I’ve always liked Sandra Cisneros’ Eleven — and even though in a few hours I’m turning 35, there’s a lot about Eleven (and let’s be real, eleven) that still makes sense to me. Like the idea that we are every iteration of our former selves no matter how old we get (and the idea that when offered the chance, one should “butter” their sourdough bread with frosting). And the thought that sometimes I wish I were 102 so that I would know just what to do in every situation.
I came across that wishing-I-was-102 feeling a few months ago. I was in my dining room, and got some news that punched me in the heart. My friend Alexis was in the room where it happened, and she called me a few hours later, after everyone went home and my house had the lonely quiet that comes from sad news.
“How are you?” she asked, even though she really didn’t need to.
I tried to choke out words, about how it didn’t matter, about how I was happy, about what a failure at life I was.
But as friends are prone to do, she said something more touching than any I love you. “You’ve worked so hard on yourself the last three years. You’ve done so much for you. I can’t tell you the ways you’ve changed.”
My choked words became sobs, far less because of the earlier news that made me feel like every organ was a limp balloon, but rather, because I felt seen. Someone had born witness to this change I’ve been pressing at with every fiber of my being since January of 2014.
I wasn’t a bad person in my 20s and early 30s — I’m just a better person now. Many people will tell me, “you’re exactly the same!” and maybe they see similarities in the brown curls or the crooked teeth, but my entire being feels different. Sure, part of it is the Prozac (which I’ve taken a low dose of for anxiety for eight years, and which changed my life), but another part of it is that work Alexis mentioned: it’s writing and reading the Post-it notes on my mirror, and feeling like vomiting after intense therapy sessions with a therapist I respect and admire and who helps me see the world in new ways, and reaching into the recesses of my mind for yet more empathy, and once in a blue moon, setting a god-damn boundary for myself and my emotions.
But most of where that work and change has come from, at least in the last year, has been because I’ve started to see my body as a playground and a science experiment (hat-tip to Alison, who always says to me, “my body is a dumpster/playground”). This year, I’ve made more use of my freedom than maybe ever before. I went to Iceland (with the help of Alison+ Ambien + alcohol), stayed up til sunrise multiple nights in a row, and accidentally introduced a woman who’s become one of my closest friends to her future husband while we were on my Tinder date. I experimented with a relationship for the first time in years – a real one, where I liked him and he liked me and we agreed to do it together. I tried a tiny amount of cocaine (eh, not for me) and a small amount of MDMA (probably in the top 4 experiences of my life!). I’ve been laid off. I adopted a blind dog only to realize he was blind and deaf, and made the heartbreaking decision to help re-home him. I adopted another dog, Maizie, who is quickly making me say things like, “I’m so lucky to be your mom” and then wanting to grimace at my own thoughts. I’ve been eating meat, experimenting with food, and my digestive tract is still crazy and I might never know what I’m sick with but every day it’s an adventure and I usually make up songs about things that happen in the bathroom and send them to another friend, T, with similar issues and we laugh. I’ve wondered what I could be if I wasn’t a writer. I’ve dated a man ten years my senior, and one ten years my junior. I’ve tried to figure out what it means to be my authentic self in front of my parents, and at work. I took four months off from running due to an injury – the longest I’ve gone in a decade – and have been finding new ways to move my body and old ways to accept my new body’s shape. I’ve developed a strong affinity for sparkling water. I’ve struggled to not become jaded and not let other people’s depression and pessimism affect me. I’ve sang some truly bad karaoke. I continue to try to learn how to say no to people, and to create space for myself, and to recognize that I can’t do and be everywhere. I’ve learned, and relearned, how much I love to take short trips alone, and in that how much I just love to be alone. I’ve considered getting a super tiny, period-sized tattoo just to know what that feels like. I’ve started attending, and sometimes reading at, an open mic night called You’re Going to Die (it’s about death) and it’s made me want to volunteer for hospice. I’ve rearranged my closet. I’ve had crazy long conversations and textversations about life, love, family, sex, death, money, sociology, politics, feelings, and everything under the sun with old friends, new friends, and strangers. I went to Cuba because I could, even though I didn’t get on the airplane the first try. (Compare 35 to 34, 33, 32, 31, and 30 at will.)
Yes, it feels like everyone is settling down but me — and yes, some days this really hurts because I do want to find a home, or at the very least a place where I belong, where I can think “yes, this is right.” And yet, restlessness and constant motion are the homiest feelings I know. So maybe all I can do is keep playing, keep experimenting, hear the stories of those who live differently, and I can try to learn how best to handle every situation before I hit 102.