Back in 2004, I wrote a musing called “Not That Old,” when I received in the mail a card from AARP. At the time, I found it hilarious because 1) I was only 32 years old, 2) I’d only been married less than a year, 3) I had no kids, and 4) I’d only been working full-time in my career as a college professor for less than two years.
Now that we’re in the tail-end of 2016, I — with my 45th birthday only a few months away — realize that I *am* that old, when “50” is only a short five years (and a few months) away.
Other notable differences from back in 2004: I’ve been divorced for just that many years (or six years if one were to count the year-long separation), and I’ve been the sole parent of a rapidly growing nine-year old, and I have to prepare him for Scylla and Charybdis that will be his teen years.
I’ve been working at the same campus, in the same professorial role, for ten years now — and counting. I’m now considered one of the senior members of the English department (as a few folks above me retired in quick succession the past couple of years), and I still find that mighty mighty WEIRD since, as I’ve written many a time on this here blog of mine, I still feel like an eleven year old dork of a girl inside.
And yet, I find myself calculating how much I have saved and will need to save for retirement. I find myself planning and implementing ways to simplify my finances, by consolidating my assets (like making sure that the house’s deed is fully in my name, and not co-owned with my ex-husband), by paying down the very last of my debt (that is, the monster student loan, which I’ve written about many times, the most lengthy being here), and making sure that my various retirement paperwork is manageable and has my son as the beneficiary if I were to die early.
I find myself making certain folks know my books exist, hoping they serve as a kind of literary legacy.
This brings me to another difference from 2004: All of the above at times feel as if I’m “getting my affairs in order” which, again, is mighty mighty WEIRD, since (as far as I know) I’m physically and mentally healthy, and I have a secured job with at least twenty years of work ahead of me (before I hit that retirement magic number of 65 years of age).
Still, I have this odd sensation of wanting to have my life as simple and free as possible, as QUICKLY as possible. (I even figured out a way of paying off the remaining $49K of my monster student loan by the end of 2018, which is CRAZY fast — or just plain CRAZY.) It’s as if I want to finish the last bits of a life that my 2004 self was in, an end of a prior life that, I guess, sort of feels like a death.
Now, I’m not going dark here, and I can go all trite with the “caterpillar becomes butterfly” metaphor, but it’s difficult to describe — once everything’s squared away and the kiddo’s future is secured — how at peace I’d feel if I were to die much earlier than expected.
Of course — I’d be scared of being in pain and be sad for leaving my family (especially my son!). Hell no, I’m not being suicidal or going through some bullshit existential angst. I’m still in the throes of life, too many people I care deeply need me, and I love this crazy, mixed-up, infuriating, brutal world, with everyone sometimes hurting each other even as they believe in the deepest recesses of their being that they are helping….
Man, I love this life too much to ever voluntarily leave it.
But if I had no choice — if all the options were stripped away, and my time here had to end — I hope I’d be ready to say good-bye.
And that — more than anything else — tells me that, yes, I *am* that old.