Life isn’t what you imagined it would be when you were in your 20s.
You know what I mean? I mean it isn’t some walk in the park. When you’re 21, barely at the post-pimple stage of development, graduating college and brimming with youthful gumption, you look ahead to the next one or five years to a job or traveling or grad school or the Peace Corps. And then you look beyond that and see independence and an apartment and a commute to a work, Starbucks in hand, on the first stage of your directly rocketing arc to career success.
And then you look ahead even further and see love and marriage and a tidy house and a gurgling baby and a bigger job. And then you look ahead and see more gurgling babies and older adorable children and an even bigger job and then, down the line, you envision turning a little gray with your spouse. And then you look ahead and see you and your by-then-silver-fox life-mate schlepping your kids to college, and then you look ahead again and you imagine them graduating college, holy shit, just like you, barely post-pimple and full of youthful gumption, crossing the stage to rousing toots of mediocre Elgar, clutching diplomas in their hands and long, linear, productive, predictable, mistily imagined and neatly cinematic lives occupying their noggins.
But life isn’t like that. It’s not linear and cinematic; it’s a dadaist mess, marked by pain and complication and exhaustion and kinkiness beyond all expectation, and by that I mean not sexually depravity but crookedness, knottiness, twists. The fooking thing never goes in a straight line. The trail is WAY WAY WAY too steep and rocky, gnarled with too many roots and too much dense growth, for a head-on ascent. It’s all switchbacks, stumbles, detours as we make our way through This Bloody Disappointment (we get dizzy, step off the trail) and Those Sucky Losses (stop, dig for tissues, weep) and That Goddamn Illness (we trip, fall down, bleed).
We can’t see all that when we’re 21, and thank God: My trail, so far, has been pocked with grief, and noooooo way would I have wanted to see any of it in advance. Of all the superpowers I might enjoy in some fantasyland comic-verse (flying, for one), I’d never want the gift of prognistication.
This wild path I’m on is also strewn with beauty, and I never saw that coming, either. Though I imagined gurgling babies, I couldn’t have predicted the soul-consuming joys of loving children and the head-exploding awe of watching them grow. Though I imagined falling in love, I couldn’t have predicted the boom-bang-POW! of precipitous passion and the softer, lazier, lovelier conviction that This Guy’s It. I couldn’t have seen all the friends and joys and tiny victories. I couldn’t have seen this blog, for instance, or the book that inspired it; I couldn’t have known that the years following the worst horror I’d ever known, my husband’s suicide, could be so active and fruitful; I couldn’t have anticipated laughter in the strangest settings, light in the darkest, or the way my own sense of self had altered and grown, making me looser, battier, maybe just a little better at being alive. I couldn’t have seen how much I’d have getting older.
No, life isn’t what I expected it would be when I was in my 20s. It’s scarier. Crazier. More mystifying. Harder on the joints. More tiring. More beautiful. And better.