Damn, I’m Still Alive!
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A little snotty-nosed boy, a complete stranger to me, told me I was old. Just like that. Well, actually, the conversation at Wal-Mart went something like this:
Nine-year-old with no visible parents around: Can you hand me that poster? It’s up too high.
Me, childless at age twenty-three: This poster? (Pointing at glossy, blown up photo of a barely legal Britney Spears with legs wide open and breasts escaping the strangling tight confines of what she might call a “shirt.”) You’re too young to be looking at that.
Nine-year-old nymphomaniac: Yeah, well, you’re old.
After I took him to the lost and found, where his mother promptly claimed him and whacked him upside the head with her purse, I was deep in thought. When did becoming “old” stop being something I looked forward and start being something I feared, just like I fear mosquitoes now that they carry the West Nile virus?
Allow me to explain this thought process with a series of random examples:
For instance, I remember, albeit vaguely, thinking my cousins—who were then the exact same age as the kid in Wal-Mart—were too old for words. I must’ve been around four or five. They had all the cool toys. The ones that made noise and had cool names like Transformers. They got to play with an entire Ewok village and destroy it with Nerf balls while I had to hold onto a faded E.T. doll. My aunts, the mediators of the recreation room, wouldn’t let me play with my cousins’ toys because I “could choke on something and die.”
That was when it was fun to get older because, with each new birthday, I edged further away from Strawberry Shortcake and moved even closer to the fun toys. And then, it was wanting to be old enough to walk to school alone and not have my older neighbors chauffeur me around the neighborhood as if I were an extension of their dysfunctional red wagon which, incidentally, was missing a wheel. After that, it was wanting to be old enough to stay home alone.
Maybe that was just me, though, because I had an evil baby-sitter. She used to take my little brother and hide him in either the closet or bathroom. After I gave up looking for him, she would tell me she was baking him in the oven.
“We’re going to eat him,” she said, looking exactly like the Wicked Witch of the West. “We’re going to eat him with ketchup and honey.”
She kept the charade up for hours, making me wonder how long it would take for my brother to start crying as the hot coils seared his skin.
Nonetheless, throughout childhood, I spent the majority of my waking hours wishing I were older. After I was old enough to stay home alone, I wanted to be old enough to stay out until 10 p.m. After that, 10:30 p.m. The curfew kept climbing each year. I wanted to go out with boys, but “going out” was something only the high school kids did. And they were old.
In junior high, I was only old enough to “go with” someone. We never knew where we were going, but it mostly meant spending a lot of time on the phone, watching MTV together and talking about Beavis and Butt-head during the commercial break. There was also the sneaky kiss outside during lunch break, but that was almost always just for show. I wanted to be old enough to kiss someone for real. And, oh-my-God, when would I be old enough to, you know, do it?
All of my friends started doing it before they were supposed to. It was evident all around me—my classmates were dropping out of school in eighth grade, ballooning up with babies and bitching about their hemorrhoids in the middle of choir practice. They had broken the cardinal rule: getting too old too fast.
I couldn’t wait to be old—but not too old. That was the secret. When I was fourteen, being sixteen was old, but the perfect old. Old enough to drive a car. But not old enough to tote around a screaming child and leak milk from my breasts. When I was sixteen, being eighteen was the perfect old. Then I could buy cigarettes and vote and die in, I mean join, the U.S. Army or even the Marines, if I had been a sadist. But thirty was too old. I mean, good grief, they were almost twice my age, and I had lived a looooong time, so long “long” deserved those five O’s.
And so on and so on. After eighteen, I counted the years to twenty-one. I’d finally be an adult. People would respect me because I would hold the Cool Card: I would finally be legal to purchase alcoholic beverages. And thirty didn’t seem so bad once I was twenty-one. Forty seemed scary, though. That’s the age when everyone becomes a politician. If not for local government, for their own kids or (shoot me now) the PTA.
But now, barely past twenty-one, I’m at a loss. I long to be a kid again—to be twenty-one, eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, nine, four. Hell, I’d even settle for being a fetus again with my entire life ahead of me. Forty doesn’t seem so old anymore. Neither does fifty. In fact, the only age that seems old is ninety. Because that involves a lot of drooling, no matter how healthy I turn out to be. And, in a twisted way, there’s nothing new to look forward to. Except drooling. There are no magical birthdays where new responsibilities are just piled on me like a heap of stolen money. Nope. Those are gone.
Now, the birthdays will be twenty-five, thirty, forty, fifty, and after each one, I will comment, “Damn, I’m old!” There’s an entire desert of sixty, no seventy, years with no birthdays to look forward to.
And then there’s ninety. The drooling age. Maybe by the time I’m ninety, that will be something in itself to look forward to. Because, by that point, it will be a known fact that I’m old. I will no longer have to announce it. Instead, I will be looking forward to the birthday because it’s almost like winning a prize.
“Damn, I’m still alive!” I will proclaim, slobbering all over my chin.
And it will be worth it. I will sell some of my old Transformers, which will be antiques, and buy myself a brand new remote control for my therapeutic La-Z-Boy. Times will be good. People will bake me a cake with no sugar and blow out my candles for me if I get too winded. I will be coddled and revered, as if I had climbed Mount Everest with no oxygen.
Meanwhile, Britney Spears will be in her eighties, feeling old and looking forward to her ninetieth birthday when she, too, can stop saying she’s old and start proclaiming her existence.
Vanessa Morsse is still alive.