His hair was hennaed and he was sporting a comb-over.
His shirt was a button down, his khakis pleated in front, his loafers sturdy and brown. The ladies denied his requests to dance, delivered while he shook his not too generous but still present belly, his arms raised over his head. He was out with his buddies having a harmless good time, catching some quirky live music at a place recommended by his cousin, or some such thing. An older guy, I pegged him in his late forties, early fifties.
And then, my brain screeched to a halt. “Oh, shit,” I thought, “that guy is my age.” I looked down at a my Converse All Stars, the ones with the laces with the pink stars on them, at my cutoffs, I looked at my band mates, at the audience in front of us. “That guy is my age,” I thought again, and played the wrong chords, thrown off by mortal and existential angst.
“I don’t know what a woman my age is supposed to dress like,” said Paula. “I think I’m supposed to have a handbag that matches my shoes.”
“We live our lives out of order now,” said Lillian.
“This,” said Jo, waving her hands in a circle around us, “is not what 50 looks like. It’s just not.”
“We just do stuff because we want to,” said Brett. “It’s got nothing to do with how old we are.”
“Yeah, maybe you started late,” said Jeremy, “but the spirit of rock and roll never gets old, am I right?”
My friends are starting to turn 50.
Some of them have kids that have graduated from college, kids I’ve seen hauling giant backpacks on their tiny bodies, kids whose hands I’ve held and walked to and from bus stops. Kids I’ve had dog-piled on my lap are driving and getting jobs. My aging friends are getting divorced for the first time and married for the second time. They are buying vacation homes. Some of my friends seem awfully grown up.
Others, the ones who did things a little differently, who never had kids or super focused careers, are doing unexpected things like going to get advanced degrees or starting families really late or joining rock bands.
Wait, that last one is me.
When I look at pictures of my parents generation at my age, they seem awfully grown up. They had kids so young, they were mortgaged and employed and had suits and matching tableware and entertained. I still have a little bit of my parents’ wedding china in my garage. My weddings were tiny affairs, the first in Reno, the second on Maui.
We didn’t register. We don’t have wedding china or flatware. We don’t even have enough chairs in our house. We live in a perpetual state of near grad student-ness of possessions — thrift store jeans, a nice couch bought on sale at zero interest for two years, a garage sale’s worth of household furnishings punctuated with acquisitions from Ikea.
We are very comfortable, but it’s not exactly a grown up house. Not like I imagine grown up houses should be.
I’m having the best mid-life crisis ever.
I could have got a sports car, but they are too expensive and high maintenance. I could have freaked out and taken up with a much younger man, but that seems equally expensive, in different ways, and high maintenance, plus, I like the man I have. I could have quit my job and taken off to see the world, but I don’t have a job in the traditional sense and I have seen great swaths of the world. I like to travel so very much, but were circumstances to turn in such a way that I could not fly long haul, I think I could take that with some grace, saying, “What the hell. Sure, there are some places I’d like to have seen, but I’ve set foot on all seven continents. Let someone else take a turn.”
Instead of buying a car and quitting my non-existent job, I am pretending to write a book (and doing a very bad job of it, thanks for asking) and working, with my band, on a CD and a music video. At nearly 50. Instead of a snappy little convertible, I bought a pair of 16 hole lace up Converse high tops and I spend an inordinate amount of time not with some young thing, but with the four age appropriate guys who make up my band.
My pursuits seem both perfectly ridiculous and a ridiculously perfect use of my time. I am too old to be a promising new writer and too old to think of becoming a rock star. I’m not in some war to stave off aging, but I’m hardly embracing what society, media, the dominant paradigm, presents as middle age.
“I should apologize to your husband,” said Ed, after teaching me how to use an effects pedal on my ukulele. “He’s going to wonder about the teenager he came home to.”
“I used to see these old musicians hanging out at the bar, talking about music,” said my friend Carel. “I’d wonder who they were. And I realized… we’re those guys now.”
I don’t know how someone my age is supposed to act.
People seem comfortable letting their kids near me. I clean up okay for dinner parties and client meetings. My bike helmet looks like half a watermelon, but I wear a helmet and I don’t jump the lights like I used to. I listen to my instincts when I travel, I stay out of places that feel dangerous, I am rife with common sense. I don’t smoke, I’m a modest drinker, and my diet is okay. I pay my bills, wear a seat belt, take my vitamins, and I put money into retirement funds when I can. I have a mortgage and a front lawn and a knee that troubles me. On paper, I look like an adult human. A slightly unconventional one, but an adult nonetheless.
But I can’t believe I’m the same age as that guy at the show, dancing with his hands over his head.
I wonder if he thought he was acting his age.
I wonder if he thought I was acting mine.
I kind of hope so.
Because I absolutely was not.