Two weeks from today, I turn 36.
I feel like I am at the top of the first hill on a tall roller coaster. The center of balance of the car is about to tip, plunging me downhill at 70 miles an hour. The momentum is building, and it all goes so fast from here. Pretty soon I'll be pulling into the station, windblown, battered, and possibly screaming, asking, "That's it? It's over already?"
35 was a hard birthday. Middle age had come. I wasn't too bothered by the upcoming 36 until I remembered that the average life expectancy for a person born in the U.S. in 1974 is 72, which means I am statistically halfway done. (Though if you want to get technical about it, a white woman born in the U.S. in 1974 has a life expectancy of 76.7. The 72 is just what happens when you throw the males in the mix.)
Apparently, cancer survivors aren't allowed by their friends and relatives to complain about birthdays much. Anytime I start to make a comment about how I'm getting old, someone who means well says, "Well, it beats the alternative," or the more to-the-point, "Just be glad you get to celebrate that birthday."
But I am going to allow myself one post a year where I complain about how it kinda sucks to get old.
Most of my group of friends are also 35. In talking to them, it seems that, at least physically, we all had a rough go of it this year.
"35 feels different than 34," my husband said the other night, nursing a sore back and shoulder that he probably earned from the strenuous activity of sleeping late.
One of our 35-year-old friends has had pretty serious back problems this year, Jason has had regular shoulder and neck problems, and I definitely have something going on with my knee and toe joints. When your doctor tests you for gout, you know you're getting old.
And yet, here's how shallow I am. Of the struggles I am facing right now as I start trying to get used to listing my age as 36 before I even really had a grasp on saying I was 35, the biggest is...my hair.
I blame the author of a little book I picked up at the library this summer, How Not To Look Old. I have to confess that I picked it up as much to pat myself on the back for what I thought I was doing right as to learn new ways to keep myself from looking "Old Lady." I mean, it's not like I wear Mom Jeans and applique sweater vests. Anymore.
However, it turns out I'm doing a lot of stuff wrong.
Before I even checked out this book, I had done an evaluation of my wardrobe and ditched a lot of clothes containing items I could pull off in my 20s but that recently were just making me look like an old hippie. After reading the book, I saw that I still have much work to do. The book says not to wear graphic tees under any circumstances and to pretty much avoid any top that isn't fitted and tailored. Oh, and throw out any shoe (besides athletic shoes) that doesn't have a heel. I say that you will pry my The Lady and Sons tee with the classy "Our Hoes Are Complimentary" logo off my cold dead back. And if you touch my Crocs, which I only wear on weekends or to the grocery store, anyway, I will hurt you.
The chapter that has caused an existential crisis, though, was the hair chapter.
According to the author, all women of a certain age should wear bangs (of the soft, fringe-y, side-swept variety), should wear their hair long and layered and light in color, and should wear said long hair down.
And to think: I've been so proud of my short, bobbed, bangless haircuts that I thought were edgy, young, and hip. Even Kate Gosselin got extensions recently. I've been so wrong.
Like someone in mourning, I've spent much of the fall and winter in anger and denial and not so much in acceptance. My hairstylist did a really terrific job on my pre-Christmas haircut, and it just enabled me.
"Ha!" I thought, walking out of the salon with fresh highlights (the one thing I do right according to "the book") and a shorter-than-usual cut that swung and bounced like a model's in a shampoo commercial. "This haircut is awesome, and I totally rock the short hair."
A picture taken of me at Christmas, when it hadn't been styled and blown out by a professional, told a different tale.
"Do I REALLY look that old?" I asked myself.
There's a difference between having a great haircut and having a great haircut for you.
Jason got a new computer recently, and he moved all of our pictures over to it. He had all pictures of me taken in the past 7 years all on one screen and pulled me over.
I was shocked. In the pictures of me in the 3 years post-cancer, when I was wearing that little pixie I was so proud of, I did not look like Mariska Hargitay, which is what I was going for. I looked vaguely transgender. When you have a small chest, straight body, and your dad's face, and your first name could either be a boy's or girl's, maybe the pixie cut's not for you. I should have learned from "It's Pat." I am sure I confused a lot of people.
Later pictures show me with varying degrees of grow-out from the ultra-short cut. In some of them, I don't look awful. The depressing trend, though, was in the last year or so of pictures. My face has changed quite a bit in a short amount of time. Maybe it's all the stress, maybe Time is just now starting to march across my face. My eyelids are heavier, more hooded. My jawline has softened and become vague. I have deeper lines in my forehead and throat. My lips are more crepe-y and less full.
I'm starting to think that short, severe hair is doing me no favors. One look at me in the "Tequila Bandeliro" I got for Christmas, and which I am wearing in the worst picture I have seen of myself possibly ever, and I knew. Something must be done about the hair. Plus, I need to move that red tracksuit (Sue Sylvester might be able to pull it off, but I clearly can't) to the part of my closet reserved for workout wear, or possibly I should just burn it.
So, when I went last weekend to get my hair cut, I swallowed hard and put my pride on the line.
"It's time. Short hair is no longer for me. Let's grow it."
Don't worry. I'll never go back to the really long locks of my 20s. But a change (and definitely some long, side-swept fringe) is in order. On the eve of my 36th birthday I am finally accepting. I am of a certain age now. It's time to start not looking like it.