I turn thirty years old in approximately two months. It’s a progression ameliorated by two factors: First is that, aimlessly riding the concourse of my twenties I’ve increasingly drawn parallels to the progression of my teens. I’m pretty sure that in bar conversation I’ve said the exact phrase: “The twenties are like the teens except with more information.”
Like, crossing the threshold of legal drinking age is a lot like hitting puberty, whereby suddenly your body has become a weapon full of urges you don’t know how to use and you’ll shoot yourself in the foot with them if you don’t get practiced at your new freedoms, and fast.
And like, it follows: The mid-twenties, say twenty-five, is a lot like fifteen, in that you’re simultaneously feeling accustomed to the rules of your generation while also being highly anxious about the future. Fifteen year-olds are pretty good at high school, at masking the angst that categorizes that time in their life with the sort-of ruse of maturity, aggressively expressing themselves as if they had ‘finally figured it out’, while privately ending up alone in the evening a lot of the time, or worse than alone.
Worse than alone is silently migrating alongside others in one’s half-accidental motley crew, gliding like an invisible ghost along with the group as they discuss something you don’t care about. Fifteen year-olds have a lot of friends who are older than them and a lot of friends who are younger than them. They don’t know what they’re going to do when this arc of their lives is over. Twenty-five year-olds are precisely the same.
Eighteen year-olds who are about to graduate are obsessed with their age. There is an anecdote that has struck its way into my personal history like a sliver of bamboo under the fingernail of a hostage, and it goes a little something like this. When I was eleven or twelve and a year behind everyone else in my seventh grade class and I brought novels to school, a little current of laughter, a mean-girls titter, would arise every time I volunteered to read a book report out loud in class. Because, I mean, duh, huh-llo, you didn’t volunteer to read your book report, titter-titter! I know now those bitches were probably envious of my much further-advanced titters, but I digress.
Flash forward: Senior year. Everyone is turning eighteen. Everyone is applying to college. Everyone is very serious about their future adulthood. Everyone has bought Catcher in the Rye and it is changing their lives and then one day in English I say something like, “I think that book is pretty lame” and this one girl in soccer socks turns to me and she has the gall to go, “you’re so ignorant, Leigh.”
I mean, really?
I can remember what livid tasted like in my throat. Congratulations, doll, you read your first big-girl book! Ten years later I would decline her Facebook request.
Um, so, anyway. Just like at eighteen, at twenty-eight you are ready to leave behind everything you thought was true before and you’re so stupidly aggressive about it. You are all of a sudden ‘wise about the ways of the world’. You’ve ‘seen some shit’. It is time for a ‘real job’. Your emotional stalwart party buddies are ‘sad’ all of a sudden. You’re graduating.
Probably in a few more years I’ll understand the analogue between twenty and thirty and I’ll be able to write about it somewhere or other. But for the moment, it seems like two months away is as good as being thirty, and so even though I’m twenty-nine – holy shit, this is the first time I’ve publicly declared it, I’m twenty-nine, bitch is ‘busted’, I’m almost un-dateable, even – when people ask me how old I am I say, half proud and half grim, “I’m thirty.”
Which brings me to the second factor (remember how in the beginning here, I said there were two?) that makes turning thirty easier: aside from the relief, the sort of catharsis of graduation, of knowing I can leave behind things that were approval-dependent and regimented by others, there’s the fact that everyone always cards me, always feels the need to announce they would have taken me for another twenty-something age, I don’t look thirty. Sometimes I lie to see what is the lowest age people will unflinchingly believe [it’s twenty-four].
My cousin – who coincidentally shares a name with Salinger’s Bitch from high school – is twelve I think, and she asked innocently of me a couple of weeks ago while we were playing, “are you considered an adult or a kid?” and I said dryly, “oh, I’m supposed to be an adult, Honey,” and she says innocently, “oh, because you seem like a kid.” My mother and my aunt eyed me wryly and laughed, because I shouldn’t want to seem like a kid anymore, oh, that Leigh.
Items of media extolling the virtues of being ‘forever young’ seem cool when you really are young. And they seem fine when you’re so old you don’t need to care. Eternal youthfulness is admirable when you have wrinkles, I guess. But thirty is a strange transitional zone in which I can’t make up my mind; the old-world concept that I should worry a lot about ‘what I look like’ to others still tugs at me, even while most of me yawns lackadaisically, is busy with something else, knows I’m only pretending to care for the sake of social acceptance, a crumbling, dusty ideal.
But, I mean, okay. A little part of me is freaking out a little bit. I’m here to admit it, I’m chill and I’m scared at the same time. Like starting college, probably, where your parents are buying you hip, economical dormitory furniture from Target but you are operating under the extreme delusion that you’re buying everything yourself with the money you made from your little summer job. I mean, of course my parents aren’t supporting me or buying me anything besides dinners and a couple bottles of white rum when I visit, but it’s that kind of ambivalence.
Yesterday I thought about my upcoming birthday [which is going to have exclusively 1990s music and demand people dress as if we were filming My So Called Life] and before you’d known it I’d fallen into a bizarre Google-Ebay-Wikipedia black hole whereby I connected to the following facts about myself: I once owned a ‘Charmkins Whippoorwill Flower Mill’ inhabited by a Rosie Raccoon that smelled like perfume.
I had had two Fashion Star Fillies, Chloe and Calla, I liked the show ‘Moondreamers’ and I had aspired to an entire collection of Fairy Tail bird toys which had stars painted in their eyes, like, I maybe had one or two of those into the eyes of which I would gaze adoringly and sigh intensely. There’s something really primeval about looking at pictures of toys you used to either own or want really badly. I had a moment of considering that maybe the present I should buy myself for my birthday isn’t renting a karaoke machine for my party but is, in fact, a Fairy Tail or a Fashion Star Filly.
Oh my god. This, this is how older women become sad. Can you imagine going to my house and seeing Twilight books and Fashion Star Fillies? Maybe the only definition of ‘maturity’ that is really objective is that when you grasp, frantic, for childish things like some regressive underwater sea creature [clear-white, blind, atrophied] , you now possess something in you that can calculate, correct, and go, “uh, nah, you know what? Let’s not.”
Other things I’m thinking about: Gish was a sick record. Mazzy Star was underrated. My childhood was not nearly as bad as I have spent most of my life thinking it was. Where is Evan Dando these days? Remember Our Lady Peace? I’m so glad they’re bringing back Beavis and Butt-Head. And I’m pretty sure I’m doing okay over here. I mean, at least I didn’t have babies, because that would be, like, omg. So uncool. Kind of like an adult thinking about their birthday two months in advance, right?
Or not, I mean, I dunno. That’s kind of the point. When you don’t know whether you need to laugh at yourself or cry about it, probably those are the best times in anyone’s life no matter what the calendar says.