Every fall I think about getting older. My birthday is in December, but December is when I occupy my mind with hateful criticisms of American consumerism. By mid-December I am considering donating all of my earthly possessions save a bowl, a spoon and two outfits; by December 21st I am rushing to the mall, realizing that I've waited too long to knit 17 scarves or learn how to write decent poems. So my birthday month is much too busy to contemplate the fact that my finite life is progressing with alarming consistency.
Autumn is a better season to think about aging, anyways. As kids, fall was like a group birthday when you and all of your friends instantly turned a grade older. But more importantly, it is during fall that you can turn onto a street and see that a tree has turned flame orange overnight, even though you know it must have shown signs of changing on all the previous days that you passed by. If that doesn't capture the same shock of aging then I'm not sure what does. Time moves visually through fall; nature glitters robustly, then dies at warped speed.
As a teenager, I decided that I would rather fear 'dying young' than 'aging'. To fear dying young means that I drive carefully; to fear aging is a very helpless feeling. So I try not to text while I drive, I put on sunblock, and I look forward to each new age. Now that I've passed all the young milestone birthdays, 30 is the next big birthday to consider.
I asked my mom if she was depressed on her 30th birthday, and she told me that she wasn't been depressed at all; in fact, she had been quite pleased with herself for turning 30. I think I already know what she means. If 21 was when I started to feel like an adult, 30 is when I expect to feel like an honest-to-goodness woman whom people should really take seriously. 30 is the age that I'm going to start subscribing to magazines. I'm holding out hope that my voice may deepen a little, as though I have a slight cold. I also hope to wear glasses when I'm 30, but only for reading.
It's still about 8 years too early to think about which magazines to subscribe to, so this autumn I'm taking a step back and sizing myself up and my current age: 21. 22, come December.
What am I in my early 20s that I will never be again? Is this the thinnest that I'll ever be without having to diet? Is this the most carefree my marriage will be before retirement? Is my last chance to travel Europe with Pete, and stay in Greece by myself after he returns home? Are these my last couple years before I am a mother, and thus my last couple years to draw untroubled breaths? I don't want to breeze past my early 20s before truly understanding what they offer me.
This past Friday, Pete and I went to a high school football game at East Grand Rapids. On our way back to the car, Pete held my hand even though it was pulled up into the arm of my fleece. He always gets nostalgic about high school because he loved those years. I loved many things about my teen years, but high school was not one of them. "I would do High School all over again," Pete said, and I agreed. I would do High School all over again - but this time I would join tennis, write for the school newspaper, and relax a little about my grades. Pete would do high school all over again, I suspect, exactly like he did it in the first place.
I want to look back on my early 20s and know that I would do it all over exactly as I did it in the first place, starting with the little vacation we're taking this weekend to enjoy the fall colors. Soon the trees will give into winter, crisp and golden, leaf by leaf. And I will be happy that I spent time and gas money to drive by them in their glamor.