Yesterday I saw myself as I had been. I was on the street and saw a girl of about 17 who looked remarkably like I did at that age, accentuated because the fashions of the 80s are right back in style and she was even dressed in clothes that I might have worn then. Her hairstyle, too, was a slightly curly flow at about shoulder-length, though I suspect hers to be natural waves while mine were the result of a Mom-administered home perm. She had that carefree confidence that teens have, the result of being sure that they know everything and are indestructible, something I outgrew sometime in my twenties and thirties when I went out on my own and saw more of the world and realized I didn’t have all the answers, and learned that life was, indeed, tenuous and short. But for now she is youthful and self-assured. They say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. Mine is Italian and seems to have not aged. This thought gives me a smile since today is my fortieth birthday.
The Big Four-Oh. The one that is the butt of countless jokes, festooned in black, and characterized by horrid, you’re-getting-old gifts. At least in my family, that is the norm. When my mom turned forty, my uncle ordered for her a huge bouquet of dead flowers. Beautifully arranged and tied in festive ribbons, but utterly dead. My other uncle, Mom’s youngest brother, was presented with a prune tree coupled with endless jokes about “regularity”. Bryan received a box of cookies frosted black, in the shape of buzzards. Hideous (but tasty, I confess). What wretched gifts will arrive on my doorstep remains to be seen. I’m hoping that escaping the country will spare me some of the brutality.
The funny thing is, I don’t feel old. Forty, when I was 17, seemed a century away and sound very ancient. Now that I’m there I think, what’s the big deal? I’m just getting started! Because of the fact that my physical health went to pot when I turned thirty (chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have plagued me since), that milestone was harder than this one. On my thirtieth birthday I awoke in tears with the thought, dang it, I’m no longer in my twenties and that really sucks! I remember feeling that life was skidding past me and I'd not yet accomplished anything noteworthy. It depressed me for awhile.
Forty, instead, is easier for me to accept. It’s just another day on the calendar, after all. I am here in Italy, having taken great risks and overcome great obstacles to get here and fulfill a dream. Forty is the year of my dreams-come-true! Forty is the beginning of new things and marks a milestone of looking-forward and anticipating the next adventure instead of looking backward with regret over lost youth. (Besides, blessedly, I don’t look forty!) I have nothing to prove to anyone (except myself).
As I looked at that young girl I smiled because of her resemblance to me. And I silently wished her well, knowing that I would never want to trade places with her. I wouldn’t want to go back in time and be a teenager again. I like it here just fine. Happy Big 4-0 to me.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider