Time and tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of 30.
-- Robert Frost
It was the first Saturday of March 1995. Mom was in the kitchen making chicken parmigiana and lasagna, the family's favorite meal -- perhaps made more so by its association with special occasions such as Easter, Christmas, and birthdays. Boxes wrapped in bright colors and shiny bags overflowing with ribbons and tissue paper were stacked on the coffee table in the living room. I was perched on the couch, appreciating the pretty presents and musing about the room's moniker. As children, we had not been allowed to even pause in this room, let alone carry on with any habits that resembled living in it. But I was 18 -- old enough to vote, old enough to drive, old enough to work, and therefore, old enough to be allowed to temporarily alight upon one of the "nice" couches. Despite the cacophonous din of the television turned up loud enough to be heard over the sizzling noises coming from the kitchen, my ears perked up at the faint sound coming from another room -- someone was crying.
I followed the sound of sobbing up the stairs and into my parents' room, where I found Jane, sitting on the side of the bed, wailing in apparent pain. Heather, her arm around our disconsolate older sister, was attempting to cheer her up.
"What happened?" I asked, in a serious tone.
Jane looked at me, gauging whether or not I could handle whatever tragedy it was she seemed so desperate to share. "It's just that...It's just that...," she muttered, before bursting into a fresh fit of sobs. "Oh, God, WHY!?"
"She's been like this for half an hour," Heather said. "I can't get it out of her. Come on, Jane, what is it? I mean, it's your birthday ."
"That's IT!" Jane howled. "I'm 25 years old!"
"Yeah?" Heather asked. "And?"
"I'm almost 30! " Jane cried out before losing herself again.
Heather stifled a laugh. "Yeah, like in five years you are. Are you kidding? Jane, that's five years away!"
"Well, actually, if we had to round to the decade, five would mean you'd round up to 30," I said. My sisters' matching scowls indicated my joke was not well received, so I smiled innocently and took my leave.
I can understand the whole not wanting to get old and face mortality thing, but what I fail to grasp -- even now, mere days away from my 30th birthday -- is why so many people choose to be dragged through life snarling and biting rather than opting to stroll, comfortably and confidently, toward the inevitable. This is especially frustrating when those people are young and healthy, and their chief concern is not as much about getting older as it is about looking older.
There have been many occasions when someone has guessed me to be in my 30s. Upon learning my age, most were quick to apologize for their blunder -- "I'm so sorry, please don't be offended." But each time, I was too busy feeling flattered to take offense; in my eyes, I had been paid the highest compliment. I never interpreted these faux pas to mean, You look old , because what I heard was, You behave like an adult .
My eagerness to be an adult stretches back as far as I can remember. At 9, I dreamt of choosing my own bedtime. At 12, I yearned for my budding opinions about religion to be heard and respected. At 14, I insisted on sitting at the "grown-up" table for Thanksgiving. As a freshman in high school, I began to fantasize about living in the world of adults.
Even now, when removing my earrings after a night out, or when I take note of the jangling of keys in my hand, glimpses of my old daydream will flash through my mind. In my fantasy, I am the adult I imagined I would become, which is a more serious version of the one I am now. It is dark, and I am arriving home to my apartment -- a modest space big enough for one person but not for two. The noises are few and distinct -- keys being set in a small porcelain dish, the light tapping and clacking sounds of jewelry being laid upon a wooden table, and the precise clicking of my heels on the hardwood floor as I walk over to turn on a light in the living room, where I sit and begin to go through the stack of important-looking envelopes in my hand.
There were, of course, variations of the fantasy -- sometimes at the end I'd be preparing a meal or sitting undisturbed in a comfortable chair with a book in my hand -- but the keys, the setting down of the jewelry, those things I associated with adulthood, were always the same.
In my early, irresponsible 20s, I thought myself invincible. Sure, I held down a job (most of the time), paid my rent, and, defying overwhelming odds, failed to overdose, but I wasn't in control of my life. It wasn't until the latter half of my 20s, hung over from the former half, that I pulled my shit together. I cut the losers out of my life, joined forces with a worthy counterpart, paid off my car and debt consolidation loans, and, thus, joined the adult world of my dreams.
On Sunday, I'll be 30. My father believes the 30s are the best decade for women, and often says, "By the time you're 30, you've been around, been taken advantage of, been shat on, shat on other people, and you have the wherewithal to make better decisions about relationships, jobs, and other things. And , you're still young and hot-to-trot enough to enjoy it!" I think he's right. With each passing year, I put up with less and less of the ridiculous bullshit that used to consume me and spend more time enjoying life.