I treated myself to a margarita two days before my 30th birthday. As always, the bartender asked for ID. I slid my license across the bar and watched her squint, cautiously looking for the date. “I can’t seem to find it. Oh wait, here it is. Happy early birthday! Looks like you will be 30? You haven’t lived until your 30s.”
Before turning 30 I lived abroad, I got laid off, I saw where my great great great grandparents are laid to rest, I had a car accident, I traveled to 23 states, I saw a wonder of the world, I ran away from wild racoons in Central America, I survived for 24 hours of solitude with matches, a tarp and a can of beans in Stone Mountain Park, I walked in Memphis, I attended both of President Obama’s inauguarations, I saw Nas and Lauryn Hill perform together in the flesh, I lost the love of my life and much more. Out of all the unique experiences in my three decades on earth, I am most proud that I shared true love with a great person and interacted with people from all walks of life.
30 years is a long time, even if it’s not considered elderly in terms of age. Imagine being married for 30 years or being incarcerated for 30 years. Life is bound to happen in such a lengthy timeframe.
I think about my friends who turned 30 while raising kids, people who’ve been providing financial support to their families since they graduated from college, and those folks, like my grandpa, who went straight to the military at 18. Certainly, their lives have commenced. I can’t fathom telling them life begins at 30.
It is very hard for me to feel empowered by the cliché promise of 30. “You will tell people what you think without worrying. You will know what you want in life.” I’ve been telling people what I think since I could talk. That’s not new. Recently, I found a document on my old computer creatively titled, “Things I want,” written in 2008. Thankfully, I was able to cross one item off the list, “meet a man who loves me for me and doesn’t lie.” Well, that happened. Everything else that I desired would have been really wonderful if it happened with him, so I am at a loss.
What do I want? Of course, the basics like air in my lungs, a place to live and sanity are necessities but I don’t know about the “army of kids,” beach house or the oddly specific “annual backyard Easter egg hunts” anymore. Here I am at 30 and I don’t know. I don’t really care about figuring out my entire life right now, I need to figure out the rest of the week. Lists and wants are no shield against the unpredictability of life.
I wish I could snap out of the deep pain I feel, especially for a birthday, but it’s not that simple. I thought about the stories my love used to share with me from back in the day. He was too young to pass away, but his life was impressively full. He valued each part of his life. By that I mean he never denounced the awkward years of middle school or high school, like many of us do. He never badmouthed the odd jobs he had; the jobs that give us good experience but are still excluded from our resumes. We’ve all had at least one of those gigs. He took in every era of his life. He allowed the failures, heartbreaks, achievements and joyful moments to shape him into a wise and worldly person. He encouraged me to do the same, which was much easier when he was here.
Earlier today I thought of something else I accomplished (with his help) before 30, getting over my fear of driving over tall bridges. Two years ago on our way back from vacation, he pulled over just before we reached the Delaware Memorial Bridge. “Let’s switch up.” I begrudgingly slid over to the driver’s seat. Hunched over the steering wheel, I nervously stared in the rearview mirror as I drove because I was stressed about the aggressive trucks that would inevitably knock us off the bridge. He said, “Stop looking back, why don’t you look at the road ahead of you.”
One of my earliest memories is my birthday party 25 or 26 years ago. My mom coordinated my outfit, polka dot pants with a matching jacket. I wasn’t feeling the pants at all. The party was outdoors. I looked through the backdoor screen at the other little girls in their dresses. My grandma said, “Come on.” We held hands and went outside. I got a bright pink Barbie Corvette that year. A couple of the girls and I took turns test driving it around the backend of the driveway. Next thing I knew another child at the party was hugging my grandma. That was it, I was out! Just before I hopped in that car, I think I said “That’s my grandma, not yours.” I made a beeline straight down the driveway to edge of the street. It felt like I was moving really fast, but clearly I wasn’t because my grandma was right behind me, “Dorian, this is your party, don’t drive away.” I don’t remember the rest.
As he said that day on the bridge, I should focus on the road ahead. The problem is I don’t know what I am seeing, the windshield is foggy. Time is moving much faster than me. Some describe life as a party; it’s my party and like Grandma said, I shouldn’t drive away from it. Last year was exciting. I was roused at 4AM for a surprise trip. “Rise and shine Rion. Don’t ask any questions.” We drove towards more life and love with the windows down and the music blasting. Now, we is me. I tried to get into it this year, I really did, but the return was less than profitable. I don’t know where I am going.
Perhaps he and my Grandma have met by now. I would have loved to get hugs from the both of them on my birthday. Hopefully they’ll visit me soon and I’ll start moving in the right direction.