This morning I woke up expecting to have become a monstrous cockroach stuck on its back, legs flailing, perturbed.
After all, Kafka penned his famous novella “The Metamorphosis” in 1912, just as he, too, was turning 30.
As a former English major and aspiring writer, I’m always thinking in overdrawn metaphors and looking to the literary masters for parallels, for explanation, to relate.
I found myself these weeks leading up to turning 30 in an existential panic that felt, at times, like I was indeed a helpless creature, immobile and terrified, prostrate and alone. I trolled the Internet for prescriptions, ruminated constantly over phrases such as:
“Time’s up. She was published by the time she was 30. First wrinkles. Grey hairs. Marriage. Babies. Finish line. Turning point. Milestone. Botox. 401ks. Slower metabolism.”
And of course, those cheeseball little slogans that somehow have come to define one’s entire existence to date:
“Never trust anyone over ___.” “The Big __-__.” “The dirty __.”
But when I woke up this morning 30 years old, everything appeared initially the same. I had two arms and two legs; there were my clothes from the weekend strewn in the same sloppy pile I left them. There was my dog Alfie peering up at me, ready for his morning walk just as if I were still in my 20s.
Over the past few years, I’ve at times found myself anticipating this door to open — the adult door — the “once you step through this door, you will be a bona fide grownup door,” once and for all.
This morning was one of those moments when I thought for sure the door would open and everything would be different. I watched myself to see if I drank my coffee in a more mature way. Checked again in the mirror for any distinguishing adult subtleties. Nope.
But a couple weeks ago I was at a party talking to some people in their 50s and 60s about fracking, self-conscious that they could sense my immaturity, pinpoint the exact Huff Po article I drew my facts from — but realizing instead that they weren’t at all talking to me like I was a child anymore, well, mainly because I am not.
Some days, I feel like I’m 90 years old, Yoda wisdom to impart, creaky knees, terribly slow driving. Other days, I’m 5 years old, spitting my gum on the sidewalk with no remorse, giggling at banal comedy on the Internet.
I’m not sure if the seeking of the aspirational self ever goes away, nor should it. For me it’s the version of me who wakes up at 6 a.m., writes, trains for marathons, cooks with creative gusto vs. the actual me: Last night I stayed up till 2 on a “Game of Thrones” bender, picked up Thai for dinner, again, oh, and “forgot” to jog.
I have one writer friend in her 50s who explained to me once that getting older becomes “less about who you want to become and more about what you like to do.”
Like a senior version of the Kevin Arnold voice over in “The Wonder Years,” I’ve officially gotten old enough to reflect.
So if we are all a walking assortment of our choices in life, and of things we like to do, what does hindsight really teach us; what’s the point of looking back?
Who knows. But if my life to date were on three DVDs, these would be the titles:
Childhood: “The Disneyland Years”:
“It was the most innocent kind of love two second graders could share, she with her overbite, side ponytail and stickers on her binder, him with those giant freckles, burps and general disregard for classroom etiquette. Instead of practicing their uppercase letters in cursive like Mrs. Kranser implored, they spent two weeks straight holding hands under their desks and didn’t say a word to each other about it for the rest of the school year. And though they never talked at all, she always considered him her first real boyfriend.”
The Teens: “The Old Pasadena Years”:
“Walking that same stretch of pavement those few hours of pure freedom on Friday nights and still, never a boy’s phone number to take home. She had braces, and that was part of it, but tried like the rest to make them tolerable, choosing cool rubber band colors to make herself more approachable, chic. Puberty hid for years from her then hit like a tornado she could not run from. Like the other late bloomers, she secretly pored over Seventeen magazine afternoons at Vons when no one was looking, wanting what any girl at 14 wanted: boobs and a first kiss.”
The 20s: “The Coachella Years”:
“She chose to cut Anthropology 101 class for four weeks straight, choosing instead to order pizza at 11 a.m. and watch ‘Beverly Hills 90210′ in her pajamas. Why? Because she was a college kid and no one was stopping her. Heck, spring break was on the horizon. And that final exam she failed, a mere pock on the GPA horizon.”
For me, the 20s were a constant tango of choices, dancing together in harmony sometimes, other times, stepping on your own two feet.
They were also kind of a blur, or perhaps a second, third, fourth attempt at each of those firsts we experience as teens, but with no parents to check up on you in the middle of the night wondering where you are and if you’re OK.
So now that I’ve hit 30, I realize that all those choices we make, from favorite flavor of ice cream as a kid, to where to go to college as a teenager, to what to become as a 20-something, it all adds up to what makes us, us.
The other day I was at Coffee Bean and a woman who must have been in her late 70s was dancing her version of a salsa to Bruno Mars while she waited in line with her friend. She had those beautiful kinds of wrinkles on her face, wrinkles that to me are the mark of a person who has experienced life and is OK with letting it show.
In that moment, I watched her laugh and dance like a 14-year-old might, twirling around the coffee shop with absolutely no regard for how she looked or who was watching.
That lady at Coffee Bean reminded me again about life being less about “who we want to become” and more about “what we like to do.”
She likes to have fun. That’s a good choice to keep making.
Perhaps waking up this morning a monstrous cockroach would have been OK. At least by now, I know what I like to do.
I’d be a cockroach who loves to garden. A cockroach who prefers a window seat to an aisle; a cockroach who makes a mean margarita and gives the best hugs — I’d be a cockroach who always tears up at the final dance sequence in “Dirty Dancing.”
It wouldn’t really matter because under all that armor, I’d still be me.
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