Now, for the other side of this week’s age-averse coin, in which I lamented the fact that my husband went on one date with a younger woman once, and how that still infuriates me in the face of my 37th birthday, which is RIGHT NOW, MOTHERFUCKERS! I’m 37! I’d say that I like to kick, stretch and kick, but actually I don’t—also, I wonder what Molly Shannon thinks of that character now that she herself is hurtling toward FIFTY YEAHS OLD. Digression! Right.
Anyway, so, as much as I am staring down my very decrepitude every time I behold my grey hair, wrinkles, and the fact that one of my students loudly proclaimed he’d rather die than have eternal life as someone my age, largely all of that ERMEGERD EHRM ERLD bullshit is just that—because the fact is, I will never, ever forget 36. Friends, Roman(esque architecture fan)s, Frenemies: his has been one hell of a year.
36 began inauspiciously: a year ago I was to be found in my cockroach-infested Columbus apartment, splayed out on my couch in front of Cosby Show reruns on Hulu, unable to read, write, type, use my phone or even just stare around the room. Do you know how much the average healthy-eyed humanoid stares around a room? Just look at a baby—all those gurgly motherfuckers do is stare about, and we darty-eyed adults are no different…until we somehow involve ourselves in Bizarre Fitness Accidents and thwack our own eyeballs with a giant rubber band.
Last year at this time I was on enforced bed rest with something called a hyphema, which is (warning: grossitude) blood pooled in the eye’s anterior chamber. They are extremely dangerous, as they cause high eye pressure, which can lead to permanent damage in the form of glaucoma or blindness. The only prescription for them is to sit the fuck still and to sleep every night in this sexy Robocop getup at a 45-degree angle (my look was completed with socks I duct-taped around my hands to prevent me from removing the Robocop Shield in my sleep and then clawing my eyes out, which I do on the reg):
The hyphema and traumatic iritis (which has resulted in my left pupil being permanently unable to contract all the way) were actually the second freak ailment that landed me in the Ohio State University Medical Center’s Clinical Decisions Unit (soon to be named after Abercrombie & Fitch, I shit you not)—not six months earlier, I’d shuffled in there caked in several days’ dried sweat and tears (after shivering my way down on the bus), explaining that the rent-a-nurse at Walgreens insisted I go get a battery of tests because I had a high fever and disgusting chills that wouldn’t abate or break after eight days.
As I waited in my semi-private room watching Fresh Prince reruns on my personal TV (which alone made the $150 copay worth it) and being given extra blankets and Tylenol when my fever spiked, I wept with relief and gratitude that there was finally someone to take care of me. My then-partner had had to return to St. Louis to work some days prior, and I had not seen another living soul since then; I had soaked through all of my lounge and gym clothes with the fever sweats, and was too weak to schlep anything to the laundry room, so I had no choice but to let each set of clothing air-dry and be re-worn in cycle. Although I am pretty sure they thought I was a meth-head when I came in, alone, in filthy clothes and no brassiere and looking more busted than I ever have in my life, soon I was diagnosed with pneumonia, given antibiotics and returned to full health about a month later.
Huge digression, by the way, as all of this happened when I was 35 so it doesn’t really belong here, except sort of it does, because for me the weeks I spent with pneumonia, alone and shivering, sobbing, begging any deity who would listen for the fever to break…these are really emblematic of the abject misery of what I didn’t know at the time would be my final two years in academia. Because it wasn’t the pneumonia so much as it was the fact that of my 17 colleagues, 15 were too busy kissing the ass of a visiting bigwig to help me in any way (by which I mean “walk into my class, hand out a worksheet and leave”) and the other two either taught at the same time or were pregnant. I have honestly never felt so alone and so disposable as I did in the spring of 2012, as my sweat drenched sheets I knew I didn’t have the energy to change, and I shivered another night through.
I’ve never felt as alone and disposable, but “alone and disposable” is the perfect, and I mean perfect description of how I felt for most of age 36, both in the large Research-1 department where I worked while on the prestigious postdoctoral fellowship that was supposed to anoint me for SuperScholardom, and especially on the job market, where my dossier (and most everyone else’s) had no choice but to be treated with the cursory, disposable glance you give one application out of 250 when it doesn’t have the word “Princeton” on it.
It is not an understatement to say that now that I’ve left academia behind (and I do count adjuncting at a cozy Honors College with no research and no tenure leaving it behind), I am nothing less than a completely different person than the one-eyed embodiment of misery who rang in her thirty-seventh year by eating a ginormous vegan cupcake on her couch alone in front of Breaking Pointe reruns. I mean, I miss Pattycake Bakery like hell and I would certainly chow the shit out of one of their Seriously Good Chocolate Cupcakes now (not a misnomer!), but that would no longer be the abject high point of my week.
I think of what I felt like and who I was—already counting down with terror the fourteen days to the appearance of that season’s German JIL—just one birthday ago. And then I examine what I feel like and who I am now: a freelance writer who actually gets paid in human Earth dollars, a passionate dissertation coach with fascinating clients who count on me, a truly part-time adjunct, and a bicycle enthusiast who just got this sublime specimen as a birthday present:
I think about the true joy with which I sit down to work now on my various projects, and the people—incredible people with incredible stories—who contact me almost every day about their own journeys in and out of academe; I think about my wonderful family and how much I appreciate them all, and how much I appreciate the moments we do have with those who will leave us far too soon, and about how I had the most joyous elopement ever, and how lucky I am to get to be sitting lengthwise on the couch staring down the greatest guy I have ever known, and I think about the things I have planned today: yoga, mani-pedi, Frappucino (DON’T JUDGE ME), midday Woody Allen movie, pool, two-person pizza party at Pi, and I think: It’s my birthday, motherfuckers. I’m 37 and my life is just beginning.