Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waking Up

You wake up one morning and *bam* like one of Emeril’s recipes you’re suddenly a year older. I know I should be devastated, if I am to believe in the American Dream. There isn’t exactly a list of things I’m supposed to aspire to but being young, rich and thin are among them. “Crud-hoppers!” as one my high school classmates used to say. Strike three and I’m, well, I’m different from the perfect formula. We make much of being “PC” or politically correct, but I’d like to explore the “AD” or American Dream for my birthday.

For one thing, it’s not AD to like your birthdays because in the rules of AD, “Old is Bad.” Oh, and “old” is defined differently by everyone I meet. I remember talking to an employee of the student radio station I worked at my first two years of college for some reason. I was the ripe old age of 25 or so and the teeny-bopper I was speaking to said, in all innocence, “Oh, you mean a LONG TIME AGO you worked here?” Yes, whippersnapper, I snarled, a whole 5 years ago, more than 25% of your entire life.

AD also says that “old” happens to other people. If you don’t believe me, just go to one of your high school reunions. That tall, rangy, shy redhead you dated for all of 3 weeks has been replaced by a short, round, jovial father of a number of children. The only thing remaining of that underripe hippie you knew is the smile. But, no, dear, YOU haven’t changed a bit.

I had actually grown used to being teased about being the youngest. When I got a reprise of the measles while working at my first job out of college, my co-workers smirked that I was still going through my childhood diseases. When I lectured on antiques and gave an identification seminar similar to Antiques Roadshow at the local junior college, the students were stunned that a 27-year-old was the teacher. It seems with antiques, it took one to know one in their eyes. By the end of the class, they accepted me even though I was the age of their children for the most part.

Strangely, in spite of all urgings to the contrary, I rather like my birthdays. I figure I was going to be this old this year anyway, so wottheheck, enjoy. As I said to my sister, it’s the right side of the ground. I’d rather be here than, well, I’m just sure I’ll have lots of company wherever I go later.

I remember getting ribbed about going back to college to get a second bachelor’s degree and being an “older student.” I wanted to do something more than office work, something more than to depend on being someone’s favorite for getting something interesting to do and certainly more than hoping to marry some guy for his money. I wanted a little financial independence. When I applied to the Applied Computer Science program, they asked for either an SAT or ACT score. My school in New Mexico didn’t do the SAT, so all I had was that ACT score. But I had to laugh at them asking for it. Did they know how long before then I had taken that test? I was approved and got my degree, even though I felt like the Old Broad of Computer Science. Even then I had said I was going to be this old this year anyway. And that was 25 years ago.

I did meet my goal of getting something interesting to do and a little financial independence. It’s nowhere near requirement 2 of the AD, nothing like rich. I have worked hard to maintain my loathsome plebeian second rate status and I rather like it. I can talk to just about anyone, at least in the manner that a cat may look at a king. My husband and I like to say that people go on cruises or to luxury resorts just to get away from people like us. We say that with satisfaction and perhaps a little pride. There is so much obligation that goes with being truly wealthy. One must either be difficult and famous or else be open-hearted and generous in a very public way. I prefer to be difficult only with my dearest friends (you know who you are) and aspire to slip into anonymity as open-hearted as any great benefactor. I prefer to give myself to others, which is my only treasure. I love my work, both the Day Job and my tarot reading. They are vastly different from each other and yet stem from the same urge to be of some assistance where I can. I suspect not having all those public appearances and obligations gives me time to fulfill those urges. I’m good with that.

And, horrors, I’m not thin. I was thin once. People say that like they mean they started out thin. That’s not what I mean. I was always a strong, healthy kid. I was the arm-wrestling champion of the junior high two years in a row, not exactly the honor making me the most datable girl in high school. I grew up quickly, physically, so that my brother’s friends’ transition from intense interest in baseball to a more intense interest in getting to second base took me a bit by surprise. I did the yo-yo diet thing that young girls do but stopped well short of anything drastic like bulimia. I was used to thinking of myself as a Big Girl. But I was thin, once. When my first marriage was failing and I was so terribly angry about that failure, the effects turned inward. Basically, I failed to eat for about two years and this coincided with persistent insomnia. It’s remarkable how much weight you lose when you don’t eat and you don’t sleep. I got down to a very fashionable size 2 and my father started complaining that I had to stand up twice to make a shadow.

This started another nightmare. I was barely separated from my first ex when all of a sudden men who had not given me a moment’s notice before came out of the woodwork and landed on the edge of my desk, men I did not like, men I was not attracted to, men I did like, men I was attracted to. And I became very, very angry at superficiality. I was the same girl as before, suddenly made different by a Barbie Doll figure. So THIS is what it was like to never know if the people who liked you liked you for that or for yourself. This unhappy state has over time remedied itself and I no longer fear friendship for superficial reasons, having traded Barbie for something more like Mrs. Santa Claus as a model.

So, all in all, life has worked in my favor. I’m no longer teased about being the youngest. I move about freely in the modest middle class, friend to rich and poor alike. And I am relieved of the burden of being lithe. Dogs, cats and little kids still like me. I’m no threat to my women friends and, since I have retired from arm wrestling, no threat to my men friends either. Even with a bad knee, I can still flirt with little old guys and feel confident of being able to outrun them. I’m not waking up to a 9 of Swords realization and remorse every day, thinking I’ve wasted my life or taken the wrong path. I know it’s not the American Dream, strictly speaking, but this life is my favorite birthday present every year. I think I’ll get up early this year.

Best wishes!

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