I noticed more hair on my shoulders today. It was the “I’m getting older” kind-of-hair, as if parts of my body are already trying to escape before I die. My follicles don’t want to go down with the ship; I’m coming apart at the seams a couple of months before my college graduation.
“It’s all downhill from here,” they warn, those seeping with wisdom, already hairless and elderly and alone. I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it; if I’m not destined to sleeping on opposite ends of the bed briefly remembering a time of passion from yesteryear, before succumbing to sleep-apnea-ridden slumber, or if one day soon I’ll wake up with an inevitable and indifferent distaste for everyone around me. I feel as though I’m just slowly inching toward a paralyzing apathy that will eventually bury me and force feigned eulogies out of mouths I once kissed or brought to smiles; mouths that I’ll only let down once I’ve reached the depths of true, undiluted adulthood. Mouths that know the ugly path of life all too well (themselves) and mouths that’ll lie for the sake of consideration and tradition. “Alex was smart and funny. He was a joy to be around and will surely be missed.”
If we’re honest, it’s the little things wringing my hands. I’m scared of antacids and having to increase the fiber in my diet; I’m scared of listening to jazz by myself, or not recognizing 36 out of the top 40; I’m scared of drinking whiskey on the rocks or sipping it with no rocks at all. I’m scared of seeing more people from high school accidentally get married or give birth to terrible little replicas of themselves, and I’m more scared of the growing number of people doing these things on purpose. I’m scared of reunions; I’m scared of both the word and the event itself; seeing wrinkles, rings, missing limbs, missing lives, shattered memories broken by the rugged passing of so much time. And I’m scared of just sitting there, watching, horrified, holding a glass of water because water has the least calories out of any drink. I’m not scared of death, I’m just scared of the checkpoints along the way; the merciless reminders that it’s a slow and steady process riddled with yet more lessons, yet more Champion shirts and Dockers khakis, and yet more hair peeking out of places it was not occupying the day before. Growing up is seemingly endless; a repetition of puberty and its various grotesque stages.
I wonder if there’s any way I’m as different as I think I am or if, at the end of the day, I’ll just be another middle-aged man wincing as my doctor sticks a finger up my ass to confirm that, yes, I am not dying quite yet. Will he turn to me and, with an arguably evil grin while stripping his experienced fingers of their latex guardians, say, “The coast is clear. Now go grab some lunch, you look half-starved”? Will I be white as a ghost, rocked with another benchmark for age, another smack in the face of youth? At my funeral, will they conclude with, “Well, it wasn’t colon cancer, it was just old age. Just a reminder: there will be sandwich and veggies trays at the Jewells’.”
I don’t want this to sound pessimistic, or over the top; I don’t want to take a dump on your mood and invite you along for an unnecessarily melancholy and hypothetical step forward, because my final point may surprise you with inspiration. Despite these fears — and their desperate attempt to rob me of my drive and charisma — I believe our destiny is that which we perceive it as and let it be. We are the crafters of our middle-aged and older selves; we are the only ones that can live or die, jump off cliffs or merely crawl to our eventual demise along endless plateaus. They say it’s all downhill after walking across that stage and accepting a certificate that seals our acceptance into everyone else’s similar fate, but I argue it’s actually a launching pad for chasing the next dream. I may one day have a doctor digging around in my ass for any cancerous party crashers, but that doesn’t mean the party stops and our only option is to walk back shamelessly to a suffocating existence post-success.
Don’t ever view life as an endless path leading us to a casket, rotting away behind mourning naysayers and black-clothed defeat. We’re greater than that, new shoulder hair or not.