The stages of death—anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance—may also be used to chronicle the way I am experiencing the departure of my beloved thirties. As I enter into an unknown decade, one that appears to be populated by greying rogue hairs, andropause, lowered metabolisms, higher cholesterols and the stirrings of future creaks and nasty tennis injuries, I wonder: Will my forties be marked by a rapid anatomical decline, or am I, perhaps, on the verge of my most empowered decade? Will I, like Don Draper, master my craft and rule my dominion? Will I value myself? Will I make more money? Will I make keen choices? Do I still have more to learn? Will I eat better?
The difference between ten and twenty was tremendous, but the difference between twenty and thirty seemed marginal. So why does thirty-to-forty feel like a larger leap than the other two combined? What is it about turning forty that instigates the mid-life crises where men dump their spouses and buy sports cars and women dump their friends and start new careers? Why all the madness and misery? Why does admitting we may actually feel okay about turning forty cause our peers to remark that we're 'handling it well'? Out of a possible 300,000 words in the English language, I can safely ascertain that the only one that accurately describes turning forty is FUCK. But why?
Anger. I don't want to turn forty, except that the alternative of not turning forty seems worse. I feel like throwing sharp objects and also throwing up. When I make the bed today I'm gonna smash the pillows a little... too... much. Doors beware, you will be slammed. I'm pissed that the illusion of time is so readily palpable and defining. I'm vexed that there's no attractive alternative. When I was growing up I had a friend with a tattoo on his foot that read 4/12/2012. He claimed it was his expiration date and if he wasn't "something" by the time he turned forty then he would throw a big party and kill himself. I told him if he wasn't "something" then no one would know about his party, either. I have to find him. I have a compulsion to give abuse today because turning forty has fueled my adrenaline and what little testosterone is left is coursing. I'm generally not like this.
Denial. I FEEL nineteen. Well, maybe twenty-three. Okay, twenty-seven. Certainly no more than thirty-one. Or thirty-five. I remember everything I experienced as a child, which was just a few clicks back on my mental calendar, so how can I possibly be forty? My DAD is forty. Well, he was, once. A long time ago... So turning forty may have happened to all of my friends and most of my family and even strangers at the supermarket, but that doesn't mean it has to happen to me. People tell me forty is still young, but it was easier to believe when they were jealous I was thirty. Now I'm harder to convince. Who are these people, anyway? Forty? I deny this. I was asked for my ID at the liquor store just last week. I have the jawline of a teenager and the wonder of a toddler. I can beat this. Clearly they made that cake with all of those candles for someone else.
Bargaining. If I can get to Hawaii before midnight I may be able to salvage just a few more hours of being thirty-something.
Depression. This is how it goes. One day you're practicing backflips in your backyard and thinking that people in college are really old and really smart, and then you're looking at your friends' kids who are about to enter college and you wonder why they all seem so young and stupid. The student becomes the master, except I don't feel like I've mastered anything yet. When I turned thirty I had rental properties and a store and a successful film festival and a nifty house and a reliable social community. I had a savings account. I had all of my grandparents. Now I'm turning forty and the house needs a lot of work, the social community has slimmed, and the rest is gone for good. The yard is bare, the rains come, the grass grows and the flowers bloom, the bees hum and the butterflies frolic. Then the grass gets cut, the tomatoes are picked, the sun sets early and the yard yields to another crunchy frost. Forty is a late-August mowing. It's the significant cut. It's the line. (Sigh).
Acceptance. Okay, my life is good. Really good. Great, actually. Follow this logic: if I didn't turn forty I wouldn't be able to celebrate eighteen beautiful years with my husband. I've learned about loss, both in business and personally, and I've survived with new skills and instincts. I've learned how to say NO to the things I don't want to do, or be (okay, maybe I'm still working on that). And I have new abilities: I can wake up earlier without being so bothered. I can take time to read or play piano or walk the dog without fretting about my other pressing responsibilities. I can go into a grocery store and know how my food choices are going to affect me. I can spend money with some responsibility and I can make money doing jobs that don't compromise my values. I pick better movies to watch. I have gained the luxury of (a modicum of) hindsight.
And I still have goals.
If I'm forty then I'm closer to realizing my dreams than I was when I was twenty or thirty.
If I'm forty then I'm closer to gaining the wisdom of my grandparents.
If I'm forty then I'm closer to relating to my parents and their own experiences of life.
If I'm forty then my adventures will take on a new immediacy which will empower their enactment.
If I'm forty then my teachers were right and I did grow up. On the surface, at least.
I'm forty. It's impossible, but it's true. It's ridiculous, but it's fact. It's astonishing and it's accurate.
Some might say it's an accomplishment. Others say it's not a big deal and they are correct, too.
I'm forty and it's good to be forty.
People take you seriously when you're forty.
They may even believe what you write on your blog.