by Larkin Vonalt
Something drew me from my bed very early this morning, compelling me downstairs to write. My husband said, sleepily, “It’s 5 a.m. That’s not usually when you get up.” Such a card, my husband. Indeed, though, he is right. I am not a morning person.
But this is my birthday. And not just any birthday, either. This is 50, the mid-century mark, my golden anniversary. It seems like I should write something momentous. The problem is that I’ve been writing about turning fifty all week: long lists of favorite books and things I still want to do, fifty favorite photographs. I think I’ve bored my poor friends to death.
I know that more than of them one is thinking “Jesus, I can’t wait ‘til Tuesday, when she’s fifty and a day, maybe she’ll shut up about it.” It’s just that I started out embracing the ticking of the clock, the turning of the page. I planned my own party, much to my husband’s great relief and I bought a new dress. If I’m going to turn fifty, by damn, I’m taking the rest of you with me.
Fifty is a lot. You need five sets of hands to count to fifty, and fifty bucks will still buy you something, but not dinner for five at the Dublin Pub, as it turns out. It still takes more than a moment to run the fifty-yard dash. For years I feared it, mostly for its lexicographic similarity to hefty. And nifty. Shifty. It was just a bit hard to find much to like about it.
Except what my friend Sally said. “It’s better than the alternative.” When I think about the writers that didn’t make it to fifty – Jane Austen, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Crane – mostly I think I need to get on with it. They didn’t get this half-century gift, yet look what they’ve left us by way of literary legacy.
And there’s the rub. You get to a certain point in your life and you do take stock. What have I accomplished? (Not as much as I hoped.) Maybe there’s still time to get my act together. When I shared the list of fifty things that I still want to do, my friend Tracy commented “Better hurry.” It seems like, by fifty, you ought to be a bona fide grown up. After all, there really is no way you can claim to be young anymore. Even if you’re going to live to a 100, 50 is square in the middle.
With apologies to Popeye, at 50 I yam what I yam. Certainly I’m too old to be hip, or even to aspire to it. (I was hip once, arriving finally at rail-thin red-haired punk rocker in a vintage summer dress and Doc Martens. But no more.) The die is cast, the Rubicon is crossed. I cannot re-work myself as an ingénue, or child prodigy or the youngest-ever anything. But there’s something liberating in that too. I am no longer concerned with whether or not I’m beautiful. I don’t care if I’m invisible, because I can add that to my list of superpowers. I look forward to saying “I’m 50 years old, I don’t have to put up with that.”
Now the sky is lightening to the east, a fringe of pink across the horizon. The house is still asleep, except for me, the dogs chuffing and singing in their dreams. Already today, I’ve received wonderful gifts: an e-card from a friend that really did make me laugh out loud. A sweet note from my chosen daughter, a wonderful photograph of myself, age 6 with my friend-of-longest duration, Trisch Rambo Kushner and her dog Shadow. A man on the front steps with a bag full of bread just from the oven.
The Roman numeral for fifty is L. I am L and L is me. I am fine with this. I am ever happy to be on the right side of grass. I am grateful to have hit this mark and still have the ability to keep on going.