Thu 22 Jan 2009
this past Saturday morning i woke up to a washing machine that had given up the ghost and gone to appliance heaven in the middle of a load of dirty diapers. very dirty diapers. apparently the washing machine rapture was unable to wait for my childrens’ poop to complete the rinse cycle.
this coming Saturday morning, on the occasion of my thirty-seventh birthday, i am getting a brand-new washing machine -the first i will have ever owned – delivered to mah house. on my birthday. and i think this is fabulous.
cue the girdles and the curlers, middle age is in da house.
the summer i was nineteen, i saw Thelma and Louise in the theatre. twice. shelling out more than once was a wild indulgence….but i had to go back. there was this one scene – sunup in the badlands, a vintage Impala replete with Southern Comfort, and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan – that made me catch my breath, disappear into the story, into that car, into the song playing in the background. Marianne Faithfull’s broken voice and a housewife losing her mind, her self.
she could clean the house for hours
or rearrange the flowers
or run naked through the shady streets
screaming all the way
at the age of thirty-seven, she realized
she’d never ride through Paris in a sports car
with the warm wind in her hair
there was, of course, no Youtube then, to trace the lyrics that had grabbed onto me like grappling hooks and screamed you must not make this mistake, child. no Wikipedia to promptly inform me that children’s author and poet Shel Silverstein had written the words croaked out by Faithfull. it took two viewings of the credits for me to even figure out the song’s name, and a long afternoon in the bowels of an old radio station’s archives for me to find a copy. but the very first time i heard the words, i understood.
You will be old someday. Get out and live. Make sure you have no regrets for things undone.
thirty-seven was beyond old to me then. thirty-seven, as best i could figure, must surely mean wrinkliness in places i was loathe to contemplate. thirty-seven was last chance, the age after which nothing would ever happen again.
probably only a nineteen year old could believe so fervently in the possibility of living without regret. not all doors can be opened, after all. and in the end i am rounding on thirty-seven still without having ever ONCE ridden through Paris in a sports car, my head high, Thelma and Louise-style headscarf and giant sunglasses and warm wind in my hair. (Dave, please note…you have two days left…get crackin’. passport ready.)
but from the cusp of a threshold after which nothing will ever happen again…i am surprised. because i’m happy.
on Saturday i will be thirty-seven years old and i am getting a freaking washing machine for my birthday. and when the baby naps, i can clean the house for hours, or could rearrange the flowers if i could remember to, erm, water them. my days of streaking down suburban streets are long gone. i don’t sleep for more than three hours at a time anymore, and on the rare occasion we have friends over, i spend half the evening trying to keep my baby from yelling over the conversation. yet…i don’t feel stifled or oppressed. or not in the way that matters in the long run.
by my own terms, i’ve lived well. i’ve learned, i’ve experimented, i’ve sung and spoken and created. i’ve stood naked on a balcony looking out over Bangkok at sunrise. i’ve laughed until i cried. i’ve held three babies, freshly born. i’ve grieved. i’ve loved. i’ve grown old enough to be able, finally, to say “i’m sorry.” and i’ve survived my long and reckless searching to circle back home, to a place where two small faces smile at me each morning. and the cat bites my ankles.
at nineteen i was afraid i’d wake up one morning and find that life had passed me by, hemmed me in in such a way that i’d never get out and figure out all that i could be. in the end, i’m still looking for all i can be, even at thirty-seven. and i’m looking in places i wasn’t sure i ever would…in the drudgery of this day to day hard-won domesticity, and its little pleasures, and the sense of agency that i find in my modest goals for the year: learn French, get a longterm job, play more trivia, spend time alone with Dave, teach my kids and myself that sometimes you don’t have to get mad even when you feel mad. these things excite me the way goals like “visit Amsterdam” and “become a rock star” once did.
my only regret is that i didn’t know sooner that this quiet middle-age is not at all so small as i thought.
how do you feel about where you’re at in your life? and what’s on your list of “must do before i die”? have these things morphed as you’ve grown older?