]I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when I was sixteen. I loved it because if you pause any given scene in that movie, it could stand alone as a photograph and that fact fit well with the Myspace aesthetic I had going at the time. Loved the movie also because, since I was hyper and artsy, people told me I reminded them of Kate Winslet’s orange-haired character Clementine (People also told me I was like Natalie Portman’s character from Garden State. I was an annoying teenager). The whole experience of that movie was an important one for my self-concept at sixteen.
The thing I love about it now is that one line where, in a cluttered and sad room in the middle of a winter night, Winslet’s character tells Joel aka Jim Carey, “I’m always anxious thinking I’m not living my life to the fullest, you know? Taking advantage of every possibility? Just making sure that I’m not wasting one second of the little time I have.” I am twenty-two and to the dismay of my therapist, feel like I am close to being an old woman. This makes me anxious and even sometimes mournful.
Forget the existential factors. Forget the fact that I, for one, lived harder in three years as soon as I hit New York than I ever did in my whole prior lifetime of suburban misfit discontent. I’m not even talking about how a person changes when they fall in love for the first time and get dragged through the mud and then lose the love. Not talking about the sallow shift in a person’s eyes that occurs when she makes real friends that become infused with her red blood cells, finally meets people who become tied to the surges of her dopamine levels and then some of those people die. Because 19-22 is the age where we as humans are exposed nerve endings, out rushing through our new worlds driven by the idealistic energy that stunningly connects us to each other – so the friendships are close. 19-22 is also when in the name of youngness we rush into things that could kill us. I’m not talking about the world-weariness that comes from losing money and almost leaving school, or exposure to the insane things that can sometimes happen at the wrong moments in the big city. I don’t necessarily mean the losses and “growing experiences.”
All that I mean is – my body is getting a half-notch bigger and slower. People complain about aging in their 30’s, as though it doesn’t hit till then, but these changes are starting slowly but surely right now as I emerge in the world as a post-grad. My complexion is a little paler. My cheeks slower to flush in moments that ought to embarrass me but cannot anymore. My eyes are deader, maybe because I am less easy to surprise. Eyebrows do little to aid this; we may smile, but the contortion of our faces can’t hide that we’ve shut off behind the cornea. There are two faint lines on my once shining, gold-brown forehead and I know it’s from all the cigarettes. I’ve started finding the grey hairs, at least four. I feel 36% less spry and fresh.
The changes are so slight that a person in their middle age would call me vain and spoiled. I had a Kim Kardashian ass- I’m serious, just a smaller proportion – all leg, straight and thin, and then the shock of a round butt. Something’s changed. I exercise the same amount, but there’s a transitional thickness now from leg to ass, a blur of flesh that bridges the two. Effortless muscle tone doesn’t define my arms anymore, which are now softer and formless. I have to run further to feel smaller. These days, I worry about being smaller. I used to be a young feminist proud of my total indifference to media-BS-body pressure. Maybe I was taking for granted my hotly burning metabolism, telling others to not care when it was easy for me not to.
19-22, everything hotly burned. Now if I have a day of too much passion, too much excitement, it doesn’t absorb into my reserve of craving more and more. I need to sink my face into my pillow because tomorrow I have to get up at eight. My dreams are about writing checks and depositing checks and chicken sandwiches. I can’t do the splits anymore. I can’t look at computer screens when I’m hungover. Art is less vivid; beautiful words don’t fall from me how they used to – when I was eighteen, I had a lot to say and I’d type for seven hours straight to let it all out. Now, I don’t have that kind of time and there is not much to say that I couldn’t just search on Google. I remember to take my vitamins and I finally understand the social value of “small-talk.” I get excited when I receive appliances for Christmas. I don’t know how or when these changes happened.
I also missed out on things; I wished I’d gotten snake- bite lip piercings. Now it’s too late. I wish I’d gone ahead and dyed my hair blue instead of worrying about my mother’s wrath. Now, I need to be decent for a job. I think about the recession and it gives me headaches. I worry about my generation. I have more worries than impulses, suddenly.
I look back on 19-22, years when I was all about the idea of “having no regrets.” My best friend who is gone now once asked me if I would ever “eternal sunshine” certain people, meaning erase them from memory, and I said no. A year later, I said yes. I aged myself fast in trying to prevent wasting the little time I had. I had assumed there would be a payoff for all of this; not a buildup of mistake-residue and a dulling of the senses.
But I know I’m young. Older people remind me of it, eyeing my still-bright face with some envy, and they tell me things like “You have so much ahead of you” in wistful-stern voices. And I think, “I hope that’s true.” What about 22-26? I am nervous, but I suspect, somehow, that this next stage will be different. If anything, the lurching, quiet changes of a secret growing layer of heaviness have afforded us all who are in this bracket a new kind of strength. I have a good friend whose life was chaos until she was 26 and then all of a sudden she met the love of her life. They had a fresh spring Lower East Side romance that was like a movie, it lasted for years, and now they’re going to get married in the fall. For her, there was payoff. Together, they are young. My friend’s years were not wasted and they did not use her up. Instead she had a grand rebirth and there was a point for all of it. These next years may feel slower and duller, but I don’t want to miss anything in 22-26. God knows what my ass will look like then.