An Awkward Age

Can you spare a few seconds to minimize my problems?

- Bruce Eric Kaplan

I recently had to take to my bed. And I had to stay there a while. It gets worse every year.

If you had to pick a number for most nondescript birthday imaginable, "37" would be high on the list (really, after 21, they're all nothing special).

It's an awkward age. An age where you have to begin to explain things. To answer questions.

Like: shouldn't I have at least one failed marriage under my belt by now?

Shouldn't I have at least one kid in Montessori and another in therapy at my age?

And yes, I fully realize I do get overly defensive about societal expectations that I just can't (or won't) conform to.

Like last weekend. When I got my first gardening compliment.

Girls have recently moved in next door, elevating the standards of the neighborhood (and supplanting the boys who lived there with a commode inexplicably displayed next to their front door-I tried to tell them we live WAY too close to a public park for that, but did they listen? No).

The girls, on the other hand, have porch furniture that matches. Their jack-o-lanterns are lighted. Pottery Barn is suddenly making a lot of deliveries. Clearly, I need to shape up.


Their parents were visiting this weekend. (I assume they were parents in that they drove a nice car; I heard a lot of hammering; and they brought a lot of shopping bags with them. That's how things look when my parents visit.)

On Sunday morning, I was outside pruning and the Dad paused to admire my heavenly bamboo. For a second, it was so nice. Then I realized he'd seen me out there-off and on-all weekend, mulching away in boxer shorts, a wifebeater, and hip waders. Hauling heavy equipment and monster dogs in and out of a large SUV. What must he be thinking? And I somehow felt this unbidden impulse to tell a perfect stranger (who I might never see again), "Well. Thanks. And by the way, Sir, I'm not a lesbian."

Not that there's anything wrong with it, and in reality, I imagine all he was thinking was precisely what he said, which is that the dogwoods were nice. But birthdays put me in an oddly paranoid frame of mind.

I'm extremely blessed with friends who know how morbid, moody, depressed, and embittered I get about the day (yes, moreso than usual), and I'm even luckier that they always come up with great plans that will force me to stand upright and unwind the shawl that I've had wrapped around my wan little head. These plans usually involve great food and presents, because I'm very shallow and those are two excellent ways to distract me. (In a pinch, you can just wave something shiny in front of my face.)

There was a party. There was cake. We played hilarious games where they all got quizzed about incredibly embarrassing details of my personal life.

(My favorite was their answers to "most famous fling." I was amazed at how outrageously their answers exaggerated both my prowess and my access. Inspiring. But let me be clear: the closest I've ever gotten to Sam Shepard is his new book, Great Dream of Heaven. It was a lovely gift from a guy I don't expect I'll ever see again since I repaid his sensitivity by fantasizing about Sam Shepard the rest of the evening. Out loud: "he's soooo tall...did you know he's a drummer too?" In fairness to him, that was probably rude. In fairness to me, that is what he gets for not sticking to the registry. This year: power tools.)

I went on a few more dates, on and around my birthday, but successfully managed to keep those guys in the dark (not literally-you put enough black plastic on the basement windows and the cops are eventually going to get suspicious) about the occasion and the attendant melodrama. Despite my best efforts to conceal the distress though, I think most of 'em caught on that something was up.

Like when I left one stranded in the middle of a movie, after leaning over and whispering that I was coming down with viral meningitis. I didn't really have it. I thought I did though. (Because I knew someone who'd just had it, and I knew hers started with a headache. And I did have that.)

At another birthday gathering, I was introducing a date to one of my oldest friends, who casually greeted him with, "so...are you the lawyer? No. The architect? No. The doctor? The one who lives on a farm? Ohhh. Downtown."

He was a pretty good sport until he started to volunteer a few details, and she cut him off with, "Sorry. I don't bother with names any more. It's all I can do to remember professions and neighborhoods."

She's not abrupt, just efficient. And her powers of cost-benefit analysis, honed in my 20s, tell her not to get attached.

Now I find myself hitting the LATE 30s, thoroughly domesticated, and all I really, really want, most of the time, is just to lie down. (And no, not like that.)

My misspent youth is just a fond memory. Like my 30th birthday. We had a band, and when I say "had" a band, that would be an exaggeration. I only had the bass player. And he wasn't their REGULAR bass player. He just sat in for one Sonny Boy Williamson song. (This was a guy who knew how to...negotiate a to speak). And it was AFTER my boyfriend at the time left. (I think.)

Maybe I've mentioned this before, but see, he did NOT get me a present. Which I might've overlooked, but the lack of even a CARD did buy me something far more meaningful than anything he could've purchased (i.e., a few hours of guilt-free indulgence for me with someone who was taller and younger with more hair-and not a single strand of it on his back or protruding from his ears).

Because sometimes, it really IS the thought that counts.