I am five. Kindergarten. Marching in a circle with other kids while music plays. I throw up – who knows why -- but keep marching. The teacher eventually notices and asks why I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t want the music to stop.
I’m 56 today. And it’s a little weird.
It’s not a landmark date. There haven’t been any massive life changes making me Reassess Everything™. But, past the age where everything’s centered on cake and presents, birthdays get more reflective.
Objects in the mirror are further than they appear. Caution signs ahead? A little more frequent.
I am 17, cutting class to take yearbook photos or, just as often, simply because I can. There are good friends. Friday nights that, even now, stretch out in my mind like a beautiful choreography. And a Greek chorus of teachers frustrated over my wasted potential.
Life looks a lot like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a movie that won’t come out for three more years.
There’s a first girlfriend, too – a brunette I dated for all of three months. I’d act nervous and ridiculous around her every time we met for the next 15 years, until we eventually lost touch. If I ran into her today, I’d probably still call her beautiful, even as we’ve both slid, like melting ice cream, into middle age.
We all have muscle memory, no muscle more so than the heart.
For decades, I’d planned (maybe even hoped) on being dead at 50 – more of a lazy wish than a medical manifest destiny. So 56, at some level, feels like that free game you didn’t expect on the pinball machine.
Emotionally? I’d say this is the August of my life. The leaves are violently green and alive, the sun is in her heavens, and I can feel her warmth on my skin.
Plenty of baseball left to play. But the days are getting shorter, whether I notice it or not.
I am 26, a newly minted, try-hard flack in a small PR agency. I don’t grasp it at the time, but this job will define who I am for nearly 30 years.
With the certainty of the risen dead, I’m sure I know more than most, write better than most. Years and mistakes later prove just one of those is true -- and, even then, only when the stars align.
I should have thanked Frank more often, if for no other reason than his equanimity in the face of my daily bullshit.
What do you do as the unexpected, extended-stay houseguest in your own life? For me, it’s been a winnowing away of things I don’t want to do and things that don’t matter. I may still be the mac-daddy king of wasting time, but I waste it a little less if I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.
I’m 36 and in Kansas City, a town that so immediately felt like home I could almost hear the firm, psychic click of fitting into it when I arrived.
The agency I’m at is led by a smart woman; we work on smart things. But past results predict future performance, and trends that stretch back to high school and before come to a boil.
I’m not a team player. I’m too competitive for the kumbaya vibe of the office. I disrespect my boss’s decisions with the subtlety of an obnoxious toddler. I’m also newly diagnosed as diabetic, but treat it like I’d treat a horoscope: Something to embrace when it suits you and scoff at when it doesn’t.
Eventually, I quit with no plan and no money in the bank. Like Frank before her, Jane probably deserves a crown in heaven for not poisoning my Diet Coke.
I’ve never had much of a crystal ball. Although I'm a great planner in my work, most days of my own life I barely know what next week looks like.
Peering past my imaginary August seems like guesswork. But if the future isn’t any clearer, maybe the toolkit, at least, is a little more complete.
Starting around 40, I noticed decisions – everything from lunch to major life stuff – came easier and faster. I wasn’t right about everything. But I *did* have a stronger sense of clarity: Make a decision. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll make another.
Decisiveness is apparently my free square on the maturity bingo card.
I am 47, and depressed. It’s neither the first or last time this has happened, but it’s the deepest.
There’s no hero’s journey here or an empathetic figure who pulls me out of the muck. Like the black, brackish water of a tsunami, it eventually recedes on its own, leaving behind destruction and detritus.
Some days, I feel like I'm still sweeping it up.
One thing that comes with time: For better or worse, you’re finally the person you know best. Maybe that’s what makes people more reflective as they get older.
If this wall of words seems self-absorbed, hopefully my dreams are finally, mercifully a bit less so. I don’t feel as grabby for bylines or as insufferable in my pursuit of attention. In its place, I feel a hot coal of ambition to do something that matters. Something that helps fix things.
Maybe I’ve traded plain-vanilla self-absorption for a messiah complex; I hope not. And I hope I can redeem the time, whatever the time may be.
I am 56. The sun is warm upon my skin.
I’m still not sure what the rules are or, some days, what the score is.
But let’s play ball.