I don’t recognize myself. It’s not the small purple streak in my hair, or the tiny crow’s footprints that don’t wash away when my face resumes a blase pose — my external self has remained steady enough for the best part of a decade that I don’t notice physical changes so much as discover them. Oh, I can’t put my foot over my head anymore (yes, something I was trying to do on a date recently (with my clothes on, cross my heart, Mom!)). Rather, it’s how I feel.
I’m 48 hours into being 34, and the feeling of not caring has jarred me since I first noticed it a week ago. For as long as I can remember, I have fretted about getting older. At age 12 I wanted to be turning 9. At 15, I longed to be 13. And at 21, I announced that I was turning 19 for the third year in a row. Typically, I’ve approached birthdays with the sort of trepidation I’d have should I encounter Brock Turner in bright sunlight. My friends, troopers that they are, have sat with me through fancy dinners as I have sobbed about not having lived up to who I thought I should already be. And then this year came.
I didn’t fight my birthday this year. Not because I don’t have the fight in me — if the month of May taught me anything, it’s that I’m, as my dad put it, strong of will — but because I had other fish to fry and a life to live. I ate frosting pie my best friend made me. I read cards from friends that made me cry (hat tip to Angie, Steven, my mom and my dad on that). I buried my nose in peonies, roses, and other sweet-scented floral arrangements that brightened my life. And I mostly just felt content.
How do I begin to explain this? It is as if my body has always been singing a song in just-flat harmony, and sometime in March or April, from the tips of my femur to the ends of the grey matter, everyone did a key-change. I recognize the tune of my internal hum, but I don’t. It’s chiller. Quieter. Less taking-things-personally-er.
And in that calm and quiet and less-personalness is a distance of sorts. A soft moat between me and the rest of the world.
This change freaks me out. What if I can’t cross that moat in order to be introspective and self-aware? What if that moat is really code for “I’ve become jaded”? What if I’ve accepted the cog-in-the-machine-half-asleep mentality I spent the last 18 months trying to avoid? What if I wind up alone and truly find myself okay with that? What if I stop being able to read people and my intuition dies a shriveled up pathetic death like that witch who embarrassingly melted? What if something core about who I am is now gone? Somehow, in fully inhabiting me, I simultaneously feel less like myself. (Apparently I might be calm, but I’m not completely angst-free yet.)
To make it more complicated, I kind of like this new person. She accepts situations as they are. She doesn’t expect people to change. She was recently told her emotional maturity was attractive (what’s up, years of therapy and mindfulness practice?!). She’s really zen about situations that, years ago, would have had her tossing and turning, acting out, not controlling impulses and being less deliberate. This new person makes conscious choices, is starting to stand up for herself when the situation calls for it, is finding ways to be honest but still kind.
Maybe the years don’t pass us by so much as we stop examining every last speck of them so we can enjoy the experience of living.
I don’t know what 34 will hold. I hope there’s sock-dropping love, challenges that can be overcome, reasons to cheer on friends, (mis)adventures with people I adore, explorations in what it means to be alive, and a doctor’s note that says I can eat popcorn again. But even if there’s not, according to Steven, “34 is pretty rad,” and I’m willing to believe him.