#33: Flotsam on Her 44th Birthday
Today is my birthday. I’m 44, which is pretty exciting. It’s divisible by 11 which only happens once every… well…11 years. Turning 44 is like being Halley’s Comet (if Halley’s Comet came every 11 years.)
(It comes every 75.).
(Turning 44 is nothing like Halley's Comet.)
My 43rd year was full – like gastric upset kind of “full”. Although, if I live to be 100, I’ll probably look back and not think much of any of it. One thing I like about aging is the accumulation of evidence that years lighten things that once felt heavy. Age is a growing dataset, and storms pass at a rate of 100%. Not a single datum disproves this. Whatever it is, bottle your water and batten down the hatches. It will go.
(You might have some patchwork to do afterward, but it will go.)
Conversations you can have with yourself when you’re aging:
“Hey, remember that time you thought you would die of despair?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Cool. You dead?”
“Well, there you go, then.”
I had a strange almost-conversation with a man at a coffee shop a few weeks ago. The weather was beautiful – a bright spot after a string of unseasonably cold and snowy days. While waiting in line, he said to me, “Such nice weather. You know it’s going to end, though. All the good things do.”
“That’s true,” I said. “The good news, of course, is that all bad things end, too.”
I don’t remember what he said in response, only that it lacked enthusiasm, and he didn’t seem like someone I would like to spend much time with.
Recently, I read something I wrote in July 2016 when Kaya Dog was dying. At the same time, the house I rented was put on the market and I had no plan for what would happen next, my relationship “rearranged”, and I was recording the Queen of Everything album. I felt drifty, and I wrote: “…the walls keep moving. Like a funhouse. We’re taught to stay put when we’re lost. But that really only works when someone is looking for you. Otherwise, it’s probably best to keep moving.”
I don’t know if it makes me a narcissistic asshole to quote myself, but I like the clip enough to revisit it. It hits me sideways tonight, and I want to disassemble it.
We’re taught to stay put when we’re lost.
But that really only works when someone is looking for you.
Otherwise, it’s probably best to keep moving.
Last night, after his bath, while he brushed his teeth and I combed his hair (and apropos of nothing, seemingly), Fisher said, “I’ve been wondering why time has to keep moving forward.”
The lights on his Star Wars toothbrush blinked green, then yellow, then red.
“Are you asking me why time keeps moving? Or are you just telling me that you’ve been thinking about it?”
“I’m just telling you,” he said.
“What are your ideas about it?” I asked, smoothing his hair away from his forehead with my fingers.
The lights stopped blinking, and I put the comb in the cabinet. Rex Dog sprawled across the bathroom rug and sighed.
“I think it keeps moving because it has to.”
The boy is too wise to be six.
The drifty feeling I referenced before is the same drifty feeling I’ve been referencing for the last almost four years. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It hasn’t faded. I used to think the drifty feeling was because of the end of my marriage, the beginning and continuation of an unstable relationship, and the spinning, whirling orb that carries us from one life to the next. If this were true, then once I found my footing, the drifty feeling would go away, and I would be earthbound again.
It's been nearly four years, and all of the pieces are on the floor: Still, the drifty feeling hasn’t faded.
Yet, I don’t feel lost. As I think about time and aging, I wonder if that drifty feeling is not so much circumstantial, but instead, a natural growing sensitivity to the passage of time. I wonder if most people my age and older would report something similar.
I used to be able to swing and sit on revolving merry-go-rounds. I can’t anymore. It makes me sick. What is that? It’s a thing. Is it equilibrium and the way our bodies and the chemistry inside of them change their relationships with gravity?
Maybe it’s not just swings and merry-go-rounds. Maybe age brings an all-encompassing and growing sensitivity to the passage of time…and what it requires from us repeatedly: Acceptance and letting go.
Over and over, we must accept where we are, what is, what isn’t, and everything we can’t control. Over and over, we must let go of everything that’s done, everything we expected, everything that isn’t meant for us, everything we thought we needed or wanted or owned. Over and over we do this, tipping one way and then the next, in unpredictable weather, slack-jawed and full-bellied in our shoddy wooden boats.
On a whim, I adopted two kittens last August. My sister and her family had been fostering a litter from the Animal Rescue League. The day I dropped my son off at his first day of kindergarten, I walked home blubbering. Mid-blubber, my sister sent a group text saying the kittens were ready for adoption, and how about it?
Before I could think my way out of it, I said, “I’ll take two.”
Their names were Gary and Marsha, and they were adorable and fun and annoying. In January, however, they got sick. The vet determined they had a rare and fatal cat disease called FIP. Our house became kitten hospice. Knowing they did not have much time left, Fisher and I threw them an early birthday party with new toys and a can of sardines. Marsha (the black one) died one week later. Gary (the tiger) lasted two more months. I miss them, and none of that experience felt like a coincidence.
What is the lesson from dying kittens? To me, dying kittens (and the six-year-olds who take it all in stride) say: Understand your size (small) and reach of your control (short) within a vast and indifferent cosmos. Accept what comes; handle it; celebrate what you find; and let go when it’s time.
I don’t feel lost. I don’t even feel “messed up.” I just feel small. This is what time passage feels like as I age: that I am flotsam in the tide. Occasionally, I keep company with other bits of flotsam. But we are all floating. There are worse things.
As Gary left, and on a sort of other whim, we brought home Rex Dog from Second Chance Dog Rescue in Prole. He’s a 5-year-old cattle dog mix (more pointer and lab than cattle dog, in my estimation, however). He barks at everything, chases tennis balls and squirrels, killed a rabbit in the backyard within two days of moving in, has dirtied my car beyond redemption, and steals butter if you leave it unattended on the counter.
And we love him.
I don’t know how long he has or how long I have or how long we have together, but he is here now, and we will take what comes. I walk him every day, rain or shine. He barks at buses and dump trucks (me, too, because how dare they?). And he sleeps on the bed. It’s a fine arrangement, and I am grateful.
I don't know what Rex would say about time and aging. He had two families before ours, and both landed him at the shelter. He's kind and joyful enough (as long as you are not a rabbit, a garbage truck, or a stranger coming to our door), open and ready to belong and be loved. If I had my guess, he and the kittens were on the same page. Accept, handle what comes, celebrate, let go.
So many lessons from animals. The more I align with them, the more peaceful I feel. The process is every bit as imperfect as I am, so I just keep moving. I'm working on a book about this very thing. I'm about 50,000 words and 140 pages into the first draft, and I expect to finish it in my 44th year. I don't know what will become of it after that; I just know to keep writing.
Also in my 44th year, I’m making changes to my day job. I’ll pack up my office and say goodbye in three weeks, then float on to the next thing. That will be whatever it is before it changes into something else. And it will be fine, too.
If no one is looking for you, just keep moving.
On my 44th birthday, I see old pictures of myself and think, “I don’t remember her.” In another 44 years, maybe I’ll see a picture of myself today and think, “I don’t remember her.” (I’ll be 88, so I guess that kind of forgetting will not be unexpected.)
Anyway, float on.