Tomorrow is my 55th birthday. Fifty. Five. I feel as if I’m walking along the edge of two very disparate parts of my life. The younger, vibrant, energetic me. And a me that is starting to slow down a bit and is enjoying short haircuts and sensible shoes.
You have these pieces of your life that all connect: Childhood, elementary school, high school, college, your twenties and thirties, dating. Then there’s the marriage part of life and kids if you’re a mom and then they go to preschool, then high school, then college then get married themselves and have babies and suddenly you’re looking at grandchildren when inside you don’t feel any different than you did when you were 18.
But you are.
What I tell younger women who might be in their 20s or 30s, no matter what decade you’re in as a woman, these pieces and parts of your life that came before are always with you. And will always be with you. Sure, at 55, things are changing. Some for the better, some for the worse. Some body parts are a little more sore than they used to be. I spend a lot of time looking at the backs of my knees and my ankles and the corners of my eyes and asking in surprise, “What the hell is that?” I’m no longer the one who can read the fine print on the menus for the older people at the table, but instead, pass the menu along to the younger ones to have them read it for me. Sometimes I forget words or names and it becomes a game of, “You know that guy…you know the one with the wife who did that thing on that show with the bears?” You know!” That game. I forget.
But I remember, too.
I remember childhood friends. Smells. The smell of crayons can take me back to my 7th birthday. Unwrapping the giant 64 box of Crayolas and a brand new coloring book. I can smell the crayons and I can smell Barbie’s hair. And when I smell Barbie’s hair I can remember that Christmas that I unwrapped the blue Corvette for my Malibu PJ and the custom wedding dress my Aunt Dolores made for my doll. I can smell the basement where I’d play for hours and feel the cold of the floor and hear the water rushing through the pipes over my head. I can smell Love’s Baby Soft perfume and suddenly I’m standing on my 6th grade boyfriend’s porch anticipating a kiss. I hear Pink Floyd and I’m behind the school smoking pot for the first time and I can smell it and feel the fear that we might get caught and for sure my mom would know what I was doing when I wasn’t suppose to be where I was. I hear that song that takes me back to the day my heart broke into a thousand pieces when he told me that he didn’t want to be my boyfriend anymore. And I remember the day that I let go of the hand of the woman who had been with me since day one. My mom. I can still feel her fingers. I can hear her laugh. Sometimes my laugh is her laugh. Some loose gene that connects the two of us even though one of us is no longer here.
You see, she was 85 when she died. Only 30 years older than I am now. Thirty years sounds like a lot, but trust me, it flies by after you hit adulthood. I feel like I was just 25. Which means 85 isn’t that far away. But I know that even in my mom’s last days she could still recount her own crayons and boyfriends and smells and feelings of young love and friends and laughter. You don’t forget and your memories never age.
This body of ours is only a case that we live inside during this life. Our soul doesn’t age the same way our body does. We’re made up of all of this memory matter. These touchstones and life events that are like a quilt of sorts that make up this person that we identify as ourselves. And no matter how many years pass — it only takes a word or a sound or a smell or a taste to take you all the way back to some other part of yourself that you left behind along the way.
I am 55. And I am 7. And I am 32. And I am am 14.
But unlike when I was actually 32 or 14, there is a certain freedom that comes with being in your 50s. First of all, my filtering system — definitely for the better — isn’t what it used to be. What used to be air tight, mouth shut, “Oh gosh, I don’t want to piss anyone off,” restraint has turned into a, “No, I really don’t want to go to that thing tonight,” and I can feel okay saying it. No guilt. No worry. I’m content with my own feelings for the first time in my life.
And staying home? Oh God it’s glorious. I am never bored with myself. I don’t need a group of people to entertain or validate me. Give me a book, or a pen, or a good movie or my dogs and I’m so happy spending time with me!
Occasionally, you might even see me walking down my street in my slippers and nightgown. No makeup. Sometimes talking to myself. It’s freeing and it’s fabulous.
My body is far from what it was my my 20s. But the funny thing is, in my 20s, I thought my body was imperfect. Oh what I wouldn’t do to have those imperfections back today. But you know what? As a woman ages, she fills her body in a different way. My physical body doesn’t matter to me as much anymore. And that’s okay. Sure, I’d like to lose a couple of pounds — but I don’t know if that’s just habit or something I actually feel the need to do. I’m not obsessed with being fit, I know that no one is oogling me when I walk by. And that really is a good thing. I am content. And content means more to me than a jiggle or a bump or an arm that’s muscle has decided to take refuge on the flip side of its home.
And finally, girls, when you look at your moms, know that they are you inside. Take your fingers out of your ears when I say they talk about things like sex. And men. And fantasies. And passion. Everything you’re doing now, they did long before you. Everything. And their mothers did before them. And their mothers did before them. I am my mother. Your mother was you.
Fifty Five. Fantastical Freedom. Happy Birthday to me.