The End of the Beginning
Forty is one or two random wiry white hairs poking out amongst the ginger and fine, crepey wrinkles at the apex of my cleavage. It’s a few blue spider veins on the back of my calves, an eye doctor warning me that “readers” are inevitably coming, probably next year, a knee that hurts for no diagnosable reason. Forty is old enough to know better, and no longer too young to care. Forty is when “middle age” shifts to fifty, because hey, life expectancies are increasing all the time. Forty is when high school classmates and older relatives whom I don’t remember being old start dying off.
Forty is parenting a middle schooler while some of my friends are having a surprise baby and others become the parents of new high school grads. It’s hitting my mid-career stride, feeling knowledgeable without feeling smug. It’s being well-insured and keeping up with routine oil changes, annual physicals, and world events. Forty is attending concerts of bands past their prime and feeling like it’s still OzzFest ’99.
Forty is do or die, give up or hold out, wind up or wind down. It’s the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. Forty is quality over quantity, balancing the enjoyment of life right now against retirement savings, and the enjoyment of food against the bathroom scale. Forty is the precipice between “can I see your ID” and free coffee at McDonalds. If life were a cheeseburger, forty would be the patty.
Forty is taking stock of everything so far. The scent-memories of a rural childhood are still easily summoned and I can tell you the name of every elementary school teacher I had. I remember the bullies, the best friends, the notes passed, my freshman year locker combination. I remember my D in algebra, graduation, my first legal purchase of cigarettes. Broken hearts, favorite books, all the words to my favorite songs. My dorm room, first apartment, favorite professors. More graduations, first job. My wedding, house hunting, my first positive pregnancy test. My children’s babyhoods. Grudges.
Forty is wondering: Will there be new homes, new cars, out-of-state moves? Sickness, financial troubles, tragedy? Are the best years yet to come, or have I already said good bye? Who have I seen for the last time but don’t know it yet? Have I rolled my eyes at my last cat-caller? Has the window closed on this or that ambition?
Forty is shock that life is no longer a preamble to the future I tried as a child to imagine. That future is here, it is now. This is life and I am in the thick of it. If there are changes I want to see, the time to make them is now. It doesn’t have to be a downhill slide into my grave from here, although it feels a little like it on this day, when I am no longer thirtysomething (I remember when that was a show about old people.) I do not feel forty. But I am forty, so I guess this is what forty feels like, by definition.
Forty is looking back and realizing I have made through four decades, and have something to show for it. Forty is knowing that life has changed slowly and it is not going to now suddenly speedwalk me into the nearest convalescent home. I am the same as I was yesterday. Forty is knowing not everything is within my control, but my thoughts and actions and attitude are.
Here’s to 40-the end of the beginning of the rest of my life.