Was I supposed to feel bad about turning 40? When I declared 40 to be the gateway birthday to a fun seesaw of alternating success and reward, a metamorphosis of self and mind, a wild jaunt of social-political liberty. A few agreed, ‘yes, it is like that’, and then we never talked about it again.
There is deep psychological warfare designed to make you feel shitty about being a woman who turns 40. 40 is a society-approved loudmouth that will ruin the pony ride at your birthday party. 40 is the embarrassing friend that you thought had moved away, who returns naked and drunk to barf into the hot tub. if someone brings it up – no one bring it up – you’ll be 40 one day. You’ll go from exciting and spontaneous to frivolous and irresponsible. You’ll be mutton dressed as lamb, you’ll be the loser in the midlife crisis love affair, you’ll have lost your retail value and the clearance isles are full of your sad, waistless pants and the sad, sad everything you do to defend yourself against this. It happens overnight and you’ve been warned. Do not put your age on your Facebook. Do not tell anyone about the hairs that grow out of your chin. Do not admit to anything. Its voice is subtle but sufficient in keeping you in quiet agreeance. I don’t plan to pour over this fact so as not to seem redundant, which you will also be at 40, so if you find yourself being so, you must lock yourself in the pantry until you pass out from crying. Not that long ago, 25 was considered an age of the same fate so I suppose bravo for coming along nicely.
Unironically, I have a similar conundrum with being perceived as younger, which I always have been, and it has always bothered me. It really pushes my buttons when someone claims that I don’t look old enough to have a child in high school or be married to my husband (who looked ‘older than his age’ but was only a few years on from me), as though looking old enough is the required authentication for truthiness. I got carded more in the last year of my thirty’s than I did in the decade previous. People say, ‘oh you must be flattered’, and I say ‘I mean, I’ve earned this shit (gesturing to my theoretical wrinkles). Have you even seen 18-year-olds? They look like actual babies!!’ People don’t like that as they think I’m being ungrateful. These age-reduction comments are customarily seen as and are to betaken as compliments and I don’t like that. A socially automated write-off of my truth and wisdom that concurrently elevates beauty and youth as true success – qualities that are neither chosen nor achieved.
It drives me crazy when someone says, ‘you’re too young to know this band’ or ‘you wouldn’t relate, it’s before your time.’ They’ve heard about living in the world, right? How knowing about stuff isn’t strictly linear to the timing of your birth? HAVEN’T THEY HEARD ABOUT LIVING IN THE WORLD?! I freely admit my sensitivity is amplified by some deep Freudian shit and my insecurities of needing to be taken seriously, but it can’t be all that. The sheer force with which 40 hits a woman is enough to knock the Spanx right off her. It is perfectly acceptable to dread turning 40 and be harmlessly wished a happy 29th instead. Fucking 29.
I take just a moment to consider what It took to come this far. The perfect intersection of past and future self. the scars, shame, missteps, flops, public humiliations; what without them would you have as protection in future war? As you know, you need the deepest scars to survive, to bear like fangs at your predators. Do not fuck with the wounded wolf who knows everything gained can be lost. Ego is a farce, it will leave you in a moment if it is in danger of being seen. If we truly celebrate survival, age is its highest honour, one you’ve bloodied your knuckles to earn and one that well could have left you a casualty by now.
Photos of my younger self are holograms of joy and freedom which given a slight turn reveal the chaos and sadness customary to youth. I remember both sides, always. I remember so much pleasure and yet I work hard not to repeat the mistakes that left many years marred with despair. Those years when I was very self-destructive, where the fear that I was unlovable held me hostage at the bottom of a bottle. The dark nights when I clawed my way out from the nadirs, alone. I take consideration that I am now a student to this darkness, my companion, with whom I share valued trust and respect. I reconcile that I never wanted to rebuild and rise like a phoenix; I’d rather not have had reason to do that at all. Each time I awoke to find myself down in the pits, after sulking a while, I’d unpack those smelly old worn-out wings and reluctantly squeeze back into them. Do these things even fit anymore? Sitting there alone in the dark, in my sad, tattered, feathery hair shirt, hot tears stinging my eyes, I now understand that just trying it on again is an act of unmeasured bravery, whether I decide to rise or not. I am honoured to be 40. I respect 40. Widow. Step-mom. Filthy animal. Happy fucking new year.