On Sunday, I turned 31 years old.
I think I’m supposed to be saying that I’m 29 still, for at least another three years, but I don’t.
I’ve always preferred to be precise in these matters.
When I was young, 8 years old, I believe, I was still trying to be friends with the girls on my block. We had moved to the street where my parents still live about six months before my 8th birthday. One of the girls down the block was younger than me, but close enough in age that we could run around together. Until I told her that I had turned 8.
She said she was also 8, but I knew that she had been 6 the last time I asked. I told her she was not 8, and she said that she was – she had skipped a year on her last birthday.
We weren’t friends after that, although we did encounter each other in the neighborhood, including one time when another neighbor got a new dog, and the girl held the dog while another girl and I pet the dog. She held the dog so tight that it began to hurt, and it lashed out and bit me in the stomach. I’ll admit that action did little to further endear her to me.
So I am 31. I have not skipped years, nor will I pretend that they haven’t happened, rule-follower that I am.
My brother told me I’ll stop remembering how old I am now that I’m in my 30’s, that it isn’t important anymore, or maybe that I’ll start going a little senile. I’m not so sure about that, but I haven’t had time yet to really test his hypothesis. I think it won’t work because I’ll be thinking about it, keeping my age hovering in the corner of my mind just to prove him wrong, just to be different than what everyone says I should be. But only inside, where no one can see.
Today I read an article in Slate, a condensed interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve heard of her, but never read any of her books. The only one I had even heard of is Eat, Pray, Love, a book that lives, as the article states, in the chick lit dungeon. Gilbert is quoted as saying, “[T]he lack of a perfected idea never stopped men from speaking out!”
It reminded me of college, and how I would be too scared of my imperfectly formed ideas and notions to speak of them when they might have contributed to the conversation. I didn’t have exactly what I wanted to say ready in my mind before the window to speak closed. My ideas were no less valid than anyone else’s, but I didn’t feel that way. I have made progress. In the classes I take now (I’m a Johnnie, how could I not take classes when I work at a university?), I speak out more. I risk being wrong, or sounding foolish or bitchy or whatever. But I still get scared sometimes, before I speak. My pulse races, and my hands feel cold, and my stomach feels tight, and I begin to doubt the validity and relevance of what I want to say.
Sometimes I say it anyway, and it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I don’t, because the conversation has progressed, and I am okay with letting it go. I don’t resent not being able to air my thoughts, because I don’t feel as if I’ve been shut down. Instead, I made a choice – a choice not to embarrass my group by bringing up the many drug allusions we found in the poem, even though adding the hallucinatory dog to the literal and metaphorical dogs already being discussed would have been funny. It wasn’t necessary.
I think that some people, those louder than me, have an idea of entitlement about airing their opinions. I encountered many of those in my life, so many that I came to believe that I was the opposite – not worth the time when all these self-important people needed to express. I thought for a long time that I had to become them in order to be heard.
Am I finally old enough to know better?