Turning 30 was another milestone but it didn't impact me negatively at all. I didn't look 30, not did I feel 30. What's to complain about when I still occasionally got carded for buying beer?
Then came 40. That one hit me pretty hard after a decade of still feeling 20-something-ish. It was like going from 29 to 40 overnight. And throughout this decade of 40s, another big number was always on my mind.
October 22 is always a dreaded day because it marks the halfway point between birthdays and on that day this year I became 49.5 which rounds up to 50. I'm not rounding up yet, but when January rolls around, I'll be telling myself I'm 50 even though the official date will still be over four months away.
As I reflect back on nearly a half-century of living I'm astonished at how quickly segments of it passed, as well as how warped some of it seems in retrospect. I often hear about how quickly time passes as you get older, and it does seem that way.
As a child going into my teen years, all I wanted was to be 18 and graduate from high school and begin a life. From 14 to 18 seemed like a lifetime of waiting, studying, and simply trying to pass each class. Four years now certainly doesn't seem like four years then, but of course it's exactly the same.
I remember the thrill of finally going to my first R-rated film. Hearing an actor spew the F-word seemed so naughty and adult. In college I remember my first trip from Fayetteville, Arkansas over to the Oklahoma state line -- a trip of roughly 30 minutes -- to purchase beer. Arkansas' drinking age was 21 while in Oklahoma it was 18.
My years in my 20s were certainly busy. And in theory that would tend to make the years pass in a blur but that was not the case at all. I bounced around from college to college within the University of Arkansas system, from Fayetteville to Little Rock, back to Fayetteville, back to Little Rock, and one semester in Monticello, about 30 miles from my hometown after a botched start to a semester at the University of Denver.
I was clueless about what to do with my life, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what to study. And I was grappling with being gay and closeted.
In December of 1982 my dad died at a hospital in Little Rock while I happened to be enrolled in college there. I really felt that I was too young to be dealing with the death of a parent at 22. So I put blinders on and tried to get on with my life.
I suppose I really needed to get away on some level emotionally. It was early in 1983 when I signed up for a work abroad program through the university which allowed me to live and work legally in another country for six months. After much deliberation I decided on London. After all, I'd already been there several times using grant money and loans which were supposed to be used for educational purposes.
In the summer of 1983 I left for England, found myself a small but very nice flat in an ideal area of London, and within a couple of weeks had secured a job at the HMV Shop's flagship store. Granted, had I been more mature, it might have made more sense to find something that would give me better pay, a salary on which I might have a chance of making ends meet as well as gaining experience in the business world. But I was a lover of music, an avid collector of LPs, and the HMV was my ideal, especially since I had shopped there on previous visits.
During that six months of working, I became very comfortable with that new and exciting life, far from the rigors of studying for some degree -- any degree, really -- in Arkansas. My co-workers were wonderful and the comfort level around them enabled me to easily come out of the closet which felt so liberating!
I didn't want this experience to end so I began researching ways to extend my stay. Short of getting married (to a British woman), there really wasn't much hope. I was allowed to apply for an extension though, knowing it would ultimately be rejected. It was only a question of how long it would take for someone in the government immigration office to deal with my request. In an era when Commodore computers with 5-inch floppy disks were all the rage, it could have been quite a while.
After a year there, I made a choice to fly back to Arkansas to visit my mother for two weeks. That was a decision which ultimately would seal my fate. Upon reentry into England, the immigration authorities at the airport suspected something after noticing I had been in England far longer than the six-month stamp in my passport. And the fact that I was returning raised all sorts of red flags. I spent the bulk of that exhausting day in a detention center being interrogated.
Ultimately, I was allowed to enter, but with a 3-month stamp and a "no work allowed" status. I gave notice at work, and continued to work those last two weeks while I made plans regarding what to do next. I was there for a total of 14 months. It seemed like a lifetime. I felt British and I felt at home there, and yet I was being cast away.
After a failed attempt at establishing myself in Los Angeles, I returned to Arkansas completely broke and in debt. I enrolled in college again in Little Rock and this time I managed to finish and got a degree in January, 1988, more than nine years after I embarked on that education.
What a life I had lived already. I did more between 17 and 28 than most people could conceive of doing. I had gone from a life on the farm to getting a bachelor's degree and was the first person in my family to do so. And in between I had traveled to Israel and Jordan, multiple trips to England, a summer of studying French on the southern coast of France, with weekend trips to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. I had visited pen pals in Germany & Holland in addition to a trek into Scandinavia to spend a week with a friend in Finland. I had gone skiing in Switzerland.
Not only had I come out of the closet in England, I was starting to work on it in the US. While finishing up the degree in Little Rock, I began meeting people at various jobs I held. I was lured out to clubs where I'd meet more people, and I would be introduced to a gay club and, naturally, a few relationships would happen. None of them amounted to anything, just a fling for a few weeks before the situation dissolved away.
But 1988 was a big year for me. When I look back on that year I'm honestly astonished. Despite being 28 and having had a decade of amazing life experiences, I still had never held a steady job which would support me and pay the rent, and I had only just graduated college. I still felt young because all of life seemed to still be ahead of me. I certainly didn't feel or act 28.
It was in 1988 that I entered a relationship with an 18-year-old -- a relationship which felt right finally. I thought it was love but it turned out to be just another confused kid who was just perhaps a bit more confused than I was considering that he was about to start college and I had just finished.
After that failed attempt at a relationship, I really felt like there was no future for me in Arkansas. My best friend had just moved to Denver and I had stayed behind on account of this so-called love affair. When that crashed, I packed my bags and went to Denver in January, 1989. I got my first real job and started a new life.
Again, what seemed like a very long time was only about 18 months. I'd made new friends in Denver and one of them was planning a move to San Diego. She wasn't keen on making the move alone, and as I was always up for a new adventure, I agreed to move again. In the summer of 1990 I was on the road again, in a U-Haul towing an orange VW Beatle.
I was also up to my old tricks again, behaving like a rich adolescent by taking jobs I wanted to do as opposed to seriously going after employment which would support my lifestyle. I took a job as a cashier at San Diego State University. Almost all the employees were students at the school, and most of them were Dutch, oddly enough. I enjoyed it because it had that international feel which I had so enjoyed by working in London. But it was not sustainable.
Thankfully, in August of 1990, something really amazing happened one night at a club. I met txrad and this time being "in love" actually meant something. It was mutual, and real. And suddenly my life wasn't just about me. I no longer could just pack up and move anywhere on a whim.
I still had the Los Angeles itch dating back to when I left London and chose LA as my next destination and home. So txrad and I agreed that I would move to LA and as soon as I found a "real" job, I'd get an apartment we could afford and he would join me. That's exactly how it played out. By April, 1991 I had achieved my desire of having work and an apartment in Los Angeles, and a partner in love. At the age of 30.99, real life had begun finally.
I'm not sure what it is about approaching 50 which has caused me to reflect back on my life and the concept of time. Three years now seems like a complete and total blur. A couple of cats have died and I've changed jobs a couple of times. Nothing at all like the three years between 1988 and 1991 when I went from being a single horny boy constantly on the move to a man embarking on a career in advertising with a permanent spouse.
My 30s were all about working and living in Los Angeles, getting pay raises and bonuses, and having a dream of buying a house. We did that late in 1995 or early 1996. And we adopted our first cat. Then an opportunity arose here in Austin and we sold our house in LA barely a year after moving in, and we moved to Texas and bought a house. Twelve years have passed and we are still in the same house and loving it. Often I have to pinch myself to believe that I've been with the same man and the same career for 19 years. That's longer than it took me to reach high school graduation from the point of my birth! How did I do it? And what comes next?
One thing is different about approaching 50 than any of the other age markers. There's no longer a feeling of just starting out. I no longer have this concept of a wide open life ahead of me full of possibilities and wonder.
I no longer speak of the "next job." Frankly, I'm happy doing what I do. And it is entirely conceivable I could do it another 10 or 12 years and then retire. The notion that I might never have to update my resume again, or go on a job interview, is pleasurable, but a strange concept with a dark lining.
That experience at 22 of losing my father was just a taste of what was to come decades later. Now I'm no longer "too young" to lose relatives and friends. Along the way I've lost some of both. But now at 50, I'm starting to wonder, is it all about coming to terms with mortality? Is that what 50 means?
My mother is in her mid-80s and has already broken a hip. My brother is in his 60s. I have aunts and uncles in their 70s and 80s. Pretty soon it's going to be a non-stop parade of funerals. Then one day I'm going to wake up and realize it's just me now. There will be no brother, no mother or father or grandparents, just me. And that's if I'm lucky enough to be the last man standing.
Perhaps 50 is a wake-up call to slow down and savor life instead of rushing through it. After all, if I'm shocked that I will have been in a relationship and a steady career for 20 years on my 50th birthday, and amazed that it passed so quickly, the math in projecting the future isn't very appealing. When this short cycle passes again, I will be writing a blog post about the horrors of being 70. And that's rather disturbing. I hope I can at least manage to get the bathrooms cleaned a couple of times between now and then!
It's as if, in my brain, I hit the pause button on aging in 1988 and still think and behave as if I'm 28...which actually means I'm thinking and behaving as if I'm 20! When I stumble across a photo of me from the 80s and 90s, I ask myself, "who WAS that guy?" And when I see a current photo of myself I ask, "who IS that guy?" I just don't see myself as nearly 50 until I see past and current photographs for comparison. Gone are the days when I will go back to college, work in a book store or a record store, buy a youth rail pass in Europe and hang out for nine weeks, have a fling with an 18-year-old, or move from one city to another every year or so. Also gone are the days of sleeping on a futon, but that's a good thing!
I am settled. That realization might indicate the time has come to unpause and hit the fast-forward button to reality. But on second thought, I might put that off until April, 2010. There's no point in rushing into it. That gives me time to work out a couple of kinks before I can cut loose and stick it deep inside.
Hey, I'm not as old as him!
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.
-- Woody Allen
As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' -- probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.
-- Woody Allen (again)