Has Anybody Seen My Teeth?
On October 26th, 2010, I woke up and realized that I was forty years old. Now understand that I was an English major, so any time I find myself doing math, I have to apologize in advance. But I’m pretty sure that means I’ll be forty-one this year. My fifth decade on Earth has begun. I have three college degrees: a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. I’ve been married three times and divorced twice. I have three children, the oldest of whom is twenty-two years old as of this writing. I first moved out of my parents’ house twenty-three years ago; I got my first job that same year. I’ve been writing my whole life, though only trying to make it good and sharing it with others for perhaps three years. I have taught in colleges and universities since 1996. I’ve stockpiled all these experiences, and now, at what I hope is not even the mid-point of my life, I have found that one question seems to override all the others.
How the hell did this happen?
How did I get to be forty years old? Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to be alive and healthy. I hope this ride continues for at least another fifty years. But forty? Me? How did it happen so quickly? Just yesterday I had just turned twenty-one! I specifically remember going out to a restaurant and ordering a drink, mentally daring them to card me. But nobody did.
Heck, only two years earlier, my oldest daughter Shauna was born. I can still remember seeing her come into the world, hearing her first cry, asking the nurse why she was so purple. I remember stepping out into the hospital hallway with her in my arms and spotting my school chum Jennifer Tedder, who was there visiting someone. All that couldn’t have happened so long ago.
No, scratch that. Only yesterday, I turned eighteen. I did so too late to vote in the 1988 elections, but still, I vividly recall feeling proud when I knew that I could go to a polling place and participate in the Great Democratic Experiment. Yes, Ronald Reagan may have come and gone without having to worry about my voice in the opposition, and maybe George H.W. Bush squeaked his Presidency in before I could do anything about it. But from then on, buddy, you’d better believe that I would stand up for what I believed! Unless, of course, I ever convinced myself that my vote no longer mattered, that politics had become too corrupt and the process too labyrinthine to seem worthy of my involvement. After all, one vote couldn’t possibly make much difference, could it? If only I had been able to foresee Florida in 2000, I might never have gotten so complacent. But back in 1988, I embodied the spirit of American youth—optimistic, fiery, opinionated, and arrogant.
But wait—just yesterday, wasn’t I actually twelve years old? Hadn’t I just had my heart broken for the first time when my first serious girlfriend (hi, Angie!) dumped me, wrongly thinking that I liked her best friend? Of course, that relationship could hardly be termed “serious” in the context of adulthood, but back then, it seemed like the most important thing in the world. I remember sitting in my parents’ driveway, the gravel warm under my ass, sweat dripping down my face and back as I scanned the rural neighborhood we lived in. I could honestly not understand why people thought that life was so damned charming. I moped so much that my mother tried to intervene, God bless her, stopping my now ex-girlfriend in the street and telling her that I still liked her.
Boy, was I mortified. When you’re a kid on the cusp of teenagerdom, the last thing you want is for someone to remind you that you’re still a child. And watching my mother stick up for me made me feel like a pre-schooler whose favorite toy had been confiscated by the local bully. She meant well, of course, and as a parent, I honestly don’t know what I would have done in her place. Probably the same thing. And that’s another way you know you’re getting older; you realize that, about some things at least, your parents were right.
Hang on, though. I can’t possibly be forty because I can still remember the first time I went to tee-ball practice, and my first day in kindergarten, and my first “girlfriend,” a neighbor’s child who often came out to play still carrying her pacifier. All these memories don’t seem so far away, so how can they have occurred so long ago?
Other things seem to have happened to someone else. The time my cousin broke my leg and knocked me out by running over me with his mini-bike. The time I got shoved into a water-filled ditch and came up covered with welts, some sort of chemical interacting with my sensitive skin—the panic that came crashing in as my body started to change, the feel of my parents’ hands on me as they dragged me to the car for the speedy trip to the emergency room, the look on my best friend Steven’s face as he wandered in the yard to see what I was up to, only to watch me being carted away, screaming like a criminal run to ground. The time I shoved a kernel of popcorn up my nose, just to see what would happen.
But they all happened to me, and all of them—the good and the bad, the somber and the silly—helped shape me into who I am today. I accept them all; I need them all to be me. But still—forty? Soon enough, forty-one? Where did all those years go?
Any of the aforementioned events would make a good subject for a reflective essay. I could write a book on what it’s like to be a parent and to have become one at such a young age. I could tell you about my marriages and how I’ve succeeded in some ways, failed miserably in others. I could tell you about my early encounters with racism and religion and sex and alcohol and the searing pain of losing people close to you. I hope to write about it all and more one day, Lord willing.
What concerns me here, and in the series of essays that will occasionally follow, is the idea of aging itself—the comedies, the little tragedies, the absurdities. Mostly these writings will ruminate on ways that you can tell you’re getting older, even if your body still feels pretty good and your mind tells you that you’re still the twenty-one –year-old kid who can drink all night, work the next day, come home and play video games with your friends, and get up the next morning, ready to do it all again on two hours’ sleep out of the last forty-eight. I’d like to examine the paradoxical attitudes we take toward aging—how as children we can’t wait to grow up so that we can do what we want, the way that our young adult selves strive to break from our role models and build a life of our own, and the later realizations that suddenly we are the role models, the standard that has to be surpassed. How we wish we were kids again, so we could do whatever we wanted.
Mostly, I’d like to share with you my shock at finding myself forty-plus years old and an authority figure—a grown-up, a teacher, a father—when inside I still feel as fresh as a spring morning.
What you will read, should you choose to walk through this series with me, is a set of thematically-linked but not necessarily chronological ruminations. And you will read them in early-draft form, warts and all. I will likely engage in one revision and some sentence-level editing, reserving the right to revise much more thoroughly later.
What this means is that you, reader, can participate in the creation process. Do you have questions that I haven’t answered? Tell me about them and, should I ever revise these works for a book project, I’ll take your advice into consideration (even if I self-publish—I can’t see ever abandoning the prestige and potential benefits of the publishing industry and its passel of excellent editors, agents, readers, and writers, but with some projects, self-publishing appeals to me greatly). Do you find that the organization or sentence-level writing needs some work? Tell me about it and I’ll take a look. Do you really, really want me to write about a particular thematically-related subject? Tell me about it, and, if I think I have something to say, I’ll oblige. In other words, this project in its current stage can be, to some extent, interactive. The writing will be mine; the life I write about will be mine. But you can help shape it if you like.
If you don’t, I hope that something in the work speaks to you. I hope you find it worth your time. If not, well, maybe my next post, or story, or poem, or book will reach you better than these do.
As for aging itself, it’s certainly better than the alternative. Besides, forty isn’t old. Heck, I refuse to call myself middle-aged until I’m at least fifty. In this way, at least, I’m an optimist. I’ve got too much to do and see; I can’t get old for a long time, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, as we say in the south.
Still—forty? My parents, maybe, but me? Forty? Already?!?
Ah well. For now, I must finish this little introduction and get on with my day. It’s getting late, and I still have to eat before I take my fiber and cholesterol medication, fire up my C-PAP machine, and get some sleep. Now…has anybody seen my teeth?
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