I turned thirty years old yesterday. React however you may, whether it’s a number in your past or your future, you cannot deny its landmark status. No longer a twenty-something, I had many people attesting how great their thirties were. I don’t deny its possibilities and freedom but it feels like taking a hard swallow no matter the feelings involved.
Earlier this month, I had the sobering experience of visiting the small city where I had been born. Small city. Sounds funny because the whole place is only about ten times larger than the four grades that attended my high school. But that happens when you move to the largest city in the state. Driving past the small white house we lived in until I was three felt strange in my slick new car. The city was so empty on a Sunday afternoon. The street by my current home is only ever that empty feeling during the wee hours of the morning.
I was visiting the university that day for a work conference. I wondered about “her”; about the “me” that could have been. Would she have gone to this university instead of my own? What else would have been different? It made me feel a strange sort of desperation on this non-me’s behalf. I would have still had the love of music and books I inherited from my mother, my insatiable need to always be learning. But the tiny library, the small music ensembles in town, the lack of culture and diversity. I felt suffocated for her, because I’m one of the last to have had a childhood without the internet. And even the internet doesn’t provide a quarter of the enrichment I gained when we moved to a true metropolis. The first concert I ever attended as a girl? Julie Andrews. For our first anniversary, my husband née boyfriend, took me to see the final ever performance of the Three Tenors.
That’s not to say I swaggered around the place like a Big City Girl. Just that my day there pulled these things into perspective for me. I ate at the diner before leaving town. Every place has its institutions and I knew I had to have my burger and malt before the long drive home. It was a bit painful however. Having been cloistered in an academic building all day, with people from across the state- in fact other countries-I didn’t realize I wasn’t around people that live there. The woman who took my order and chatted me up while I waited on my food was born and raised there, lived there her whole life, like her mother and grandmother. I didn’t do the “that could have been me” scenario in my head, but there were moments where her speech was hard to understand through her accent. Even looking past that, her vocabulary and sentence structure weren’t like mine. Her limited knowledge and experiences floated quickly to the fore in the five or so minutes we spoke. And that startled me as much as knowing the Michael Kors tote on my arm was probably worth more than she made in a week working at the diner. I never felt like I’d ever done anything cool or amazing; I was just leading a rather average, unexceptional life. But leaving non-me behind in that small city, I could see the glimmer of accomplishments I so often ignore in the drudge of the day-to-day life.
So I greet my thirtieth year knowing there’s still a long road ahead, but my, the places we’ve already been.