Sometimes I forget how old I am. Not in the sense of denying my age. I literally forget and have to do the math. This forgetfulness could be ascribed I suppose to the fact that I have never spent a lot of time in my absolute age group. In school, I was skipped ahead, so I was with kids older than myself. At family gatherings, I was always much more interested in what the adults were talking about than in playing with my cousins. Ok, I was not normal. It didn’t end there.
I started going to college part time in addition to high school when I was fifteen. For years, I was always the youngest one in any group I was in at school or at work. I’m not sure when that came to a halt, exactly, only that I begin to notice that people I was around were younger than me. That was shocking at first, but then grew into a bit of a satisfying state when younger people would ask me for advice and I could pretend that I actually knew anything. Was this how it really felt to be an official adult? I wondered, as I carefully kept up my façade of wisdom. Amazing, I thought, all I have to do is listen, then tell them what I think, and because I’m older and not their mother, all of a sudden I’m “really smart”. Adults have had a good gig all this time and I never knew! I noticed all of this, but somehow my actual age was always this nebulous factor that I never really thought about. Birthdays would come. “So, how does it feel to be ______?” I got asked. “Umm… the same as it did yesterday?” I would answer, not sure how I was supposed to feel, but knowing I didn’t feel any different at all.
There have been moments of Oh My God, though. Like the time I was in the break room at a place I was working, and the cover of the AARP magazine someone had left on the table bore a brilliantly smiling Cheryl Tiegs. Yes, something in my chest did convulse for the briefest of moments. But I moved on, unaffected after that split second. Or the time more recently when I found myself referring to a person younger than myself as a “whippersnapper”. Whippersnapper? Where did that come from? Is there an entire vocabulary that suddenly springs forth from your mouth when you reach a certain age?
I used to tell my mother that I had this theory about old people and names. The theory was that people got names like Edna and Earl when they got old. They weren’t born with these names, one day they just were saddled with them, and everybody who knew them suddenly began calling them by those names as if they had always had them. My mother looked at me dubiously. “Well, think about it,” I said, “Do you know anybody named Edna who isn’t old? Or Earl?” She had to admit she didn’t. I remember smiling with the proof of my point.
A few days ago, I got notice that my 30th high school reunion is coming up. Thirty years? The word that comes most readily to mind is: eeeeeeek! I attended my tenth reunion. It was pretty uninspired. My then fiancé (who had not gone to the same school) summed it up by saying “You can already see who peaked in high school.” He was right.
I don’t remember what was going on when my 20th came around. In fact, I don’t even remember it coming around. So the 30th sneaked up on me and body checked me. In the same week, one of the whippersnappers I work with sent this email with a virtual jukebox containing the top 20 hits for several years from “back in the day”. The most “recent” collection is from 1979, the year I graduated. I looked at it. Sister Sledge’s We Are Family and My Sharona by The Knack. Donna Summer. Michael Jackson was just coming into his own. It all put me in mind of that lyric “ain’t it funny how time just slips away?” Funny. Strange. Never noticed it until I woke up feeling like part of me has been in an oblivious time warp while the other part was busily and actively engaged with the world.
They say that age is just a number. Why can’t I ever remember that number?
I wonder how soon it will be before I awaken to a new day with all the whippersnappers calling me Edna.