Today I turn 43. It's not one of those magical numbers that hold any kind of special meaning. It's not 45 for example, or 50. But it's past 40, and it's easy to remember a time when 40 seemed so very old. Like many young people, I romanticized not living this long. Unlike most young people, I also fantasized often about suicide, and engaged in a couple of half hearted attempts. A healthy terror of death kept me from making too deep a cut or swallowing too many pills. I wanted to die but I also dreaded what might lay beyond. At twenty, the thought of making it another twenty three years filled me with a kind of horror. Another twenty three years of this shit, I would have thought, is not worth it at all.
At twenty, I moved to Rochester on the whim of being madly in love. He wrote me romantic letters filled with scraps of poetry on handmade marbled paper. I would hold those letters close to my face and inhale the scent of paper and ink. I think now I was in love with the idea of him. The romance he created in distance wooed because the reality of him was not that wonderful. But there I was in this ugly city filled with strangers. A lone. And as always achingly sad and longing for something. I celebrated my twenty first birthday in that city surrounded by people who were not really my friends but just some people that kept the loneliness at bay. That night he was with his wife. I wore a black lace dress he had bought me. Vintage, 1930s. Frail and lovely. I wore it with black combat boots. My black hair cut into my first stylized bob. I bought a bottle of Love My Goat red wine, and drank the whole bottle myself. I sat drunk on stoops surrounded by young and achingly beautiful humans. Someone took my picture with a white rat on my black feathered hat. Twenty one seemed like an awfully lot of years.
I woke up the next morning, my head aching. My dress crumbled on the floor of my sad bare room. He of course was not there. He was never there. I felt this unbearable crush of despair. I felt hollow. After that day a lot of drinking filled my nights. Not much eating. Lots of strangers beautiful and otherwise. I just wanted to lose all feeling, and I did for the most part. Everything but the anxiety and fear. I didn't love him anymore. The first wave of intoxication washed away in the reality of him. I played along because I didn't know what else to do. But I suffocated in the longing for something I didn't know. A longing that followed me for so much of my life. Twenty three more years of this would have destroyed that hollow girl.
I woke up this morning to hushed whispers and cries "Don't come out yet mama." Imagine me with five kids. Beautiful, wonderful, quirky kids. A gorgeous husband whose love was not made of paper and ink. When I came out homemade cards and "Happy Birthday." A romantic poem translated by my lover and partner. A poem hand crafted in water color and parchment and filled with the smell of art. These things don't go up in ash. They don't leave a bad taste in my mouth. They are not a crumbled dress on the floor of a bare bedroom.
Being old is going to be okay, I realized as I hugged my children and kissed my husband. Being old with these people is like a bright prize won for no reason at all. Even though the deep hollowness of depression never went away, these people make me want to cope, they make me want to look for other ways of walking through the forest. After all the fairy tale forest is brighter with their laughs and their flickering lights like fairy lights leading me deeper into enchantment. Today I will grow old with no regrets. I will not wake up tomorrow to the feeling that twenty more years is too much. Twenty years is not enough. Time slips too fast through my fingers because it can never be enough with this kind of love.