Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Am 34

For a long time, my age defined me because I was too young to do so many things: too young to wear nylons and lipstick, to date, to drive, to see R-rated movies, to buy cigarettes, to vote, to drink, to become completely independent. My parents even made me wait until I was 12 to get my ears pierced, making me a freak among my classmates in the early 80s when brightly colored earrings were de rigeur. Even when I turned 12, they required that I get them pierced at the doctor's office, and that I pay for it. Once I came of age, my meager allowance wasn't enough to pay the fee, which my memory has perhaps inflated to $30-50, so I had to wait one more year until my 13th birthday to catch up with all the other girls my age.

Once I turned 25 or so, my age became more or less meaningless. I've always looked younger than I am. I'm somewhat age-agnostic when it comes to dating. And there aren't many more things that I'm too young to do, besides become U.S. President and, well, retire.

In my tumultuous 20s, many of my older female friends and work mentors assured me, "It all gets better in your 30s." When I turned 30, I was miserable, scorned, and over the next four years watched my love life deteriorate into nothing and my job become my worst enemy.

So now I'm four years into my 30s. I'm smarter than four years ago. I'm a better writer. I'm probably not any lonelier but I am more alone.

I am 20-30 lbs heavier and I watch strangers' eyes run down my body to my stomach, wondering if I'm pregnant and wondering if they should ask.

I am a whole lot grayer and I watch my friends' eyes glance up at the white stripe on my head, wondering when my next hair appointment is. The insidious devil keeps to itself for two weeks out of the month, and at week three sprouts a blinding beam of sparkling root, seemingly instantaneous, like birth. I give my friends the same look of consternation that I have on my face when I look in the mirror, and they quickly look away.

I don't really care about turning 34, or the significance of now being in my mid-30s, but as midnight approached tonight, I felt the same dread that irks me on New Year's Eve: the belief that the clock ticking over into a new day should be somehow a transformative experience, and the heartbreaking knowledge that it never will be. There is no kiss at midnight. There is no popped champagne cork. The closest thing to fireworks in the sky is Jupiter beaming brightly, cozying up to a waxing moon.

To celebrate midnight's arrival, I frosted the cupcakes I had baked for myself earlier today. I added droplets of blue and red food coloring to plain vanilla frosting and whisked it with a fork, watching it progress from a patriotic swirl into a lovely shade of lavender. I sprinkled colored sugar in hues of red, purple and white like my own little confetti party. And then I packed up the small cakes, sculpted and primped as fancy as little prom queens, in some Tupperware to take with me tomorrow, along with candles, plates, and napkins that I'd picked up for myself over the course of the year.

I swore last year that I wouldn't celebrate this year, but when it comes down to it, I can't help myself. My inner nine-year-old still wants to be able to request French toast for breakfast and eat pizza for dinner. Why pass up an opportunity like that?

In the end, though, it's just another day. Nothing pivotal is going to happen. Nothing's going to change. But at least I'll have a reason to get up in the morning.

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