08/21/2014 08:01 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Turning 20 Twice

When I turned 20, I should have started counting over again.

It didn't occur to me then that when my father was this age, I was just 2 months old, perhaps because at 20 I was preoccupied with how to clear up my acne and how to tell my parents I was no longer interested in attending community college. At 2 months old I was preoccupied with spitting up and demanding diaper changes. I'm sure my father treasures both versions of me equally but would be hard-pressed to choose one if given the opportunity.

I now find myself turning the age that is supposed to be "the new 30," but that feels like a mathematical impossibility. I've realized that it's not the aging process itself that I fear. I do my best to fear only things I have some control over, like icky spiders and abdominal fat. It is the stigma of age that I fear most. When people ask my age, it's not the number that concerns me but their reaction.

"Oh. Wow. Well, you don't look it," they say reassuringly, as if I should be grateful not to look like what I actually am, as if they were really saying, "You don't look like you're halfway to the grave."

While I have not stooped to lying about my age, I have taken to speaking about it in a fashion that some might call convoluted. I was happy to turn 30. At that point it was "the new 20," and I had forgotten most of my high-school math anyway. It was always easy to say I was in my "early 30s" -- so easy that I did it until I was 35. I was then forced by sheer mathematical logic to claim my mid-30s. I continued with this for a few years. At 37 I began to refer to myself as being in my "early-late 30s," which is not too far a stretch of the imagination: If the late 30s are 37 through 39, then 37 is obviously the early part of that period. Thus, 38 was my "mid-late 30s." Logic, however, turned against me last year. I was not terribly fond of "late-late 30s."

So I ended up saying, "You know what? I'm 39." I would then flash a knowing look, preempting the "You don't look 39!" comment. It was my "I know! Can you believe it?" before my conversation partners could get their line out of their mouths. This usually resulted in the enthusiastic ego petting I was hoping for. However, sometimes there followed an awkward moment and a change of subject. I was hitting about three out of four.

And 39 was such a good number. Very clean and sexy. Divisible by 13, which everyone knows is lucky. Right?

Now I'm facing that other number. The real "F" word. And I'm thinking about what my father was doing when he was up against the "F" bomb, besides dealing with the aforementioned version of me. He was about to be remarried to the woman with whom he has spent the last quarter of a century (and will undoubtedly spend the rest of his natural life). My father, at my present age, was also buying his fourth home before I had ever earned a dollar on my own. He wouldn't have his shoulder replacement for years yet, and he was still playing softball. Several years prior, he had already buried his own father.

As I stare down the "Big F" with whatever grace I can muster, I sit in my rented Manhattan apartment, dealing with an overweight cat with hairballs and trying to figure out how to get my boyfriend to propose while we are in Provincetown next week. I'm working hard at a job where, let's just say, I don't wear a name tag, but I don't have a desk. Hopefully, I can make enough money to have a recent knee injury repaired in the New Year. If I don't, I will miss skiing but not having to help friends move. And there is a very good chance that I will be able to talk to my dad about all of this for many years to come.

It's a milestone. It's a moment. Or the culmination of a moment. Or the intersection between the culminations of the moments so far and the moments I have left. It's the first year that, though I will still certainly try, I can no longer deny being "middle-aged." I could go with "early-middle aged," but that might sound too Lord of the Rings.

So I have decided to accept it, to face it head-on. To look myself in the mirror, switch to an age-defying moisturizer, and admit to new acquaintances that, yes, I have turned 20 for the second time.