As a child, when my parents turned 40, one of them must have decided to tell me that the other one was an “old fart.” In the spirit of conspiratorial cruelty, it stuck, and for the duration of time in which I viewed myself as a child, it was a standard unit of measure. Year, decade, score, old fart. Nanny, having lived long enough to present me with the case study of someone who greatly enjoyed Family Matters but called Urkel, “that coloured boy,” was a “double old fart.”
Forty years goes by too quickly. Too many wrong turns. Too much scattered to the wind. Approaching this birthday under the current COVID-19 state of affairs has been hard. I’m a reflective person by nature, and the circumstances have lent themselves to reflecting on a lot of different pieces of the life that landed me here. I wish I were able to look back, now, and forward with feelings of achievement, contentment, and hope. Instead, there are ghosts, worry, and fear.
All our lives take form by shaking off the dust of other usses, the residue of alternate readings of ourselves sitting packed away in boxes, harmonising with songs we skip, or swimming in the mercurial waters of a social media stream comprised of a patchwork assemblage of who we once were. Strangers to each other, though we share a body and a timeline. It’s a journey to discover that who we are is defined by what’s left. A good life, it seems to me, derives from being at peace with the breathing artefact that remains.
I was an easy mark. Most kids are, but I was easier than most. A child who wasn’t supposed to exist, my rearing was regarded as an opportunity to experiment — to try to raise a child who would be special in some intellectual way. How rigorously my parents stuck to that plan, I can’t say. In the system, though, I thrived. Never too good with people, but very good with most other things as I made my way through camps and tests and auditions and and and, I misunderstood rewards for compliance as proof of worth. I believed the hype, and I won’t do that again.
There’s a consequence to that, obviously, which is that it then calls into question what you thought you had accomplished. More painfully, it leaves you in a state of perpetual anhedonia wherein you can’t feel good about your work, or your art, or nice things people say to you. A Mudville resident consigned to watching Casey foul crowdward all the pitches that have ever been made or that ever will be.
Inevitably, the only thing more boring than reading/hearing an old fart’s unoriginal and pointless thoughts is reading/hearing about the misremembered snapshots of their life, taken before or after the particular version of them that you think you know. So, I’ll carry on that sifting in my own head.
What I want to share, on the verge of hoping that I will wake up in the morning, one day older if not any wiser, is that although I may seem sad (and often am), I am aware of how lucky I am. Just to still be here, when so many friends, classmates, and other peers are not. Beyond that, by fighting like hell for stability (we’ve lived in this house longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere, and this town — and it wouldn’t have been possible without a LOT of help), things I’ve never known, or which have been absent for longer than I can recall, are beginning to develop.
There are no quick fixes for anything. Not if you want to build something that matters. What I’ve found at the bottom of my box is not hope, but it is the things that hold you up in the dark gaps between hopes and dreams. Friends. Actual friends. The kind who want you there, and who care what happens to you. The kind that don’t stop showing up just because your days are more down.
But the box that holds this fragile world together, that makes my tomorrow possible, is my family. I don’t mean the people with whom I’ve been entangled by fate before birth. I mean Emma, Bean, Thumper, and Falcon. I mean Mum and Dad. I mean Jean and Mark. The Deermans. The bamily. The Swarthmoreans. I mean all the people who CHOOSE me. The people who have known me at my worst and never stopped loving me. I never allow myself to really sit in thoughts about it all. It’s overwhelming, and not within my capacity to process. But my little party of five, with Emma at the centre, is the peace I find that tells me for all the ways it hurts, it is a good life that I’m living. We were married 17 years and 28 lifetimes ago, come tomorrow. Each anniversary a reminder that I’m never alone, even if it gets a bit dark.
Tomorrow, if it arrives on time, will be the gift of another chance to shake off the dust of other people’s expectations. Of my own. To carry on toward becoming whoever it is I am. If you’ve been a part of this grand adventure, no matter how small a part you think you’ve played, thank you, and I am grateful for what I’ve learned from our relationship. If you’ve read this far, it’s a virtual certainty that you’re among the best memories I have, and hopefully a part of the joys to be found in the years ahead.
I may be getting older. But I love no less, and I’m blessed in ways most will never know.
Happy anniversary, Emma. Even hurricanes get lost at sea. I know, ’cause I was one when you found me. xx