I can’t believe I’m damn forty years old. What the hell happened to all those years? I don’t feel forty, but then again, what the hell is 40 supposed to feel like? I imagine it’s akin to the feeling you get when going out for Carvel ice cream and then finding out the only thing that’s open is the local health store with the frozen soy dessert. It’s better than having nothing at all, but not by much – the enthusiastic “meh” of ages.
I mean there’s nothing wrong with being 40, per se. It’s a nice round number, a multiple of ten, and divides evenly by many different factors. It’s a number that makes you feel good inside, like everything in world has a proper place. I wanted to keep it low key and ride that wave, but letting my birthday pass without any fanfare proved to be a bridge too far. Too many people knew about it! Now, I find myself doing all the inane things I said I wouldn’t do when I became a quadragenarian. Taking stock of my life, the things I’ve done, the things I’ve yet to do, comparing myself to others I know of the same age - you know, all the fun thought exercises that only usually occur to you at 3am.
Another option at forty is having a midlife crisis but all the usual clichés lost their luster. A tryst with a much younger woman seems like more work than reward, and I don’t have an active Instagram account anyway. I could buy a sports car, but the truth is I really don’t go anywhere worth taking it to, and pulling up to King Kullen in a Ferrari with a handicapped placard somehow seems in bad taste. Growing a ponytail is a fantasy with my shiny dome, and growing one on my chest seems less manly and more molesty. At this point, as rebellious as it gets is ordering the veal instead of the chicken at our local Italian place. I’d eat it without my napkin on my lap, though.
I know, reading what I wrote above you’d think I’d feel like some sort of dad-jeans dork, but the truth is, there is something precious that also comes with age forty that people don’t talk about as much, which is odd, because in my opinion it’s the greatest gift bestowed upon those who age past a certain point. It’s a word you don’t hear much any more called perspective. Or, the ability to not give a crap about things that don’t really matter, and not feel guilty about it! Want to go to 7-11 in your slippers and Muppet pajama pants? Do it. Of course, if you see younger girls you straighten up your Grover slippers as best you can, but, really, even if you were wearing a shirt covered in baby spit-up and hadn’t slept all week, you’d tell yourself that you could have gotten those girls to talk to you if you wanted to, which you didn’t, of course. Then you go home and go to bed, and don’t give it a second thought. Why? Perspective, my friends - the “copy of our home game” consolation prize of getting old.
Of course, for me, there’s always more to consider. This is not only my 40th birthday year, but also my 30th year with autoimmune disease. Thirty years of any illness takes a toll, but after three decades of my body attacking itself, my body is starting to win. Or lose. Whatever. The point is, things are beginning to fail, and they will need to be repaired if not replaced before they give out. I’m like an automobile, my parts need to be completely restored every 30 years or so. It was when thinking about this that I had an epiphany. Maybe none of the old clichés will apply to me. Why? Well, because ever since I’ve been 18 years old I have had a body that feels like it’s 40! Aches, pains, and a crushing amount of fatigue have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Now, even though the underlying mechanisms of my body are getting older, it’s difficult to imagine having more pain or a greater amount of fatigue than I already deal with. The only level higher than the one I’m at is death, and I hear that only happens once. On the other hand, my disease could pile on the degeneration of age and make an age-arthritis sandwich that uses synergy to make getting older twice as horrible. Even if that does happen, though, thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis has left me better equipped to deal with the consequences of getting older, which, ironically, should help to keep me young even though I could end up aging at an exponential rate compared to a healthy person. I know, it’s a real head scratcher, that one, and makes me want to sit in a chair with a blanket over my legs just thinking about it.
As you can see, I really did dive deeply into my own head over the last few days, despite my best attempts not to. No matter what, though, the bottom line is I don’t feel like the forty that I picture when I think of forty year olds, smoking their pipes and playing scrabble with someone in a button down cardigan or whatever. That’s the image that pops into my head the first second someone says 40-year-old, though. Me? I play video games and listen to vinyl, I go to see Star Wars movies the first night they open and I wear trendy sneakers with my dress outfits. Pure numbers, though, my body has been here on Earth for 40 years, with the wear and tear that goes with it, but hopefully, it will be here for at least another 40. I don’t knows what the next act has in store, but I do know that I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had up until this point for anything in the world, even to live without my illness. I think that should tell you all you need to know, and, more importantly, tell me all I need to know. I guess it’s enough to be a 40 year old who’s had 30 years to get used to it. As the great Indiana Jones said, “it’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”