(A special thanks to Cally at OlderNawtWiser for the inspiration for this post!)
When I visited Aubrey in October, we walked across the street from campus to a little store called Crazy Moon. If you’re ever in South Hadley, Mass, check it out. It’s an adorable gift shop with reasonable prices, which is practically unheard of when it comes to such places. Anyway, while we were there, I saw a little placard that said:
Wow. Now that is a tough question. If this were a magical phrase that could take me back to a certain age so I could redo things, what age would I choose?
Honestly, in my head, I feel 18. My body disagrees with me (damned fibromyalgia!), but I love to hang out with college kids. They can be more than slightly obtuse when it comes to certain things, and of course, they aren’t quite fully formed into human beings yet, but they almost always have fresh insights to things about which I thought I had formed a solid opinion. If you find yourself stagnating, and want to get back into the swing of intellectual growth, go find a group of college kids and have a discussion.
That is definitely one of the things that I love about visiting Aubrey. While there are a few legacy students that could not have possibly gotten in any other way, most of the students at MoHo are pretty damned brilliant. They are not consumed with conversations about sex, drugs, and alcohol. I’m not saying those conversations don’t occur; I’m just saying they aren’t consumed by them.
However, the question is, would I really want to be 18 again? 18 was a horrible year. I totaled my car just a few days after my birthday, which set the tone for the rest of a year that was full of heartbreak, drama after drama, the death of a friend from a motorcycle accident, and constant bullying from a crazy bitch at work. Of course, it was also the year that I got pregnant with Matt, so I think I would want 18 to stay the same. As a bonus, there was my insane upstairs neighbor, Nikki, who would leave me random post-its on my door, inviting me up for dinner parties or wine tastings. I ate a lot of weird stuff at her place, but it was all good, and she had really interesting (in a good way, not a bug under a microscope way) friends, so the conversation was always stimulating. Sadly, she was evicted for deciding to hang pictures in the middle of the night one too many times. I don’t know why she always chose 3am to redecorate, but at least once a week, I would wake to frantic hammering above me. I was not the one who complained, though. I’m pretty sure that was the guy next door to her.
So, not 18. How about 22? 22 was pretty wretched as well. That was the year I started therapy, so there were constant nightmares. I hated our apartment, and I was a horrible mother at that age. If it weren’t for not getting pregnant with Aubrey until I was 23, I would definitely choose a do over for 22, if for no other reason than the opportunity to be a better mother.
Because of Aubrey’s impending conception, 22 is out. 23 was somewhat decent, so it’s not worth wanting to change. 24 was when things started to really go downhill in my, up until that point mostly survivable, but not so stellar marriage. Quite seriously, here’s an objective way of determining your worth in a relationship: walk through your shared living space (this only works if you live together) and take a good look around. How much of “you” is represented there? If someone were to walk in, would they automatically know that it’s your place, too? In the nine years that Duane and I lived together, I think the only rooms that looked like I touched them were the kids’ rooms. Other than my clothes hanging in the bedroom, there was no trace of my existence in any of the places that we lived. All of the artwork, furniture, décor…all of it was chosen by Duane or his mother. I will never forget the day I left for work/school and came home to find the most god-awful, hideous, avocado green, herculon curtains hanging in my living room. I hated them so much, I cried. They stayed.
24 would be a good year to do-over, but what would I really be able to do with it? I didn’t have an education yet, so I had no way of supporting myself and two children. My self-esteem was in the toilet after two years of non-stop abuse from Duane. My car was unreliable. It was a bad year, but I don’t think there was a way to do it any better, other than if I had left and gone to the battered women’s shelter. Unfortunately, that was almost 20 years ago, and most shelters did not recognize any kind of abuse other than physical, so I was out of luck. Shelters are much better now, and realize that abuse comes in many forms, but it took them a while to get there.
Stuck with 24 as is, how about 26? 26 had some huge positives. I was a computer programmer, making a ton of money for that particular time period. I had great friends. My kids were 2 and 7. I was separated from Duane, living in a tiny, treehouse style studio apartment in one of my favorite neighborhoods. Most significantly, I had Sean.
Sean is always referred to in our house as, “The One I Should Have Married But Didn’t.” Even Ron thinks I should have married Sean. Sean was beyond perfect. Positively brilliant, he had a double degree from Georgia Tech, worked at IBM, was an amazing dancer, an avid cyclist, a fantastic cook, and loved to travel. We would decide on a dime that we would go somewhere, and just take off in the Miata, a huge stack of cds at my feet. Our motto was, “All we need is a hairbrush, lip balm, and a credit card.” Indeed, many times we left with nothing more than that, and Sean would buy me something to wear when we got to wherever we deemed our destination. Sean was extraordinarily generous; more than once he paid my rent, and he gave me the money to buy a reliable car.
Oh so incredibly sadly, I was still a psychological mess. I was consumed with someone who was emotionally and physically unavailable (as in married), and would often cry on Sean’s shoulder about Mr. Eggo (so named because he tended to waffle back and forth between me and his wife). I loved Sean dearly and desperately, but I carefully put miles of emotional distance between us. Like most women with an abusive background, subconsciously I believed that I did not deserve him. I rejected him three separate times; after the third time, he gave up on me, and on our friendship. I know I did deserve that for the way I treated him, but I miss him terribly, even now. I tried to get in touch with him a few months ago, but he would not return my calls.
26. Would I really want a do-over? Yes….and no. I would like to be able to go back and treat Sean better. Would I choose to marry him, though? Really, the question is, would I choose to not be married to Ron? NO. For a million different reasons, Ron and I are much more suited to each other, especially once my fibromyalgia got into full swing. Ron doesn’t mind staying home and entertaining himself with video games if I’m not able to get out of bed for days at a time. Sean might have adjusted, but I think it would have made him miserable. That knocks 26 out of the running.
32 had a lot of mistakes that I wish I could do-over. That was the year I married and divorced Jon, and fell madly in love with Ron. I wish that I could have been more respectful to Jon, who was never anything but kind and caring to me, and my children (although Matt was at a difficult age, and really hated him). I would still make the same choice in a heartbeat, but I would have done things better, nicer, kinder, less hurtful, more honest. Yes, 32 would be my do-over year. I would do most of the same things, but I would do them differently. I would act like the person I’ve become, instead of the person that I was then.
With all that said, I AM 42. Do I feel it? Well, having one’s uterus ripped out is usually a sign of impending age, but that doesn’t really have any effect on my mind. There isn’t anything spectacular about being 42…except after Aubrey was born, I would often say, “My life will start at 42.” I knew this was the year I would be childless, and thought I would finally do all those things that I couldn’t with children in the house. That’s not reality, though. The reality is that having the house to myself all day is pretty damned dull.
42 has had its ups and downs. I’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve learned a lot of new skills and updated some old ones. At 42, I am a photographer, writer, social media expert, graphic designer, home stager, real estate assistant extraordinaire. I have found my voice, and learned to use it. I know where I stand, what and who are important to me, and what and who really don’t matter. I have learned to work around my fibromyalgia instead of constantly fighting with it. Although I tried hard to make 42 my last year, fortunately, I have had the opportunity to make it one of my best ones.
Today, I am sitting in front of the computer, combing through eBay and craigslist as I try to find a duvet cover that doesn’t make Ron want to stab out his eyes. Although I love my bright green Anthropologie mandalas, it is too much for Ron. I think he’s hypersensitive to stimuli, so it’s possible that it really is painful for him to look at. As I flip through listing after listing of duvets, I am trying to decide between something simple and sophisticated…something grown up, or something bright and fun…young and fresh. Even what would seem as simple as shopping for a duvet cover is fraught with the question of how old am I?
While my head thinks I am forever 18, and my heart wishes I could be 32 again, and my body tells me that I am 42, I realize that age is just a number. My age does not define me, although it gives me mile markers for my growth experiences. I will never, “ACT MY AGE!” Quite honestly, I never have.
So how old would I be if I didn’t know how old I am? Who cares? Not me.
“It’s the mystery of the ocean, but now he’s in over his head. This is no place for the young man, he’s got to send you on instead. And still you’re looking so surprised that this change has come as prophesied, but the years won’t compromise, ’cause in the years it takes to make one man wise, the young man dies.”