I began insisting that my first car would be very small, very fast and very Italian. That should have been the first indication of my impending age-related crisis. There would be no minivan for my children. Oh no. Only a Ferrari or, in the worst case, a Porsche. The idea that I had factored prospective children into the equation for future automobile purchases should have been the second clue. And I really should have realized that the prospect of my 20th birthday was throwing me for a loop when I chopped off most of my hair and started shopping around for wrinkle cream.
Despite all those warning signs, and that my birthday was at the end of June, I only felt the reality of being 20 two weeks ago. My best friend and I had decided it would be a good idea to go and see Ben Affleck’s supposedly rejuvenated career in Hollywoodland. About 25 minutes into the movie we found ourselves contemplating ways to extricate ourselves from what was becoming, by the second, an increasingly bleak and pointless cinematic experience. We joked that we’d go along with the theme of the movie, and just end it right there. Suicide wouldn’t disturb any of the other patrons, and hey, we’ve had 20 good years, right? Somewhat contradictorily, my next thought was this: otherwise I’ll never get these two hours of my life back. And while, at first, I considered the loss of those hours in jest, I quickly came to think of it as a serious consideration. I was 20, and had two decades less of my life left to waste.
Twenty. In the words of Anne Bancroft, “Fuck, I’m old.” And I’m not the only one who feels it. You think I was joking about cutting my hair and the wrinkle cream? I’m not, and neither are any of my other friends, who are already envisioning their collagen melting away day by day. Though popular logic might try to soothe us with the notion that if 60 is the new 50, then 50’s the new 40, and further down the line, that 20 is the new 10, it seems to me that the opposite is true, because we all feel closer to 50 than to 10. It doesn’t help that there’s no pomp, circumstance or tequila associated with turning 20, as there is with 21. And there’s no numerical comfort, as there was at 19, in knowing that you’re still a teenager, and have got plenty of time left for growth, polishing and editing. We’re supposed to be fully formed human beings at this point in time. I feel anything but.
As such, I’ve started calling the 20th birthday a fifth life crisis. Personally, I plan on expiring sometime after my third round of Botox but before my charm is the only attractive feature I’ve got left. Most of us, though, can plan on living to about one-hundred. When I first designated the last 3 months of my life with such a fraction [awkward phrasing], I figured I might be feeling extra angsty because of the 80 years I probably had in front of me. What a long time we’ve got ahead of us to worry over, to figure out how to clothe and feed ourselves and our inevitable spawn, to occupy our time in and out of the office, and decide where in the world we want to do all this. Not to mention we’ve got to start worrying about utilities and actually taking out the trash ourselves. As I was mulling this over one day, someone helpfully added to my paranoia by pointing out that my wedding day was probably closer than the day I graduated junior high, and that she and her boyfriend very unabashedly discussed marriage. The future was suddenly inserting itself all too rapidly and realistically into my life.
Along with those concerns about the future, there came the mild horror at the present state of affairs. Things I told myself I’d never be or turn into – namely my mother – had snuck up on me. No matter my attempts to banish her idiosyncrasies from my body, I still cock my wrist in the same way she does, clear my throat with the same whiff of condescension and stare daggers at anyone who makes me wait longer than five minutes in the way that she did that used to mortify me as a child. At the same time, the present isn’t so bad in the accompanying stability it brings. We’ve all hopefully, at this point, settled into our niches, our friendships and ourselves; it was refreshing to come back this year and greet friends and acquaintances who seemed to be so much more sure of themselves and of what they hope to accomplish. Yet the fact that I had reached the point where I could wax on about the comforts of age, even slightly, sent me into another tailspin.
Because, as all too many ‘remember when’s’ and ‘that can’t have been 10 years ago’ inserted themselves into my vocabulary, I became aware of all that time that’s passed. There’s a sense of loss that comes with age, even only 1/5th of a century’s worth of it. Though many might herald twentysomethings as lucky for all the newfound freedom they have, I feel this time should also be bemoaned for the loss of possibility. I’ve already passed most of my milestone first experiences, and in hindsight, none were that memorable. I haven’t yet found the answer to many questions I think should have been resolved by now. Coming-of-age stories unrelated to visionary Zach Braff have little to do with me anymore. I never will have accomplished anything groundbreaking before I ‘grow up’ – the Olsen twins have already surpassed me in that sense. I’m not the world’s beacon of hope anymore; they’ve moved on to another, younger crowd in which to place all of their expectations and optimism. I don’t know yet how to cook a turkey, unclog a toilet, or blow-dry my hair to my satisfaction. And I can now use the word ‘youngsters’ without irony. Forgive me if I sound fatalistic in saying that everything just seems to be going so much faster, and I know my friends and I feel like it might already be too late to catch up.
And then there’s that pesky departure of being able to blame it all on someone else. You see, the stakes have been raised. I have always been intellectually aware that I was responsible for how most things turned out in my own life and for how happy I decided to be. I only recently felt emotionally so accountable. Those mistakes and missteps and drunken decisions are all the more potent, because there’s no one on which to pawn them off. And how well I take care of myself is all up to me.
Did all this responsibility and crisis kick in the moment the clock turned to 8:07 a.m. on June 27th, 2006? Of course not. But it has been lingering ever since, and not only in my mind. Maybe 20 isn’t old at all, maybe I’m being overly philosophical or defeatist about it and not keeping in mind that I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way things have turned out so far. But 20 is the only experience of ageing I’ve come to know, and maybe the last first time I’ve come to know: the first time I really actually felt old.