like I’m 12, so I’m accustomed to people expressing surprise at my actual age. A new expression that I wasn’t prepared for was shock verging on horror. Surprise is flattering, but how am I to respond to “Oh my God!”? Is it so bad that I’m finally at the end of my twenties? Have I failed somehow because I’m in college and not already living in my million dollar mansion on the beach? Is it too late for me to achieve all my dreams?
Okay, I’m being a little melodramatic. But think about it. The obsession with youth is ridiculous in this country. There is so much pressure to be young and beautiful, to succeed now before it’s too late. And under it all is a fear of getting old, which is a grammatical conundrum for me. Can you define old? Specifically? It isn’t a really definitive adjective, yet we talk about it as though it’s a destination that we arrive at when in fact our perception of what is “old” is constantly evolving. And we dread that imaginary destination because it is an indication that it’s all over. The big dreams, the feeling of limitless potential, the infinite possibilities, they all evaporate when we get old. Then we’re supposed to spend the rest of our lives pining for lost youth and trying to recapture it through make-up, hair dye, surgical modifications, and flashy cars.
Well I call bull sh*t. I may have started college later, but I didn’t spend seven years sitting in a stasis chamber waiting for my turn to take English 101. I lived. I lived in Hawaii and Alabama, deployed to Iraq, got my heart obliterated, fell in love, got married, made friends that are closer to me than my siblings, drove from the east coast to the west coast and back, and made my own way in the world. Old my ass. I’m experienced. If I was writing a letter to my 18-year-old self, I’d tell her not to change a doggone thing. All the mistakes I regret were part of making me who I am, and I like who I am. I don’t sit in class envying all those “kids” for their youth. If anything, I pity anyone who thinks that their life ends at 29. That isn’t a way to look at life. It’s okay to feel old, especially on Monday mornings when the alarm goes off. But there’s no cause to start mourning birthdays. Celebrate every year you survive in this effed up world. And lord your experiences over the younger generations, like I do at every possible opportunity. I’m going to brag about my age for the rest of my life.