While I was on vacation, I turned 36. I’m still in my mid-30s, thankfully. I have one more year before I’m in my “late-30s.” I hate the sound of “late.” It’s like “late husband,” which I never use to describe my relationship to Mike. I always refer to him as my husband, which causes a lot of confusion, but I prefer confusion–and possible uncomfortable explanation–to saying “my late husband” as if I am waiting on his arrival at some event and trying to explain why he is not yet here. It also makes me sound like I’m 80 years old. Women who are in their 30s don’t have late husbands. Most women in their 30s haven’t been widowed.
Heretofore, I was never bothered by age. In fact, I wanted so badly to turn 30 because I thought the decade of my 20s ended rather bad. I wanted a “do-over.” Also, I thought it would gain me some respect to finally not be the youngest person where I worked (which was the case where-ever I worked). I got my do-over, I got my respect. But the sad thing about time is that it continues to pass.
Now I feel a little panicky that I’m running out of time. Those of you out there who are much older than me, I am sure, roll your eyes when you read/hear someone as young as me saying such things. But it’s true. I feel old. At least a decade older than I should. With the 10th “anniversary” (another word I hate in reference to death) of Mike’s death bearing down on me in 14 short days, I’m reminded how unpredictable life is. It’s not something I think about all the time any more, not since I’ve gotten through all those stages of grief, and I’m generally pretty positive about the changes in my life because I’m fulfilling a lot of the things on my unspoken bucket list as far as travel and adventure goes. But every once in a while, I remember my mortality. My birthday and the date Mike died both do that to me.
My panic usually involves thinking about all the stuff I haven’t done, but want to do so badly. Like publish my writing. Not because I want to make money off of it, I just want some recognition. Sure, that’s a little self-serving, but I think most artists are somewhat narcissistic. If we weren’t, no one would publish anything. Art wouldn’t hang in museums. We’d just do our art and keep it to ourselves. Why share it with anyone else? It’s not validation we seek, but to share our experiences with others. To connect. Good art makes someone else feel something. It’s the only way I know in which the human experience can be shared with another person. We love stories because we can experience thoughts and feelings we’ve never had or remember ones we have. We love pictures because we can see places to which we’ve never been. Art, in a way, launches us on great adventures, or takes us to those dark places we are afraid to talk about.
I don’t want to have kids, but I think about the fact that soon I will be unable to have kids. Choice will be removed and I think that’s a bit scary. I’ve always said that if I could live 200 years, I might consider having kids when I’m 100. There always seems to be so many other things I want to do that I can’t do if I had kids. Besides, I barely know enough about life to give anything useful to kids. I wouldn’t want them to be like me–listless, wishy-washy, and afraid to make bold moves. I need 100 years to figure how to do it all right. I need 100 years to do all the things I yearn to do so that I could settle down enough to take care of kids.
The fact that I would probably have kids by now, had Mike not died, does not elude my thoughts either. What a different life I would have had! I can’t lie to myself and say that I didn’t want kids with him, though I do revise that history in my head quite often to make myself feel better. I didn’t want to have kids in my 20s–he had wanted to start right away–but the idea of creating life with the man I loved seemed romantic and I might have done it in my 30s. If he had lived, I would be a different person than I am today. For sure. I may have even been a better person. His influence always made me better, stronger, happier.
When you’re in your 20s, life stretches out endlessly before your eyes. I lost the ability to see an endless horizon the day my husband died–now I merely see the structures 10-20 miles away in the distance. I can only focus on what I know is there, try to reach it, and if I don’t succeed, I focus on a different destination within my sight. I guess it was always that way, but it sure doesn’t seem that way when you’re young. (Probably why I love the name of U2’s album: No Line on the Horizon–that was my sight in my younger years.)
My biological clock is a time capsule I remember contributing to in 6th grade. My class was given a questionnaire to fill out that contained questions concerning what we thought our lives would be like in the year the time capsule was opened (which may have been 10 or 15 years from that time). I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I’m pretty sure at that time I thought I’d be a writer. Or an astronomer. I figured myself to be married, for whatever age I was told I would be when the time capsule was opened, surely it sounded old to me. I know that I have diaries from that time period where I wrote messages to my future husband and kids. I remember writing those as well but I haven’t found the courage to go back and read them. I think they would make me sad. Or embarrassed.
It’s not that I feel old in the sense of body deterioration. I’m as spry as ever, skiing better than I ever have in my life, becoming a much stronger cyclist. No, I feel mentally exhausted at times. Like I can’t figure out how to play this game of life and win. I’m definitely afraid of dying. I worry over getting a cancer diagnosis at least once a week. I think about how I would react if given one. Last month while driving to and from a ski resort, I twice spun out on the highway. Thankfully no one was around for me to hit; however, after each incident, I came through my panic remembering very clearly that I could have died. Sometimes just one wrong decision costs you a life. Like Mike not seeing a cardiologist after the incident in Detroit in which he thought he was having a heart attack.
We make decisions every day that effect the outcome of our lives. I’m always worried about these choices. Did I make the right one? What if my decision to ride my bike to work that day–at the exact time I leave my house–leads to me getting hit by a car? You never know. And while I know clearly that I shouldn’t think this way, I still do. I can’t help it. For years, I thought about every moment of the morning of Mike’s death, wondering what I could have done to change the outcome. And then I always thought about Detroit and how I should have made him see a doctor after he got back from that business trip. I even had dreams about that scenario at night. The mind just wants to fix everything. Fix time. Fix what cannot be fixed.
I guess I thought the 30s would bring back that endless horizon that I saw in my 20s. Maybe because Mike never lived past 32 so the 30s for him will never end. So as I hit my 36th birthday, I realized that time does in fact continue to march on. If I want to accomplish things–such as publication–I need to hit the gas pedal. I don’t have forever. I may not even have a week. I don’t know what I have. I don’t know what choice I will make in the next few hours that will cut short or extend my life. Live every day like it’s my last, right?
Except, well, you know, if I knew it was my last day on earth, I would quit my job. I have enough money saved to live on for a year, so why waste my last days doing something I don’t enjoy? Next, I would book a plane ticket to Europe and just start making my way around the world. I’d write the most amazing travelogue.
What does my plan really say about what I love most in life? Writing, traveling. Incidentally, this is the same plan I have for my life should I come into great wealth somehow. In a world where money didn’t matter at all, where I had some stability that would free me from the worries of paying my mortgage and feeding myself, I would totally just start writing. I’d buy a little condo or something in Colorado and I would spend my days writing. (Of course, skiing and cycling would fit in there too, but my “job” would more or less be writing.) In this case, I could care less about actually getting published, but I would try anyway because it wouldn’t hurt anything except my pride since I wouldn’t need it; I wouldn’t be banking my stability on being able to replace my current means of income with this one. And if I did get published, and I did make money on it, great.
I don’t know how people manage to pursue their dreams without the securities of wealth or the pressure of immanent death bearing down on them. Maybe I’m just not one who is comfortable in risk. I don’t believe in myself enough to take one (I can’t even muster the courage to ask guys I like out). The kinds of risk I’m comfortable taking are ones I find easy–tasks of physical strength like cycling and skiing, exploring the world (even foreign places where I can’t even speak the language), trying exotic food. All of this seems easy compared to pursuing a dream which may be a completely unfulfillable one.
I know I don’t have to quit my job to become a writer. But it’s certainly hard to find the energy and motivation to write after a day of work. During my most potentially productive hours of the day, I’m at the day job. I’m always wanting to write when I’m at work. Ideas flow when they flow. Or maybe they flow because I can’t actually work on my writing. I just end up jotting stuff down on paper and hoping that I remember where that idea was going when I get home. It’s kind of hard to board the inspiration train hours after it’s pulled out of the station.
Turning 36 just makes me feel panicked, out of breath. I don’t think 40 is old, but I also feel that a person who doesn’t do something risky before they are 40 are just never going to get it done. So in a way, I feel like it’s a benchmark to a part of adulthood where you begin to lose your credibility with the world. You’re neither young nor old; you’re a twelder (like a “tweener” is the bridge between childhood and teenage). Artists like U2 peaked long before they were even my age. Do I even stand a chance of success as an artist if I haven’t already done it? Who will pay attention to a dreaming 40-something with an overactive imagination who talks to people in her head that she made up (but whom she thinks are real)? It’s too easy to start coasting through life after awhile. I know; I’ve done it for the last 10 years. Mike’s death admittedly put the brakes on my forward progress.
I hope I have a long life ahead of me. 36 more years would be nice. And maybe 36 more after that. I wish I knew for certain that I’d live that long. I’ve had enough randomness to last a lifetime.