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"i'm afraid i have some bad news, boys. you're in space."
(reader alert: the following post, written at 3 a.m., is a hopelessly confused, meandering, and self-centered ramble. we thereby recommend it to you as pretty good fun.)
i didn't plan to write a birthday post this year, mostly because i have had my hands full trying not to:
and of course
truth told, i can't say where or when i got this idea - that birthdays for adults are wimps. yet i seem to believe in it. trolling back from the computer lab at 12:36 this morning, i had this vision in my head of a Mature, Grown-Up Person, for whom a birthday is just like any other day, except they might wear a bolder tie. it is unprofessional, i decided, to have birthdays. you stop having parties in the fourth grade for a reason.
but i also realized that i harbored a secret hope that, having obtained the age of majority, people would figure i've been reasonably old for a good chunk of time so long as i didn't make a fuss of it. at last, i thought to myself, i've caught up with the rest of you - i'm finally just like everybody else! old! hallelujah!
but it's not true.
i can't trace the root of this feeling, either, but i've considered age a stigma for a very long time. i remember being eight or so and thinking ahead to my bat mitzvah. time seemed an impossibly slow process then. i realized that getting up to my bat mitzvah would entail double digits, a phenomenon which alarmed me, and i figured it wasn't worth it to stick around that long. yet surprisingly, here i am.
it never made sense to me. if no one told me how old i was, i would have placed my own bid at forty. (which is about where yonina's got me.)
but somewhere along the line everything got screwed up. i was the 11-year-old standing on the yacht of some other girl's bat mitzvah - and she was two grades below me. i was the junior begging tenth graders to drive me around.
i was the 17-year-old dancing at my friend's wedding.
i developed a kind of nervous tic. i lived in constant fear of anyone finding out how old i was. my friendships and relationships of any kind, i was convinced, were built on shaky ground, stacked on a single card: on the assumption that i was a peer. equal. not out of place in any way.
at the same time, however, i became even more paranoid that this was not the case, that i was not a peer. i was not the genuine article; i didn't have the experiences everyone else naturally assumed i did. what was it like to be 18, 19, 20? these people that i sat in class with every day, that i laughed with in the radio station and hung out with in my room...who knew what mysterious knowledge and insight they had that i, a minor in disguise, couldn't fathom? i tried to tell myself that i could stay on top of the game by meeting my obligations - focusing on my work and living like i've always lived - but deep down i knew i was missing something. i was a minor in disguise, an agent incognito, pretending to be something i was not. i couldn't possibly understand the nuances of everything that was happening around me, and consequently, i've always been a little jumpy when conversations turn personal. i was afraid to give myself away, and i was afraid of how much i would miss - and this was the truly scary part - without even realizing that i'd missed it.
everything reinforced one point: i may feel like i'm just like everyone else, but in truth, i'm not at their level just yet - and if they find out, it's curtains for me.
i repeated that to myself over and over so many times, in so many situations, that i could not help but believe in it. and the more i repeated it, the more i separated myself. in my own mind i grew younger and younger until i was shocked that the college had admitted me at all. and my friends and roommates who were in their 20s...
that was harder to reconcile. i don't know if it's just a natural consequence of being the oldest child, but for some reason, i associated the 20-and-30-something years with my parents. 22? i would think. my parents had ME by then! which meant they were clearly already Adults by that age. Adults - those Mature, Sophisticated persons who know how to put on make-up correctly, understand what the abbreviations in car commercials mean, and generally know how to Do Things - well, i wasn't one of those. but my roommates were nearly that old, my friends were that age and beyond. so they must also be Adults. they were already on the other side of the gaping divide. and i was still a kid, a teenager with an mp3 player who had to be picked up from her summer job by her mother every day.
but then it got confusing, because as i discovered, being 20 doesn't automatically mean you know how to do everything. my friends did things, stupid things, the kinds of things i would do, even though they were older and wiser. they couldn't be adults; they were just like me. i would start to let go a little, to think of them as just friends without the question marks, only to be forcibly reminded of the differences later. this one works here; this one's renting her own apartment; this one's engaged. me, i'm just out of my depth. i ask the questions i hear other people asking and listen to the answers everyone else gets and hope no one will notice that i have no idea what's going on. well? are you a kid or are you a grown-up? and if you aren't either of those, then what does that make me?
i thought that once i was 18, once i was an age that is nearly common in the college crowd, i would understand where i belonged, i would feel more like an Adult. but i'm as mixed-up today as i was last night. i don't know if i get the concept. how do you get from waiting for your mom to pick you up to being 35 and having a successful career in advertising? when do you get that computer chip screwed onto your brain that tells you how to Do Things like taxes and strangers? when do you start knowing the right thing to say and the right place to go and the right thing to do when your best friend calls you and tells you her mother's very sick?
i thought i'd be caught up now, that i'd know some of the answers. but i'm not, i don't, and i think i'm finally beginning to realize the group i've always admired from a distance - they don't really know, either. some of them know everything, and i bet they always have. others just seem to be making it up as they go along.
and me- i'm out of my depth, but i don't know that people have much steadier footing. all i really know is this: i may be no more of an Adult today than i was yesterday, but age is not to blame for that.